The Police Crisis In America
By James Donahue
The nation has been sliding toward a police state situation for a long time. I watched it happening
during the years I spent reporting police news, covering major fires, murders, court trials and sometimes just riding around
with the police on night patrol.
There was a time when I had my own personal coffee cup hanging on a hook with the other cups at the
Michigan State Police Post in Sandusky, Michigan. I was given free access to the Sheriff’s Dispatcher’s radio
room where I could read the nightly police and fire log. Nothing that the police did in the county escaped my attention.
Those were the days when I picked up stories about a judge that saw a flying saucer over his house
and a detective that accidentally shot himself in the foot during a raid. Stories like that are usually concealed from the
Those were the days when I knew every officer on a first name basis. I was sometimes "pulled-over"
along the road by deputies who just wanted a friendly chat. Two troopers stopped me one night to show me how their newly installed
radar system on their squad car worked.
I think things started going haywire back when President Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. The
Vietnam War was going strong then but Johnson, a Democrat, was pressing what he called a "guns and butter" policy. He budgeted
to keep the war going while funneling a certain percentage of our tax dollars back into state, county and city coffers through
something he invented called revenue sharing.
To get their hands on some of that money local governments were required to invent new jobs. This
was Johnson’s solution to a high unemployment problem that was plaguing the country in his day, as it is again now.
And one of the easiest ways of creating new government jobs was to create new positions on local police agencies.
The Sheriff’s Department increased its staff by several new men designated for road patrol.
The little town where I lived went from one police chief to a staff of about four officers and two patrol cars. Villages around
the county that never had police departments before that suddenly had police chiefs and patrol cars. That rural Michigan county
was suddenly loaded with police officers with little to do.
The next thing added was a drug task force. Every county in the state suddenly had one so the counties
qualified for additional federal money funneling down the pipeline. Before we had a drug task force we never realized that
we had a drug problem. Suddenly the police began raiding marijuana fields and arresting high school children on charges of
possessing and distributing marijuana.
As time went on I noticed that the police were switching from soft light blue and tan uniforms to
pure black. They looked much more menacing when they pulled us over along the road dressed in those black garbs. They also
began mounting additional flashing red, white and blue lights on their squad cars, and using high powered search lights to
blind us during a road stop. Friendly warnings about driving too fast or having a tail light out suddenly turned into a surefire
summons for something the officer claimed we were doing wrong.
I remember riding with a deputy one night that boasted how an officer could find some legal violation
to justify a road stop after following any car for about a mile.
When the old sheriff retired and we elected a new man to replace him, some major changes were made
at the dispatcher’s room. That entire section of the station was encased in bullet-proof stained glass and access to
the night police log was cut off. I had to have a special pass to get past the front room, and I was forced to ask specific
officers to come out to talk to me if I wanted information about a police story. Police reporting got so difficult I found
that it was easier just to call the dispatcher every morning and get a general run-down of the nightly news.
It didn’t take a genius to realize that the police were telling me only what they wanted me
to know and nothing more.
There was no personal coffee cup hanging on a hook for this reporter at the police station then.
I stopped reporting police news some 20 years ago. Because of the changing going on among the officers
and staff, I didn’t miss it. I knew that the door was open for all kinds of trouble behind those closed doors. With
the press barred from their logs, we began hearing stories stories about police involvement in narcotics and gun sales. Some
of the local deputies began living large, buying lovely new homes, speed boats, and nice cars. I knew something had gone very
wrong but I was barred from getting past the bullet-proof window to find out what was going on.
After 9-11 even more federal money began pouring into local police departments through Bush’s
newly created Office of Homeland Security. Suddenly the police began looking like they were dressed for war. They began showing
up in body armor, bullet proof helmets, black boots and shields and carrying sophisticated new weaponry as they involved themselves
in crowd control.
It has become an "us and them" situation. Police are now beating and shooting civilians, and claiming
self-defense. Citizens are using the new cell-phones equipped with cameras to defend themselves. Now laws are being passed
prohibiting people from photographing the police while on the job. Another new law just went on the books requiring police
to wear small cameras while on the job. Everybody is under surveilance by everybody else.
Things got so lop-sided that the young people resorted to street rioting in Baltimore. It was reminiscent
of the Watts race riots in 1965. The Baltimore incident wasn’t just involving a beating of a black man by several white
officers. They appear to have beaten Freddie Gray fatally. Similar incidents involving police shootings of unarmed black men
in Ferguson, New York City and elsewhere around the country is stirring a public anger and the outcry that broke out in Baltimore
seemed reflective of a general growing public anger. It all may get worse until the police are either reined under control,
or the nation is put under Martial Law.
The old police motto: "To Protect and Serve" has been lost. It now should read: "To Intimidate and
I should add here that not all police officers are bad. Most are hard-working and committed men and
women still trying to serve their communities. But the invisible barriers raised between the media and the police, and the
incidents of those few officers getting out of control and attacking unarmed citizens is raising flags of discontent.
There is a common saying among the people that I find especially troublesome now. They say that when
there is trouble, the worst thing to do is call the police. It is best to handle the situation ourselves in the best way we
can. When police get involved it makes everything worse.