Being a police officer is a dangerous job. According to the Officer Down Memorial website, there have been 29 officers killed in the line of duty since Jan. 1, 2016. Fifteen of those were killed by gunfire. Several officers were killed in car accidents.
Making life-and-death decisions in a split second, seeing horrific accidents, and being scrutinized for every action takes a toll on an officer. The lack of support by many communities and police administrations only compounds the stress officers deal with. Why then do these brave young men and women continue to serve and protect?
Advances in technology and the increased use of body- and dashcams, surveillance cameras and cell phones has added to the complexities of doing police work. Now any questionable actions by an officer can be scrutinized by the public on YouTube and main stream media channels before the officer has a chance to defend his/her actions in court.
A New York Example
Two veteran detectives in New York City were recently found guilty of an improper search of a vehicle during a car stop all based on a cell phone video from a passerby. The two occupants of the vehicle that was stopped declined on several occasions to file a complaint with the New York City Civilian Complaint Board (CCRB).
The passerby, a high school chemistry teacher, thought the stop was “illegal” because the detectives only searched the driver, a black male. He videotaped the stop and sent the recording to the CCRB. On Feb. 9, a group of lawyers found that the officers should not have searched the vehicle based on that tape and now the two detectives are facing administrative charges and may lose their vacation time.
I’m neither judging nor defending the actions of these two detectives. The police officers that I have had the honor of working with hate to see an officer acting badly. When one officer crosses ethical or legal lines in the execution of his or her duties, it makes it hard for all officers to do their job effectively.
Society allows officers the use of discretion when enforcing its laws. Yet we judge officers based on a media-driven expectation that officers are automatically wrong. Police administrators are hesitant to defend the actions of their personnel until the public has had a chance to judge. The lack of community and organizational support may cause officers to decide not to act at all.
So why do officers continue to serve? The answers most often given by police recruits when asked why they want to be a police officer are “I want to help people” and “I want to serve my community.” It’s a calling.
And the dedication to serving the community continues throughout a police career. Veteran officers may not show as much enthusiasm as they did when they were rookies, but they continue to serve professionally every day, often putting themselves in harm’s way.
Police officers not responding to calls for service is probably never going to occur. Officers have too much pride and dedication to service to allow society to go unprotected, and police officers should be held to a high standard.
But they should not be second-guessed every time they act. No other profession is as scrutinized or criticized as the policing profession. While most of society supports the police, outside micromanagement from dedicated segments of society threatens to kill the dedication that brought officers to this profession in the first place. Mendacious nuisance complaints and fear of reprisal from management can make an officer fear for his or her livelihood.
Policing in America has continued to evolve to meet the needs of society. But it seems recently, police have been taken for granted. If taking them for granted eventually means calls for service going unanswered, how would that effect your community?
Bottom line: Support your local police.