IN a free society, we are allowed to criticize and question those whom we place our trust in. This is how it should be.
When an officer involved shooting (OIS) is of a controversial nature and saturates the media all hours of the day, it brings into question the decisionmaking skills of the involved parties. A highly negative incident places even higher burdens and stressors on those currently in the field in uniform who were not involved in the incident in an already highly demanding and exacting profession. Perhaps we should consider the following.
Imagine a doctor who is expected to have mastered each and every aspect of medicine. This hypothetical would mean that from brain surgery to pediatrics to podiatry, any diagnosis or medical procedure would have to be carried out to perfection each and every time.
Imagine further that our doctor is called into the O.R. with little background information on the case itself. He may or may not have qualified personnel to assist him. He may or may not have the requisite tools to perform the procedure. He may or may not have sufficient background information on the patient’s history and precisely how it was that the medical condition was incurred.
He will have to make split-second decisions involving the life of the patient. He will be called upon to explain his actions. He will be questioned before medical panels if something goes awry. He may find himself in court on a medical malpractice lawsuit. In essence under this hypothetical, he will be “flying blind” on each and every medical procedure he is asked to perform and account for. And he is expected to perform all of this flawlessly.
This is the nature of field police work. This is not the administrative, investigative, or those relegated to the nonfield- related aspects of police work. The true field police officer is the one who is always first on scene. He is the one who is pushing the black and white while you sleep. He will be the first one by your side, often alone and unassisted in tense and uncertain times, and your only blue line of defense at that precise critical moment.
He is the one who, unquestioning, will lay down his life and hazard his safety for you, despite never having met you before. He does not have to do this. He does not need to respond rapidly on limited information. He chooses to do this as it is the moral obligation he has sworn to abide by.
The badge does not automatically instill superhuman powers or supernatural perceptive abilities. He is every bit as human as you and I. He has the same fears, trepidations and human emotions as we all do. He has family and friends and problems in life just as you and I do. He may work long, tedious hours day in and day out and yet is called upon at a moment’s notice to make life-and-death decisions in the blink of an eye.
He does not know who, when, or where someone might attempt to harm him. When he ventures out to protect us, he is stepping into the unknown each and every day, each and every moment.
There are those who should have never been permitted to join the ranks of this profession. There are those who have tarnished and abused the badge, and they should be held accountable to the highest degree possible. They are few and far between. Most officers are attempting to do the right thing for the right reasons with little reward expected save for the satisfaction that they were there for you.
An officer’s actions will be microscopically scrutinized in an event that is often measured in mere seconds. He will have to account for every action, word, tactic, thought process, and perception. He knows this every time he pushes out into the night, into the unforgiving unpredictability of the field, and yet he still chooses to do just that. It is a high-stakes risk that many would never take nor even contemplate.
I was once among the ranks of those who swore to serve and protect you. I have lost friends, and others have been injured. We knew the risks of our profession and yet we undertook them every day. Ours was a moral obligation that we all embraced not for the pay, prestige or reward, but because this was our chosen profession and it was the right thing to do. We took pride in a job well done. We took great satisfaction that some among you are still out there due to our actions.
We look back on careers that were uncertain, demanding, and hazardous and yet immensely satisfying in the same moment. We know full well that some who follow us will perish, and yet there are those who will still, remarkably, follow behind us.
The next time you encounter one who wears the badge, consider the obligation he or she has undertaken. If they are anything like the partners I worked with, they are there for you at all times under all conditions because it is simply the right thing to do.