One of my commanders at the jail, who I consider one of my mentors now, told me once, “People are not here [in jail] to be punished. They’re here as punishment.” And at first I didn’t get that. I said, “What do you, what do you mean?”
He said, “Look. They’re not here to be abused. They’re not here for someone to tell them they’re a piece of shit. They’re not here for somebody to withhold stuff from them because they think they have a bad attitude. I don’t need cops working in here who have a crappy attitude. I need cops in here who are willing to do their job and who are willing to protect the rights of these people in here just like they are
the people on the street.”
The people are here as punishment. Our job is to keep them safe, keep them fed, and keep them in custody. That’s it.
It doesn’t have to be an adversarial situation. And people, the message I got from him is that the officers who think of inmates as the adversaries — as the enemy — don’t get it. Those people tend to get in more conflict. Those people tend to resort to physical restraint — to physical force, the use of force — more often than people who don’t.
You know, it’s not a matter of giving in or being a social worker. But the reality is, in law enforcement, our job is to interact with people and
keep the public safe. In a custodial situation our job is to keep the inmates and the staff safe, to maintain the security of the facility. If you can do that by talking to somebody, by earning someone’s trust, by getting willing cooperation from somebody, that’s far more valuable than gaining mere compliance through the use of force.
“[E]xcellence in performing effective corrections cannot be achieved without the balance between use of force and inter-personal approaches to problem solving.”
– Gene Atherton, 5 types of use-of-force assessment in corrections
Again, this is not a matter of giving in to demands of inmates and violating security protocols or anything of that sort. But if you can gain the same compliance to rules with your voice, with the way that you carry yourself, with the way that you interact with people, then why not do that?
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