The Behavior Savior
By Jordan Yassine
The job of our law enforcement is to serve and protect. However, the meaning of these words are vague. Who and what are police officers “serving and protecting”? While this may seem like a common sense question, it’s a reasonable one to ask. Police departments across the country have adopted this famous phrase. And each department has a different philosophy. For this reason, we should have an answer.
Unfortunately, the reputation of law enforcement has suffered over the past year. With the recent police brutality videos, people are questioning the intentions of officers more than ever. Tensions between law enforcement and society have been at their highest in decades. “Serve and protect” are the last words some communities would use for law enforcement.
The issues that police departments are facing didn’t appear out of nowhere. In fact, they’ve been brewing all along. It has to do with the methods officers use to enforce the law. It’s no big secret that law enforcement likes to punish law breakers. Punishment is effective. It works quickly to get rid of unwanted behavior. It’s also convenient. ‘Punishment’ can take on many forms including fines, arrests, and property seizures. While these methods keep society in line, they do have their side effects. It’s these side effects that are beginning to haunt our officers.
Behavioral science has spent decades studying the side effects of punishment. According to a research article in the Psychological Record, one side effect includes aggression. We tend to attack our punisher. Another side effect includes modeling those who punish us. For example, five police officers in Dallas were shot last year. They were murdered as ‘payback’ for nationwide police shootings. It’s these side effects that have shaken police departments across the country.
If law enforcement wants to improve its image then it needs a new philosophy. An alternative to punishment is reward. Enforcing the law shouldn’t just mean punishing those who break it. It can also mean rewarding those who follow it. Vouchers, tax breaks, and token systems are some of the ways good citizens can be rewarded. Research has shown that rewards help alleviate the side effects of punishment. Rewards also help strengthen relationships. In a time of unease, “serve and protect” can take on a new meaning. Rewards better serve communities and help protect police officers. Society can no longer ignore the side effects of punishment and the tension that it brings. What does law enforcement stand to lose by rewarding us?