So the ACLU has developed an app for cellphones that will record any interactions with the police and automatically send it the local ACLU office. The group has gotten on the bandwagon with media pundits, government bureaucrats, political grand standers and cop haters in general who continue to demonize the police.
While every cop in America knows about the power and, believe it or not, the value good video can have, their concerns are rightfully placed when their split-second, minute-by-minute decisions in highly toxic circumstances may be open for review and critique by those who have never faced such encounters. If those who may review those videos have their own prejudices, allow race or some other social dynamic to become front and center ahead of the reality of what the officer was facing at the time, that very cop, who took an oath to protect and serve your community, can be dead in the water.
In the current atmosphere, will local police officers be willing
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to take the risks that are an integral part of what a good cop is expected to do? Will an officer be asking the question: If I must use deadly force or some level of force to make this legal and justified arrest, am I willing to accept the ancillary effects of my actions? We know the officers in Baltimore and other cities are asking that question every day. If you asked your local officers and sheriff’s deputies, I think you might be surprised at their answer.
Yes, cops make mistakes. Sometimes their mistakes and, in rare instances, intentional unethical acts, result in deaths. When their actions reach a level of misconduct, negligence or even a crime, then of course they should be held accountable. When charged with crimes, they should be prosecuted and tried as appropriate. All well-led police departments and the officers who work for those agencies understand that.
Cops, black, white, Hispanic, Asian or whatever, do not address potential deadly force conditions based on race. Their decisions are based on the level of threat to their very being or that of someone else they are duty-bound to protect. These are very personal and discretionary decisions with the officers’ training, their mindset and their survival instincts dictating their actions.
With all the calls for police reform that will inevitably mirror those that came about after the Presidents Commission on Police and the Administration of Justice in the 1960s and the ongoing questions about police and community relations in many cities across the country, where are the calls to address the many causes of crime that contribute to the issues now gaining national attention? The responsibility for crime and disorder obviously is a focus for policing, but it also lies squarely at the doorstep of those in political leadership and those community activists who attack the police for the very role they have taken an oath to uphold.
After 50 years of failures to effectively address long-standing sociological conditions
that contribute to crime, the results fall to the street. Informal structures develop to fill the gaps in those cities strapped with crime. Those realities by default go to the police. To the cop in the street. Those cops generally respond to people who are under stress, emotionally at their highest level of agitation, angry, despondent, under the influence of drugs or alcohol or to plain old criminals and dangerous thugs who have committed crimes and desire only to get away, regardless of what they have to do to resist police officer intervention.
At the same time, an officer is entering a situation that in most instances is an unknown or at the very best he or she has been provided limited or erroneous information. Fraught with tension, stress and regardless of the amount of training or personal resolve, the situation in some instances becomes life or death. With the thousands of encounters between the police and citizens every day across the nation, it’s amazing that more deadly force tragedies don’t occur. They don’t because cops use all their training and innate judgment to end it otherwise. They do it every day.
So today, in the current storm of rhetoric, what’s a cop to do? What they always do. Put on their uniforms, badges and bullet proof vests and continue to do the job that so many others would not do.
John M. Wolford of Oxford is a retired chief of police with 38 years in municipal law enforcement.