Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Should law enforcement think outside the cell?

These days, we're always being urged to "think outside the box." Maybe it's time for law enforcement to think outside the cell.

The general rule at the moment, whether institutionalized by legislative decree or not, is that police and sheriff's departments never, ever, hire anyone with a criminal record.

But when you think about it, does that really makes sense?

I'm not suggesting that law enforcement agencies set up recruiting offices in Leavenworth or Sing Sing. As with so many other things, though, the "one size fits all" ban on ex-cons has undoubtedly robbed us of some potentially savvy, capable and committed police officers. After all, who knows crime and criminals as well as someone who used to be there?

Not only would this added insight help the law enforcement departments, but it would provide a ray of hope for those who truly want to put their past behind them.

Conditions, of course, would have to be met. Here are some suggestions:

1. The individual must have spent an agreed-upon amount of time out in society without getting in any more trouble (maybe psychologists could establish the proper time frame here).

2. Those who committed violent crimes would have to be culled out. If someone has serious anger issues, for examples, he's not the sort of person we want to hand a badge and gun to.

3. It would be a good idea if the individual sought employment somewhere other than the place where he committed his or her crimes. That would prevent any emotional conflict from having to arrest old friends, family members or crack-smoking acquaintances.

4. The person would have to jump through the usual educational hoops and complete the usual training programs.

After all that, though, why not? Another plus for ex-cons is that they approach the street with a certain amount of understanding and empathy, unlike those whose earlier lives have been more sanitized.

It would be a risk, to be sure, and some departments might shrink from the specter of having an ex-offender they'd hired backslide in a very public way.

On the other hand, most of the cops who misbehave on the job only see a jail cell after the fact.

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