Behind the Badge: Law Enforcement Backlash Makes Us All Unsafe
First of a Three Part Series
Police work has always been, and continues to be, one of the more noble and selfless professions in society. Discretions from a small minority of officers have resulted in increased media scrutiny, which is not negative in and of itself, but has led to dangerous and incorrect generalizations that taint the good officers with the bad.
Seeing a rapidly deteriorating understanding between law enforcement and the citizens they serve has prompted me to share with you, what I believe, is the true story behind the badge. In a three-part series, I’ll share the challenges police departments face, the solutions we are developing locally and the brave faces who protect our community.
First and foremost, we all need and benefit from law enforcement. Our laws form the foundation for a civilized society, as does the expectation that those laws be followed. As a result, there must be a defender of those laws and consequences for those who choose to disobey. Without officers willing to work hard and risk their lives, crime would increase unabated and we would all feel and be unsafe.
Without a doubt, there are officers who commit misdeeds and should be punished and held to the same standard as every other citizen. However, the actions of a few officers have created a backlash negatively impacting all in the profession and frankly, having unintended results that make all of us less safe.
Quality Police Candidates Are Becoming More Difficult to Find
When our Chief of Police tested in 1983, there were more than 200 applicants for only two open positions. In our latest round of testing in Sandy, we had 40 applicants, with only 17 showing up, for eight open positions. Of those that tested, four didn’t make it through the initial testing, four were eliminated after the interview process and two withdrew.
These numbers illustrate a problem that every department in the country is experiencing: finding qualified candidates to serve and protect is becoming not only challenging, but a potentially catastrophic problem. The numbers would seem to suggest our youth are no longer aspiring to police work anymore for a variety of reasons:
• Police work is demanding and emotionally draining
• In a good economy, interest decreases as applicants look for higher paying jobs
• Media coverage has contributed to a negative perception of police officers making the job unappealing as a profession choice
• Society’s insatiable thirst for information resulting in misinformation about incidents being released and opinions decided before an investigation has even begun, much less completed. The conclusions aren’t even heard as the public has long since moved on to something new.
• Many applicants simply can’t be accepted due to poor life choices before they apply, such as substance abuse, financial issues or criminal backgrounds
• The change in state retirement has led to a dramatic decrease in experienced officers joining new police departments, utilizing their experience in new communities
• There is a general lack of respect from the public, making a difficult job inherently life-threatening
In order to have an adequate number of police officers on the street, we are being forced to hire officers with little to no experience, invest a great deal of money and resources to train and, inevitably, lose a fair number of those due to the competitive climate with all police departments wooing officers away. We are in a perpetual hiring process as we work hard to ensure the safety of our communities.
In short, we have a complex law enforcement problem in this country that requires creative solutions from local departments. Chief Thacker said it best, “Law enforcement departments are filled with men and women who value life and safety and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect. The negative rhetoric must be replaced for a more valuable dialogue on overall reduction of violence in America. Police officers are an integral part of the solution. Let’s all work together to fix the problems while still honoring the brave men and women who are willing to stand behind the badge to protect us all.”
Next month: Local Law Enforcement Solutions