Saturday, November 29, 2014

Officer Down: Why No One Cares.

The vitriol, violence and nonsensical behavior of many in public, fueled and televised by the media (and on the internet, Dr. Ben Carson did a wonderful job of showing his firearm training and use of lethal force ignorance, for example) in regards to the Ferguson situation got me thinking.  Have no fear, this article isn't about Ferguson specifically because im sure we are all tired of hearing about it at this point, however, had things gone differently, would you have heard about it at all?

Think to yourself , when was the last time a police officers death made national news?  Have you heard the name Deputy Christoper Smith? What about Chief Michael Pimentel?  Sergeant Michael Joe Naylor, Deputy Danny Oliver, Constable Robert Parker White or Officer Shaun Richard Diamond?  All of these officers and many more this year, were killed in the line of duty in a fashion normally interesting to the news media; they were shot or beaten to death.  Yet no national news, only local news coverage and the major networks aren't interested in picking that up.  If Darren Wilson had lost control of his firearm and been murdered my Mike Brown, would there have been marches, protests, riots?  Would there have been a call for better police training, for new body armor, for smart guns or for more officers?  Would there have been a call for more community focused anti-crime programs?  No, there wouldn't have been.  Wilson's death would have been given the same media attention given to the opening of a new park, or a ribbon cutting for as new expressway.  The Media doesn't care about murdered officers, that is self-evident in their lack of attention to their deaths.  The public perhaps cares more, though as many are driven in their knowledge by what makes the front page of CNN or they catch on the radio on their way to work, you cant care if you dont even know it happened.  Its fairly evident from whats seen on social media that the relationship between law enforcement and the public is broken anyway.

People don't trust the police; not nearly as much as our idealistic memory tells us they did so many generations ago.  No-knock warrants, "militarized gear," DUI check points, traffic stops, police brutality, shooting unarmed but violently dangerous suspects, the list of reasons to not like the police is long.  The divide between cop and citizen gets wider and wider until we literally don't know each other and the mentality is one of us versus them.  If the cop is your frinemy, or someone who makes your skin crawl when they sneak by in a patrol car, if you believe Alex Jones or subscribe to the idea of the police state, why would you care if a cop is murdered?  If you enjoy breaking the law in the form of doing 10 over the speed limit, smoking some weed or stashing away an illegal short barreled rifle for use when the shit hits the fan why would you care if a police officer is beaten to death or shot while sitting in his patrol car doing paperwork?  The police represent, at the very least, a punishment for breaking the law and maybe you want to continue to break the law.  You aren't hurting anyone, after all.  What about all those who are?  Thats different right?  I totally agree, it is different, respecting the fact that it is different is important.

I'm going to be honest, I am biased.  I serve in law enforcement and have for many years.  However I still remember what it was like to hate the cops as a teenager, as a young adult ducking the MPs on post while in the Army, and again as a civilian after the army.  I remember that police officers had no interest in me if they were not there to see me.  Closed off from the world in patrol cars, silent in lines at a fast food restaurant, suspiciously watchful because of what I drove or maybe how I was dressed.  I remember getting the looks.  I also remember giving them years later.  I became, in a way, the officer that I didnt care about, the officer that would shake me up or ruin my night with a traffic stop. I never felt that way about a firefighter or an EMT because they only come to help.  The police, well they can come to help, or they can come to take you to jail.

We don't care when cops die because they aren't people to the mass of the public, they represent money lost to a ticket, an arrest or maybe even a physical altercation.  Their supposed inherent evil and break-the-rules mentality has been captured by film and TV; some of us were told as young children that if we didn't behave that police man would take us to jail.  The divide between citizen and police has been shoveled deep on both sides.  Some cops don't think themselves as civilians, some have a deep seated distrust of the public because the majority of their interactions with the public are with the worst of society (its sort of a job requirement).  We don't trust each other because we don't know each other.

Shockingly, not an accurate representation of the police.
Yesterday I saw a police officer helping a woman change her tire.  I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw that.  Its not his job to do so; but its not his job to not, either.  I did it a few times as a patrol officer, not as many times as I could have.  Serving the public is a phrase in law enforcement, maybe not as much of a practice as it should be.  We know the uniform, the car, but do we know the cop?  We don't care when a cop is murdered because we didn't know him.  There are officers with an invested interest in their community, I know there are, but do you?  Have you met an officer, got to know an officer who has no connection to you other than patrolling where you live or work?

Pictured:  Something you will never see again.
There is no social duty to respect the police, nor moral requirement to care when they are murdered in the line of duty.  No manner of law or pressure can make an individual feel anything.  We are not obligated to mourn, nor attend a funeral, donate to the surviving family or protest against the acquittal or light sentence of an officers murderer.  Thats exactly as it should be.  Respect is earned, not required and caring about someone requires a general and meaningful interaction. Knowing just how dangerous (or sometimes boring) a police officers job is requires a genuine interest.  The feelings of some against the police should be evident that they can organize and protest when they feel the police are wrong.  Some are simply interested in rioting or looting but just as many have an honest distrust and/or hatred of law enforcement because of real, imagined and media inflated situations where the police broke the public trust.

Well that never happens.
No one is in the streets protesting criminal behavior against cops, but they should be.  Its so easy to dehumanize someone; from rival sports fans to dirty faced kids in Africa, we recognize who we align with or who we are apart of.  When the police are seen as a faceless mass, a machine that's only function is to punish you for breaking a law (that are never written or passed by the police themselves), the police become inhuman and therefore not worthy of our compassion.  This isn't the citizens fault, it is the cops.

I do blame us in law enforcement because we are the only ones in the conversation who know what its like to be a citizen and a cop.  Despite some stories to the contrary, not even the most cop of cops is born a cop.  Most of us grew up with, at the least, a general distrust of the police.  We remember what its like up until we get a badge, say some words and go 10-8 and then its us against them.  We interact with the worst of society, we begin to form prejudices based on neighborhoods or streets, zip codes or clothing and we lose that feeling we used to have because we are the police now.  We are the ones with the power to change public perception one kid at a time and we fail each and every time we don't have the conversations.  If we want the public to care, we have to be willing to care first.

This isn't a blanket statement, because I know there are others out there who do put in the time to know a little more of their community than those the dispatcher sends them to meet (or see again for the 12th time this month).  If the only time we break and interact is on a call, we are wrong.  If we want the public to be rightly outraged when an officer is assaulted or murdered, they need to know who we are.  If we want the public to support our actions when they are justified, they need to understand what we do.  The Us Vs Them mentality is an epidemic that we can fix, provided we try.

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