Friday, July 8, 2016

A different police state of mind

Could police men and women be recruited and trained as humanitarians? That is, a different approach to their career, a more ingenuous heart, a different way of seeing? In this sociological alternate universe, police would believe the struggling decent heart within the person, would assume the best, with clinical not attitudinal vigilance. Would there accrue more or fewer tragedies – to them and to citizens – than result from an errant-citizen, suspect-oriented philosophy?

I will leave it to the reader to judge if the following is a good analogy:

Mental health clinicians, especially those in crisis intervention, deal daily in pain, misshapen personalities and uncontrolled emotions. We realize people are hurting, but this doesn’t mean we assume they will be nice, with good intentions: Many will project pent-up – even lifelong – frustrations onto innocent people and property. But our underlying approach or sense of life (that is, those of us who aren’t botched or burnt out) is that hurt, struggle and some openness to be helped are primary, are the deeper or “real” self that deserves our benevolence.

Based on the premise of good will, we are taught safe restraint and verbal de-escalation of irrationality and anger and early-stage violence (a client feeling disrespected by office staff may slam his fist on the table or pick up a chair and threaten to throw it). The client is enraged, we know the feeling is legitimate from his perspective, and we want to put out an empathic hand. “Man, this is powerful anger. What happened?” “The receptionist ignored you? I wouldn’t like that either. What was the whole situation?” We know the client’s energy is imperative, must be given an outlet. And we understand that very likely it was her earlier, childhood-wide victimization by authoritarian power that contributed to the disorder and its crisis, and that the last thing she needs is to be, again, a victim over-powered by our authority.

Can police evolve to these giving people? In some communities they have, in miniature. C.I.T. (Crisis Intervention Team) officers ( voluntarily train to help their community’s residents in crisis. They recruit themselves to the program because they see the misbehaving person as wounded, not criminal, and train to know better how to respond. I’ve accompanied C.I.T. officers to the scenes – a barricaded apartment with a delusional man starving himself, a violent Bipolar. It’s been fine to see them place their authoritative power behind their calm concern and interest. The power is still there – I don’t feel I’m standing in a havoc setting with a fellow social worker or “reflective listening” counselor! But it’s more akin to a parent’s thematic strength, where power is infused with benevolence.

Right now, with this week’s hair-trigger shootings of two innocent black men and the revenge or opportunistic sniper murders in Dallas, it may seem gauche or at least untimely to draw this fantasy: the police turning their heart white, like a flag, becoming therapists in danger zones. But I think it makes sense and even has a certain inevitability, because it’s a fantasy based primarily in human nature and character, not strategy. That's to say, it is right to be good, wise to be caring. There is also the logic that just as a parent should make the healing move in a parent-child conflict – he is the teacher and helper and bigger person and is not there for revenge or to “win” – so should the ultimate legal power of the police embody the fundamental benevolence of family, seeing the children as good, though often mistaken; angry, though for true reasons; manipulative, though to get some legitimate need met*; prone to miscommunicate their needs and feelings. I really think the effect, in the long run, will be to leave our officers less often blindsided, less victimized. The atmosphere will be like a good home where all members feel heard, respected, equal.

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* Homage to my old counseling professor's (Dr. Thomas Rueth) maxim  Manipulation is the client's effort to get a legitimate need met, in a way that I don't approve.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.