Role of police in society on display during Constitution Center trip
On a visit to Israel and her religious and holy sites, inevitably groups of Israeli soldiers are seen touring the area as well. The reason for this is that the Israel Defense Force provides its recruits with a historical background of the Jewish people in the Jewish homeland to provide history and perspective to fortify the soldiers with Jewish pride so that they will know what it is they are fighting for. It has been suggested that all law enforcement officials in America would also benefit from a similar styled training. It was therefore thrilling to hear about—and be invited—to a training of the Cherry Hill Police at the United States Constitution Center in Philadelphia. In addition to visiting several of the outstanding exhibits, a unique program was designed for police officers to learn and appreciate the history of policing in this country. Chief Monaghan explained that it is crucial for officers to understand where their population is coming from. A prominent message of the day was that the more we relate to the people, the better we can serve them. Our day at the Constitution Center provided an excellent and engaging opportunity for all the officers and community leaders to remember how we got to where we are in this land, and how we need to protect it.
The day began with an interactive tour of the exhibits and a discussion of the original role of the police. The early police were watchmen whose primary job was to make sure that fires wouldn’t devastate the farmlands of the young country. In time, the job transformed into fighting crime brought about by the Industrial Revolution and an influx of people moving into the cities. Eventually police were also tasked with making sure that the will of the local government was enforced and that anyone who came into conflict with these governmental officials or violated the law was apprehended.
We visited exhibits featuring the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and participated in a discussion about justice vs. fairness. While we understand that the Constitution established justice and law in the United States, the practical application of the law is not always viewed as fair. Fairness is subjective and depends on the times and the ethos of those times. We debated whether the Constitution that united our country was just, fair, for all time or just the time it was written in. It was implicit that the role of police today is to protect justice in our land while dealing fairly with all citizens.
The concluding interactive part of the program was a group discussion with students from the Philadelphia School District about the current relationship and tensions between the police and the African American community. The conversation was open and honest and both the police officers and the students were enriched by it. The students expressed how one sour interaction with an officer can tarnish trust in the law, while one good interface can foster a future of positive relationships, cooperation and dialogue that could benefit an entire city.
Our visit to the Constitution Center reinforced our role as chaplains. We have an important role to play as liaisons between the police and the community. We want to help all Cherry Hill citizens develop a positive relationship with our law enforcement officers. We want to encourage all parents to be a powerfully positive influence for their kids regarding the police.
Have you ever heard a parent angrily say to their child while pointing to a police officer standing innocently nearby, “If you don’t behave, I will have this police officer arrest you.” We can do better. In a world filled with rancor and mistrust, we must continue to build and maintain trust with our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line for us every day and night. The police are our partners in supporting the Constitution and making justice and fairness commonplace in our community and beyond. But this all depends on us living up to our tradition that teaches us: “Al Tifrosh min Hatzibur,” to not separate from the community.
The next time you see a police officer, smile and say, “Hello and thank you for all that you do.” We are fortunate to live in a town with an excellent and caring Police Force that is there for us 365 days a year. May Gd bless their efforts to fairly maintain safety and justice here in Cherry Hill. s
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein of Cong. Sons of Israel and Rabbi Larry Sernovitz of Temple Emanuel are chaplains with the Cherry Hill Police Dept. This is one in an occasional series of articles on their experiences.