Prior to printing this editorial, I interviewed law enforcement officers in the police, sheriff and state police departments. I spoke with officers in multiple areas of the state, including Howard County, as well as the retired officer sector. I write this editorial with history in my youth as not always being the best citizen. I have done research online as well as book form.
My reason for doing this editorial is the constant barrage of negativity by the media (in all forms), and by a group of elected officials at the highest level, against the very people that we rely on to protect us. The media and elected officials not only use generalization, they use OVER-GENERALIZATION in regard to the officers and areas they report on and about and speak of the events that take place in this country. These words and actions used against the police promote and push people to be negative toward all police. Are the criminals being negative? You wouldn’t know it by how the news is reported. This has been going on for several years and gives criminals the idea that the criminals are ENTITLED to resist the requests and commands of an officer. This attitude promoted by some parents, a lot of the media and some of the political community EMPOWERS the lack of respect for the officers whose job it is to uphold the laws.
Every officer and every area is not the same. Anytime you over-generalize in a negative way about a group of people you create hatred against race, gender, age, religion or profession. There are approximately 800,000 law enforcement officers in the U.S. These officers as a group have millions of encounters. Most of these encounters go well. Some do not.
To stay alive and keep other people alive, officers have to be distrustful of human nature. While upholding the law, an officer must be aware of every action, every motive and every word in each particular circumstance. Bad guys don’t wear name tags. An event could be harmless or lethally dangerous. Officers see and are called to many negative, gory, violent and tragic events. In a traffic stop or call the officer may be involved in one or more of those in that particular situation. He may not know that until he arrives or the situation unwinds itself after arrival. In order to protect themselves and others, officers have no choice but to be hypervigilant. This includes the same types of observations and thought processes as a soldier must use when in the course of his duty.
Hypervigilance is the necessary manner in viewing the world from a threat-based perspective. It is having the mindset to see events unfolding as potentially hazardous. This helps the officer to see the threat or risk and be aware of the possibility of a negative situation about or beginning to unfold. The biological state of hypervigilance is the body’s way of increasing survival through heightened functions. An officer’s body and mind need to sense and overcome threats. To be most effective in all encounters, the officer must look at it as potentially threatening in order to increase his/her and others chances of safety and survival. When off-duty, it is very easy to fall into the opposite of hypervigilance. It can be a biological and psychological roller coaster. It can affect and possibly ruin the officer’s family relationships if the officer and those close to the officer do not work hard to maintain a positive situation in their relationships. Some years and some decades the number of suicides by law enforcement is greater than the number of deaths of criminals.
In sports, there are many times in a single game that there is a question about the referee’s call or other issue that requires a review of a play. So then we get to view the play from multiple angles as the play is being reviewed. In the police world (the real world), the decision made is much more important and crucial. A time-out is not available and neither are multi-camera views/angles taken simultaneously of the same situation, action or issues available to the officer to review to decide his next move or decision. There is no stop-action mode or freeze mode.
When there is a disputed action or decision made by an officer, the body camera recording is viewed over and over from the comfort of a chair in a non-threatening atmosphere of an office or even from your Lazy Boy as we watch the news. But the officer had to make a split-second decision. The video is evidence, but does not have the same feel as being the officer living the experience in real time.
Oftentimes, there may be one or more people with phones filming from multiple angles and distances. The officer only has one angle and one distance as he deals with the occurrence as the situation develops. A person could be off his medication, or be extremely disturbed or so angry or drug-crazed that he may even be hit by a bullet and still be a threat because his aggressiveness continues. He may not even know he has even been hit.Think of the worst thing that you have ever seen on TV or in real life. I worked for two insurance companies in my career. Part of my job was to conduct accident investigations. There are memories from some of those investigations that I am reminded of from time to time.
Vehicles I have seen, photos I have viewed, records I have read and people I have spoken with. There are some memories that I have never shared as they are too gory, too disturbing and too sad. But I was not at the scene at the time of these occurrences. Law enforcement and other first responders were there. Law enforcement and first responders go to every type of occurrence or scene imaginable. Even the smell of some scenes linger with them. You may have seen an officer or other first responder talking and laugh at a scene. It is not that the situation is funny, but laughter or a joke may help deal with the stress one or more people may be experiencing. It is a defense mechanism. In Howard County, there is a team involving the sheriff’s department, police department and fire department that deals with trauma and stress management.
Officers get a lot of training which includes de-escalation training.
They receive 600 to 800 hours of training at the police academy.
There are months of on-the-job training. There are 160 hours of training at the Leadership Academy. Every year there is a minimum number of hours that are required of additional training. The officers I talked to referred to police work as a calling to the profession of law enforcement. That would mean that they are dedicated to providing the best solution to the problem.Who wants to defund law enforcement? Just watch the news. Some of those people are surrounded by 10,000 National Guardsmen and two rows of barbed wire fence at their workplace and live in guarded gated communities. Other groups proudly rioted, burned homes and businesses as well as stole from local businesses. They threatened local residents and beat or killed others. They also attacked police officers who were trying to stop the lawlessness. They were empowered by the lack of involvement by law enforcement and would run roughshod over our cities and towns if allowed. But don’t blame law enforcement. They can only do what they are allowed and equipped to do. Governors and mayors allowed this disrespect against the rest of the citizens to continue once it started. And the governors and mayors even turned down assistance from the National Guard to assist local law enforcement to put a stop to the destruction and looting and injuring of law-abiding citizens and the police.
Officers of the law are people with the same life problems as the rest of us plus a lot more.
They get scared, surprised, overwhelmed, laugh, cry and have the whole spectrum of feelings and emotions. They are in a position of authority. They risk their lives for ours on a daily basis. They are not superheroes. They do not work in a predictable environment. A police officer can’t let a situation control him or her. The officer has to control the situation for the protection of others as well as the officer. And the situation does not always allow the officer to be tactful. Law enforcement officers are our frontline defense against anarchy. Authority and the application of the law is a fundamental component of a functioning society for anarchy not to rule.