By Robert B. Linn
For the last couple of years, we have been hearing a barrage of criticisms in Seattle and Portland against law enforcement by citizens and politicians. Different segments of the news media have aided and abetted those attacks. The most extreme are the efforts to defund what police officers do.
While I am not being dismissive of the rare instances of blatant police misconduct, it is time to rethink the subject.
Having experienced a gun fight in my front yard, followed by a break-in where I had to hold the intruder at gun point until the sheriff arrived, I think it is time for an alternate view of policing.
People tend to see the world through their individual experiences and personal biases. On the topic of law enforcement, the misleading stories they read and/or see often reinforce whatever view is held. As a result, people tend to identify with suspects rather than the police. It is time to look at the police function through the eyes of those who serve. It might help others identify with them.
It is this author’s belief that most police officers enter into that line of work with a sense of providing a public service. After all, most take an oath to “protect and serve.”
The guiding principle for officers is the law. America was built around being a society of laws. The work of police officers is to protect and defend the general populace – not just legislators or any select group – from law violators.
So, let us consider the actions of police officers when faced with a perpetrator. Their actions depend on the seriousness of a perceived crime. In a number of situations, the acting police officer often has just seconds, or even a split-second, to decide how to proceed.
As an example, suppose there is an encounter with a speeding vehicle that is endangering others. An attempted traffic stop follows. What if the perpetrator goes faster to elude being caught? There is a decision whether to pursue. If the officer quits the effort, the perpetrator goes free with no consequences for his actions. It might induce the offender to continue acting inappropriately. Continued speeding may also cause injury to others.
Some may suggest quitting the chase, then apprehend the individual at a later time and/or place. That creates difficulties of “proof of commission” and also imposes substantial additional costs on society. What a waste of money.
So, what if the stop is ultimately successful, but the individual becomes physically agitated to oppose being arrested. What to do? Those episodes are not supposed to be an “equal” fight. Police are not hired to “roll on the ground.” The police have a right and obligation to protect themselves while dealing with wrongdoers.
What if the individual appears to have a weapon?
There is an almost infinite variety of “what ifs.” Any of multiple, split-second decisions might be required.
The officer may be compelled to use greater force, resulting in some level of injury to the perpetrator.
Then there are myriad examples of when the officer has to intervene in actual, undergoing violence to individuals or property. The officer should be able to just say: “Stop, you are under arrest.” Instead, the officer will be most likely compelled to take some type of physical action which could again result in injury to the perpetrator.
When an injury occurs after the fact, armchair Monday-morning quarterbacks start opining. The most vocal are often those who have never faced a life-or-death situation or have never experienced having to make a serious decision in a split-second. Choosing to spin reality, using selective facts, is common. Oh, how easy it is to flap one’s jaws.
Later, enter the politicians who also have limited experience with having to make those hard choices about actions to take. They hear the hue and cry from someone who feels aggrieved about an officer’s supposed misstep. They do not hear about the ongoing, daily struggles to maintain a law-abiding society. Because it is politically expedient, laws are passed to make the officer’s job even more difficult and more dangerous.
This author believes the anti-police culture by some in our society and the resulting political decisions about the structure of police work will reduce the amount of service and protection that we receive.
It is so sad because we will inevitable lose much of the civility we have relished.
Will this canker in society correct itself? It is unlikely that people with anti-police views will soon change their opinions unless something drastic happens to each of them personally. The parent who experiences a crash involving their child, caused by the above speeder, will have second thoughts. The individual who is assaulted in the parking lot after leaving a grocery store will desire more police protection. Those are too few and not fast enough to change the public dialogue. We need quicker action.
If you have concerns like this author, your voice can help make a difference. Speak up when anti-police tirades are heard.
Robert B. Linn is a semi-retired CPA in Sedro Woolley, Washington.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.