Why am I leaving law enforcement

We met in the summer of 1993. Our flirtation was like the mating ritual of birds of paradise dancing towards each other with their colorful wings outstretched. I knew his problematic family history all too well.

His cousin in Washington, DC regularly chased my friends and me down the alleys simply because we were young and black. His cousin from Atlanta held me at gunpoint a few blocks from my college campus because I “fitted the description.” I don’t know why I fell in love with her the way I did. I was more shocked than anyone when I said ‘yes’ and swore ‘to protect and serve’.

In my relationship with law enforcement, I have experienced some of my highs and lows. I have lost a friend to death in the line of duty and another to betraying his oath of office.

I really thought I was doing the lord’s work. But I continued to struggle with the reality of being a black man with a badge and a gun charged with the power to summarily take another person’s life.

Despite the internal conflicts that gnawed at my soul, I continued to serve in one way or another as a police officer for nearly a decade. In my early twenties, I was a full-time officer. For the past seven years, I have been a reserve and part-time police officer.

I persisted in the belief that my service was enough to change the faulty dynamics and cracked foundations of American policing. In my mind, I was this super magical unicorn of a black man who, by my very presence, was going to change the American police. I convinced myself that the love and passion I gave would be rewarded with systemic change. Somewhere along the line, I recognized that my relationship with the police was based on a love that never was.

This month I finished my last shift as a policeman. I have mixed feelings about the end of this nearly decade-long journey. Even though it felt like a loveless relationship at times, I leave no regrets because every experience on this journey has contributed to the man I am today. I leave with a treasure of lifelong friends and invaluable life lessons.

I digress at a time in history when American police find themselves at a crossroads. As a former police officer and member of the Denver Citizen Oversight Board, I am acutely aware of the challenges facing modern policing. Police departments struggle to recruit and retain quality officers. According to 2021 data from the Colorado Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, Colorado law enforcement was only able to fill 73% of vacancies.

Many have speculated as to why law enforcement is struggling to recruit and retain. The most prominent theory advanced by law enforcement is the lack of community and political support, as evidenced by the “defund the police” movement. It is often said that perception is reality. In this case, I categorically reject this truism as it applies here.

Across the country, budgets for police departments have continued to grow. President Joe Biden’s Safer America plan proposes an investment of $35 billion to, among other things, finance the recruitment of 100,000 additional police officers. Nearly 40% of Denver’s municipal budget for 2022 is dedicated to public safety spending, which includes funding for 144 new officers.

Whatever the reasons for law enforcement recruitment difficulties, the most significant challenge facing law enforcement is the decline in public trust and, in some communities, the complete erosion of public trust. To paraphrase the father of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, successful policing begins and ends with the level of public trust it enjoys.

As I close this chapter of my life, I share these parting words on how to restore public trust:

1. Restoring public trust must become the primary goal of American policing.

2. Accountability and radical transparency with the public must become core values.

3. Recognize that racism is still too prevalent in American policing.

4. Embrace civilian oversight as an important added value.

5. Take community concerns seriously.

So long, my love that never was.

Terrance Carroll is a former president of the Colorado House. The first and only African American to hold this position in Colorado. He is a Baptist preacher, lawyer and policeman. He’s on Twitter @speakercarroll.

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About Michael C. Lovelace

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