Mayor Pete Buttigieg criticized the culture of modern police departments on Wednesday after a police officer shot and killed a black man in South Bend.
“There is great heroism in the quiet miracle of guiding a tense moment into a non-violent resolution,” he told new police recruits in a speech at a swearing-in ceremony for new police officers in South Bend.
Buttigieg’s speech took on a national tone as he continues his campaign for president in 2020.
He challenged the current police culture in the United States and movie and television shows for celebrating police officers for the “heroism of the dramatic save” and the “drama of the decisive high stakes action.”
He urged them to pursue a “career of brilliant skillful de-escalation,” instead.
“We count on you to help lift up those around you and the city as a whole, and you can do that in countless quiet ways that are far from the stuff of television drama but will make a difference every day,” Buttigieg said.
He reminded police officers that they were political representatives of the community, not soldiers, and urged them to utilize their “power to make change.”
“We’re dealing with a culture that still sometimes speaks of officers as though they were soldiers on a battlefield, rather than members of the community that they patrol,” he stated.
Buttigieg pointed to the long history of “racial injustice” at the hands of police officers and reminded officers that the police uniform itself was tainted with that history.
“The uniform has a history, and even if a perfect human being were to put on that uniform, that would mean taking on that burden,” he added.
Buttigieg also criticized police culture for prioritizing officers’ physical fitness over mental health.
“At a time when police culture still puts most of the emphasis on your fitness from the neck down … there is still not enough on the importance on your emotional and mental health,” he said.
Buttigieg commented on police shootings after a police officer shot and killed a black male suspect after he reportedly approached the officer with a knife and did not respond to a command to drop it. The South Bend mayor left the campaign trail on Sunday after the shooting to personally handle the public response to the community crisis.
Although the police officer was wearing a body camera, it was not turned on.
“The journey is incomplete,” Buttigieg said, concluding that public anger about the body camera was “understandable.” He issued an order from the South Bend Police Department on Tuesday for all police officers to turn on their body cameras when dealing with civilians.
Buttigieg also demanded that police officers take seriously their power to use lethal force in self-defense.
“Whenever you use those powers, you act in the name of an entire population. This is why it is inexpressibly important that you do so not only with competence, but with wisdom, that you act not only with restraint, but with equity,” he said.
Buttigieg reminded the new recruits that they were taking their job at a time of a “long shadow of a complex history around policing” in America.
“We cannot pretend that this is unrelated to race,” he said.