President Donald Trump signed a new executive order yesterday, one which, among other things, enables and incentivizes the creation of a system of independent credentialing of law enforcement officers.
It also requires, as a condition to participation in the program, that the use of the notorious chokehold be prohibited, except in those limited circumstances where deadly force is allowed by law.
A national database is to be created by the U.S. attorney general, one that would track and share information about terminations or de-certifications of law enforcement officers and any criminal convictions or civil judgments related to their on-duty conduct.
This would also include resignations or retirements while under active investigation related to the use of force, provided that afforded fair process.
Demanding and maintaining high standards of professionalism and integrity are the sine quo non of the sacred profession of policing.
How can we expect otherwise from those we entrust with positions of authority over our lives? Even as little children re-enacting scenes of the wild west or police dramas, we relished being the respected marshal or policeman, who was charged with righteously enforcing the law. When we saw a bad cop portrayed in the movies or on television, we booed and when the good U.S. Marshal or detective saved the day, we cheered.
It is, therefore, no surprise that the tragic death of George Floyd, at the hands and knee of a policeman, has united most everyone in genuine outrage at this dreadful act; committed by someone charged with protecting everyone.
Justice must be done and, in the case of George Floyd, this appears to be occurring.
The contrived reaction by some, who are using this tragedy as a cover or pretense to commit violent crimes, including assault and battery, homicide, looting and arson, as well as anti-Semitic acts, is another matter.
These reprehensible actions are abhorrent and the perpetrators of these crimes must also be brought to justice. Yet, it seems that in some locales, a conscious effort is being made by some elected officials to minimize or ignore these lawbreaking activities for political reasons.
Don’t they understand that these anarchic and destructive melees, publicly displayed on television, with little or no attempts made by law enforcement to intervene, are designed to breed distrust in our government institutions?
The message being communicated, as reinforced by some politicians offering feckless excuses for their inability to defend the innocent and enforce the rule of law, is a painful admission of impotence. Respect for the rule of law is the bedrock of our society and civilization. Seeing it flagrantly undermined is both galling and frightening.
Perhaps, this is the insidious intent of the few reprobates reported to have incited and fueled these nefarious activities.
The Bible (Deut. 16:18) recognizes the need for a system of laws, judges and police. As Maimonides records, it is a positive commandment to appoint judges and police to judge and enforce, respectively, righteous laws. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 16b) explains that this includes local police in every region and city. Rashi notes that the police are to be armed so as to be in position to compel obedience to the law. The Midrash (Tanchuma Shoftim 2:1) comments that absent law enforcement officers there is no effective system of laws and justice.
The position of police officer is sacred and revered.
To appreciate the sanctity of the role, the Talmud (Yevamot 86b) reports that for a time, it was reserved only to the Levites. With the investment of authority come duties, as well.
Thus, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 7b) enjoins a police officer to be extremely circumspect and careful with the use of force and the weapons at his or her disposal.
Tosafot posits that a law enforcement officer may not cause dread in the community or use excessive force; patience and restraint are required. Those who might flatter themselves by flouting what they imagine to be their own new and enhanced sensitivity to issues of police brutality should consider that these thoughts were penned in the Talmud more 1500 years ago.
The Talmud (Shabbat 139a) cautions that judges and law enforcement officers must be honest and faithful in the performance of their duties. It describes how the Divine presence will not rest until bad judges and cops are eliminated; corruption or malfeasance can’t be tolerated.
The policing function includes not only actually enforcing the law, but also deterring violations. This includes patrolling areas so as to prevent crimes (Mishna Brurah 529:22). In this regard, Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk (Noam Elimelech, Devarim, Shoftim 1:2), the renown Chassidic master, describes how police officers are associated with the good impulse in people.
This is because they are able to engage a person before any harm is done.
This is unlike a judge who only deals with the crime after the fact.
In essence, a police officer’s verbal warnings or even forceful actions can serve to prevent a person from sinning. They are able to provide a wake up call before a wrong is committed and thereby enable a person to reflect on his or her own deficiencies.
Don’t be misled by those purporting to promise heaven on earth by eliminating the police entirely. We live in this world and the Bible prescribes having police officers.
Ironically many of the politicians and celebrities touting the myth of no police are personally being protected by police officers or private security.
The commandment to appoint police officers is unconditional; as is the requirement they act properly. Holding our public officials to account for their misdeeds is the very essence of justice and law enforcement officers are no exception.
However, the movement to defund and eliminate the police is antithetical to our traditions.
The president’s executive order will help us discern who are the few individuals unworthy of the sacred position of law enforcement officer.
However, in the effort to condemn the few bad cops, we can’t forget to honor and defend the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers, who faithfully and diligently serve us and, as G-d intended, help keep us safe and secure.
May true justice triumph and reinforce our trust in and respect for the rule of law.
We are united because we care.
Leonard Grunstein, a retired attorney and banker, founded and served as Chairman of Metropolitan National Bank and then Israel Discount Bank of NY. He also founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Revel at Yeshiva University and the AIPAC National Council. He has published articles in the Banking Law Journal, Real Estate Finance Journal, and other fine publications. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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