They Are Sworn to Protect Us. Who Will Protect Them?
As 2019 gets on the way, old issues remain salient. While hoping for a better start, we have been abruptly reminded that issues of national importance cannot be simply wished away at the stroke of midnight and washed down with a glass of Champagne.
This condition is particularly true as the number of Law Enforcement Officers killed in the line of duty has already reached six in 2019, with three officers murdered in cold blood. Saturday, January 5, 2019: Provo Police Department Officer Joseph Shinners was shot and killed while trying to apprehend a fugitive. Wednesday, January 9, 2019: Shreveport Police Department Officer Chatéri Payne was shot and killed on her way to work.
Thursday, January 10, 2019: City of Davis Police Department Officer Natalie Corona was shot and killed while investigating a three-car crash, compounding onto the tragedy we suffered in California as Newman Police Department Cpl. Ronil Singh was murdered during a traffic stop, the day after Christmas. Each occurrence is heartbreaking, and we cannot accept this condition as the “new normal.”
The senseless killings of those sworn to protect us must stop, and as a society, it falls on each one of us to challenge the false narrative that is turning a difficult job into mission impossible.
Legislatively speaking, seemingly the underlying objective is to pilot the public’s rage by focusing on the isolated incidents of police brutality, or accidental outcomes that may occur in the field.
When the narrative at the legislative level turns from public safety, as in protecting the welfare of law-abiding citizens in our communities, to protecting criminal suspects with little regard to the detriment caused to the safety of the public and law enforcement officers, as a society, we must consciously reflect on the long term implications.
We must recognize that reform doesn’t mean restraining law enforcement officers to the point that actions taken during an emergency are the result of hesitation, unclear policies, and unrealistic expectations of what ought to occur in real-time scenarios. In Sacramento, legislators do craft public safety policies from the comfort of their cushioned chairs, and not from the seats of black-and-white units patroling the streets at night.
Yes, police officers ought to be held accountable, and laws are already in place to prevent the excessive use of force. In 2018, driven by a tragic event, California legislators further fueled the friction and distorted the core issues in public safety by introducing AB 931, a piece of legislation that would have changed the standard in policing from using “reasonable force” to “necessary force.” We cannot deny the pain and loss suffered by the family and the community, when on March 18, Stephon Clark, 22, was reportedly running from police in the darkness of the Sacramento night, and his cellphone was mistakenly identified as a gun by one of the officers in pursuit, who then tragically opened fire on Clark.
Field conditions and real-time dynamics were undoubtedly contributing factors. While everyone can engage in second-guessing, how can “reasonable” and “necessary” be discerned in real-time field conditions?
The California’s Police Accountability and Protection Act (AB931) introduced by California Assembly members Shirley N. Weber (D-San Diego) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) ultimately didn’t advance, but it provides a clear example of a legislature out of touch with the realities impacting public safety, and the lives of those sworn to protect us. Police officers ought to be held accountable for their actions, and we must recognize those cases in which officers did use illegal force.
However, these reprehensible actions are symptomatic of a larger societal problem as we have seen abuse in virtually every profession, hence not a phenomenon specific to police officers. Hence, the solution cannot reside in making the job exponentially more dangerous than it already is. Change for the sake of change is not reform. Reforming without holistically understanding all the dynamics at play is the equivalent of building a ship without the hull.