It feels like cops across America have taken more and more criticism in the last few years. Maybe I’m just noticing it more, but it seems like stories of police abuse (real or imagined) are popping up more frequently, amplified by “hands up don’t shoot,” Black Lives Matter, and the NFL kneeling protests. With that in mind, I’d like to share a few quick thoughts.
- Cops have a dangerous job. Every day they put on the uniform they are risking their lives for us; to secure our safety, to secure our property. For that, they deserve our respect.
- As a twice deployed veteran, I am cognizant of the split-second life or death decisions police officers must sometimes make. I thankfully never had to take a life, but knowing that at any moment you might have to make a quick decision with earth shattering ramifications requires a different mindset than civilians are used to. It fills us with grief and rage when we hear that police shot someone with a toy gun, a cell phone, or who was reaching for their ID. And it should. But take a moment to consider it from the cop’s point of view. It is easy to say we would always make the right decision, but it gets a bit harder when someone who might want to harm you is holding something in the shadows or makes a sudden movement. The fact that something went horribly wrong does not mean you would have done any better in the same situation.
- We should also avoid the tendency to second guess how much force is required when it is required. We occasionally read headlines that police fired X number of rounds at a dangerous criminal. Firing one shot to hit the bad guy’s gun hand is the stuff of movies. In the Army we were taught the correct number of rounds to fire is however many it takes to eliminate the threat. Police should be trained well enough to not fire randomly, but what sounds like overkill to people reading about it days later in the safety of their home might be just what was necessary at the moment.
- All that not withstanding, with the respect that is their due comes increased expectations. It can be extremely frustrating for cops to have the people they protect yell at them or to watch people they know are criminals escape justice, all while feeling they have a target on their back. But none of that justifies applying any more violence than is necessary. We should understand the difficult position police are in when judging how much violence is necessary in a given situation, but accept nothing beyond what is necessary.
- In addition to our safety and property, we also entrust police with our liberty. Warrantless searches, civil asset forfeiture, and abuse of power are worse than the crimes committed by burglars and drug dealers. If a typical criminal escapes justice, there is always an opportunity for the cops to get him later. If cops become a threat to our liberty, there is no justice.
- We ask a lot of our police, and we should expect excellence. When cops commit a crime they should be punished harsher than any other criminal. But we should remember that the vast majority of American police are good, kind people who keep civilization from collapsing in on us. The next time something goes horribly wrong, and it will, really think about how you would have reacted in the moment before judging someone who deserves both our respect and high expectations.