Being a police officer is one of the most stressful and hazardous occupations in our nation. Aside from active duty military, I can think of no other occupation where individuals desire to kill you just because of how you earn a living.
The everyday duties of police include interactions that vary from engaging with local schools and educating a classroom full of elementary students to investigating dangerous individuals that have little respect for anyone. Officers can respond to situations where they are merely there because a wife is mad at her husband, but a similar call could result in the discovery of an abused child or even a dead body. There is no way to tell the difference from the initial report.
The job is dangerous to both physical and mental health. Officers can be attacked without provocation, and they will undoubtedly see scenes that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. In exchange for this, they receive pay that is near median income and further receive criticism for events and situations utterly beyond their control.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for police officers, and you should, too. Without law enforcement officers our society could not function. Notwithstanding this, in the age of body cameras and cell phone videos, the bad actions of police officers have taken center stage in the media.
A recent example of this was the case of 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario in Windsor, Virginia. Second Lt. Nazario, an active duty member of the United States Army, was stopped by police when they could not see his license plate. While he kept his hands displayed at all times, never resisted arrest, and posed no threat to the officers, he and his dog were pepper-sprayed in his vehicle, he was kicked to the ground, and at the end of the altercation he was instructed not to complain about how he was treated or he would be criminally charged. He was then released without even a ticket being written.
The officers, in this case, were clearly in the wrong. So, too, was Derek Chauvin when he killed George Floyd. So, too, was Timothy Loehmann when he shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice. So, too, were the litany of other acts displayed in the media over the last many years showing horrible decisions made by police.
Nevertheless, I do not believe, nor should you, that the entire profession is corrupt. There are about 28,000 arrests made daily in the United States, and very few of those are made without good cause.
Generally, the public interacts with the police only in bad situations. It is rare to see an officer when things are going well. It is also easy to blame them for our own wrongdoing. But make no mistake, the police are the good guys. No equivocation. They are expected to put their lives on the line for the rest of us, and they are expected to put real bad guys in jail. They are also human.
Police officers have lied, stolen, dealt drugs, driven drunk, and abused their spouses. So have doctors, lawyers, airline pilots and teachers. Police should be held accountable when they hurt people, but the profession as a whole is noble.
If you see an officer out and about, please thank them for their service to the community. Good officers still deserve our respect.
John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.