Respect for Dangerous Work
Walk the Talk
Unless you have been hibernating in a cave, it should be obvious that an unflattering narrative has been spun and perpetuated about police officers nationwide. Full disclosure: I have been on the side of pointing my fingers at our men and women in blue. And I have allowed others in my ‘echo chamber’ to reinforce this unfavorable view of police officers. But I remembered something I often told my apologetics classes: “we must be willing to enter into the space of another as Jesus entered into our space and time.” So, I encouraged my students to visit a mosque or attend a humanist society meeting. In short, as Kingdom citizens, we should be incarnational. I had to ‘walk the walk and talk the talk’ so I enrolled in our city’s 11-week Citizens Police Academy (September through November 2016). I enrolled because I needed to be fair and allow these men and women to share their side of the story. I enrolled because I wanted to learn about their line of work.
On the first night, the Police Chief asked everyone to introduce themselves and say why they had enrolled in the class. I knew this would be awkward for two reasons. First, I am an introvert and I dislike such things and two, I came to the class with the opinion, “these guys have a lot of convincing to do.” Many answers were given such as “I wanted to learn what my son does” to “I want to become a police officer” to “I want to join the chaplaincy ranks.” When it was my turn, I simply said, “I was curious” (translation, I was cynical).
What Did I Learn?
During this 11-week course, I found these men and women to be human — they were goofy, they admitted that sometimes they get it wrong, they admitted that they want to get home to their families. They shared that some crime scenes are difficult to forget — especially those that involve children. They admitted that, in their particular police department, they have had to correct “bad actors.” Sometimes correcting took the form of disciplinary action with some time off and sometimes correcting took the form of dismissal from their police force. I learned that many police officers in this department did not have a favorable opinion of the media as it often gives a sensational one-sided snippet or sound bite without providing the context. These sound bites tend to fuel the negative narrative.
One class period several officers role played actual situations that some of their colleagues had faced. In particular, these scenarios illustrated when it was appropriate to use deadly force against someone who was armed or not armed. There was one scenario enacted that I will never forget. One day officers responded to a domestic disturbance. An officer played a distraught husband who ran out his house with a baby hoisted over his head. The husband actually threatened to throw the baby to the ground. The class was asked, “should an officer shoot this man?” Silence. That night I realized that on many occasions these men and women are faced with intense situations where they must make a split second decision. That night I realized that on many occasions these men and women are faced situations that were far from being “textbook.” That night, I became acutely aware of the tremendous dangers law enforcement officers face every day from armed and unarmed criminals. I became aware of the huge responsibility these same officers have as those commissioned to protect human life and property.
What Can Citizens Do?
On our graduation night, the police chief said, for the last two years, a negative narrative has been spun about police officers nationwide. He admitted that some of the negative press is warranted but much of it is not. Many residents of Shawnee believe that latter assessment. That is, he said, many of the residents of Shawnee, KS have responded by sending tons and tons of thank you cards and emails commending the service rendered by the Shawnee Police Department. I suggest the church follow suit. In particular, what can citizens do? Let me suggest five actions:
- Pray for our law enforcement officers as Paul reminds us that they are “ministers of God” to maintain justice and social order (Romans 13).
- Warmly greet them in public.
- Consider enrolling in your city’s Citizens Police Academy or suggest one be formed. At the very least become a student and learn about the dangerous work of a police officer (see below for some suggested resources).
- Be an engaged community member: ‘if you see something, say something’ and get to know your neighbors.
- Consider sending police officers in your city handwritten cards and emails expressing your thanks for their service.
While my cynicism has not entirely abated, I did leave the class with a newfound appreciation and respect for these men and women in blue.
(These were compiled by a thoughtful pastor friend in St. Louis whose son is a police officer)
- PTSD:The Hidden Toll of Policing
- “Defining Moments for Police Chiefs,” published in February 2015 (6 months or so after the Ferguson riots). **
- “Re-Engineering Training on Police Use of Force,” published in August 2015. **
- “Guiding Principles on Use of Force,” published in March 2016. **
** Find at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) website. PERF is a professional organization of police chiefs and law enforcement leaders. On the website, click on the “Publications” tab, it will bring up these “Free Online Documents.”Topics: Law Enforcement