Today is Police Officer Memorial Day in Minnesota. Twenty years or more ago, this day had special meaning for a lot of people. Then the misconduct of Officers across the nation came to light and for many Americans, the phase “Police Officer” took on an entirely different connotation.
I have been extremely fortunate to know dozens of excellent Police Officers in my career in local government and indeed one of my very closest friends is a Police Officer. He is the epitome of what you would expect in an Officer; willing to run into danger while we are all running away, intelligent, intuitive, caring, empathetic, dedicated, hard-working, and the type of law enforcement official you want in your corner when things go wrong. As my friend, my perception of him is indeed tainted, but by any measure by any person in our community, he is seen as the model officer. Today and every day I salute and applaud his efforts to keep us all safe and find the bad people.
If I didn’t have this sort of experience with my friend and the men and women of our local department, I too may have a completely different opinion about Police and this special day that recognizes Officers across Minnesota who have lost their lives in the line of duty. It makes it difficult for me to fully understand what anyone who has had the opposite experiences with Police feel and think when approached by law enforcement.
It may be, however, that in that recognition lies the key to being human. We are all different. We all have different experiences that shape who and what we are and how we perceive those around us. And more importantly, there are good and bad people in every line of work. Good secretaries and bad. Good priests and bad. Good bus drivers and bad. Good Police Officers and bad.
When the bad versions of any particular position do bad things, they taint the goodness of their counterparts and it’s a stain that is difficult to get off no matter how many good things you do. Each time a municipal government employee does something wrong and people talk about it, in the minds of some people all government employees are bad because one of us was.
When the one person we are taught to trust above others, a Police Officer, does wrong, the stakes are so much higher. People lose their lives. As people began to lose their faith in the goodness of Police Officers, they no longer call them when they need them and that puts everyone’s life in danger. If we can’t trust the people who are supposed to protect us, what is the alternative? Anarchy and chaos.
I can’t claim to have the answer to how to weed out the bad cops, but that’s exactly what we must do. Doing away with the mentality of cop protecting cop or rookies not being able to speak up when they see something being done wrong is a start. Only by holding themselves to the highest of standards and getting rid of the chattel that taint the good work a Police Officer does, will the trust for Police Officers be restored.
Until that day comes, I will remember the Police Officers, and the families they left behind, who gave their lives protecting others. I will honor and cherish their memories as I will for those who died at the hands of a bad cop. But more importantly, I will pray that we find, train and mentor new Police Officers in the mold of my friend.
Being a cop is a hard job but there are good people across the country doing it well and today I recognize each of them and those good cops who went before them.
Be well my friends…