The pedestal is cracked, and I can't repair it by becoming a smarter consumer. I cannot comparison shop for a cop as I can for a doctor. I can't ask for credentials or training academy grades, or check references on the cop who pulls me over for speeding or the officer who responds to an emergency.
The cracks in the pedestal require structural repair. I want to know not only that officers-turned-criminals will be prosecuted, but also what steps are being taken today to prevent the Michael Stanewiches and Craig Peyers of tomorrow. Assurances from the top of thorough internal-affairs investigations and background checks won't suffice. They're too private.
More openness about disciplinary decisions and evaluations of officers' performance is the key to improving public confidence. It's the only solid substitute for the direct experience or word-of-mouth referrals we use to judge other people we entrust with our welfare.
And support for this openness needs to come from rank-and-file officers, instead of having them close ranks against change. I want to know that officers care more about the reputation of good police officers than about shielding buddies with problems.
New safeguards may also be necessary. But if I can't see the checks and balances at work, they are of little help.
Blind trust in officers has gone on the shelf with blind trust in other institutions. But the flicker of fear when I'm confronted by law enforcement might be extinguishable. And I sure don't want it to grow.