Op-Ed: Police officers need to hear from the silent majority too
Detroit Police Chief James Craig shakes the hands of Dallas law enforcement officers at the funeral service for slain officer Michael Krol in Redford Township, Mich., Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Hundreds of officers from Texas and across Michigan gathered in suburban Detroit for a funeral for Krol, who was among five officers killed this month in Dallas. (Tanya Moutzalias/The Ann Arbor News-MLive.com Detroit via AP)
Chris Lewis, Special to CP24.com
Published Thursday, July 28, 2016 9:17AM EDT
Few if any weeks go by that we aren’t hearing of another death of a black male at the hands of police – mostly south of the U.S. border, but occasionally right here at home. Some police use of force incidents “appear” to be questionable at first blush; others perhaps not so – but any loss of life is concerning, regardless of race. In each and every case however, a vocal minority of the public are quick to shout allegations about “police brutality” and “racism” before the investigative team has conducted a single interview, let alone formed any educated opinion as to whether the force used by police was justified, and when applicable – whether police racism was in a factor in any way.
Although these incidents are worthy of significant media coverage and debate, the collateral impact of these tragedies and the volatile protests that often follow, is a heightened belief that racist acts are routinely committed by white police officers against men of colour. Unfortunately, the tangible divide between some minority communities and their police departments has reached epic proportions in a number of U.S. cities as a result.
Though not as frequent here, we have had some similar losses of life. One recently occurred in the city of Ottawa. These are highly-emotional and controversial events that have caused strong reactions from concerned citizen groups in Ontario. We are fortunate to have the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) independently investigate such incidents – unlike the U.S. model where most often the police investigate the police. Though I’m confident those U.S. investigations would also be carried out completely professionally, the public perception will always be jaundiced when the decision is made to not charge the officers involved. Notwithstanding SIU’s investigative role here in Ontario, these cases are frequently incendiary, regardless of the outcome.
The bombardment of criticism of the police has been relentless, on both sides of the border. At times officers are subjected to vicious verbal abuse, accusations and even assaults, but they are expected to smile and carry on.
Police officers risk their lives to protect the public – as do other emergency responders, day after day, 24/7. But policing is different. Police make arrests, take away liberty, lay charges, sometimes injure people and occasionally have to take a life. Such activity is bound to draw criticism at times, and occasionally it will be deserved. They should and will be accountable for that from legal and moral perspectives. There is no place for dishonesty, abuse of authority, racism or excessive force in policing, nor should there be. But they operate under the strictest of legislative frameworks and the intense scrutiny of oversight bodies to mitigate the likelihood of such transgressions.
Good officers just want to do honest and meaningful police work and go home safely to their families after. They see the worst of the people on the best of days and extreme horrors on others. Although they cannot let that jade their decision-making in any way, it does take its toll on their psyche. The recent ambushes and murders of 8 U.S. police officers certainly haven’t eased their level of anxiety one iota. The fear of being shot by a deranged sniper while responding to a routine call for service will make them hyper-vigilant, to say the least.
At the same time, most police officers feel that they are under siege on social media; in mainstream media; and from some citizen groups. Rightly or wrongly, many don’t feel backed by government at any level. Even though many media outlets report on the many wonderful things they do, including the lives they’ve saved, predators they have taken off the streets and victimization they’ve prevented, it often gets lost in the overwhelming barrage of animosity.
All of this to say that police on both sides of the border are hurting. It’s a tough job all around, and it is increasingly hard for them to feel supported – even though I’m still confident that the overwhelming (but silent) majority of the public do.
As the public debate on perceived police wrongdoing continues and efforts are made to bring police and minority communities together, our police need and deserve to hear the support of community leaders at all levels. Respected sports figures and other celebrities need to voice their praises all they can. The public needs to express appreciation to police leaders, government and the media for all the good things the police do in their communities. Social and traditional media outlets must cover the wonderful and brave things officers do 24/7 and not give heightened attention and biased commentary to the occasional bad event.
All of us, parents, teachers, students, religious leaders – citizens and taxpayers all, must keep an open mind to the issues and their many facets. We should have the tough conversations and listen to the various perspectives, while trying to spread the positive messaging about the efficacy of policing in this country.
We ALL need be a part of the dialogue and the solution rather than exacerbate the negativity, while remaining confident that the odd bad police apple will be appropriately dealt with through due process. The overwhelming majority of the barrel is far from spoiled at this point. Let’s keep it that way.