Good cops are taking a bad rap because of bad cops

Published 12:24 pm Tuesday, June 16, 2020

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Even one bad move by someone to enforce the law can be enough to cast a shadow on all law enforcement. When several such events occur in short order as has been the case the last few days across the nation, the temptation is to allow all to be stained and that is really wrong.
The overwhelming majority of police officers, especially in our county and city, serve admirably every day to keep us safe on roadways, streets, and in our homes and workplaces. They work late and weekend shifts, seeing too much of humanity’s dregs and have to function under spotlights that are quick to expose their own human failings.
They deal daily with domestic violence cases, thefts and shoplifting incidents, drug users, and traffic incidents.
Most police officers are good people who do their very best in unimaginably difficult situations. And we remain convinced that in most cases, when police take people’s lives, they had little choice.
Police work has always been dangerous and in 2020 America it seems like it’s never been more so. But incidents in which seemingly routine interactions with police escalate into officers shooting individuals have gotten our attention.
In many cases, the common theme is that law enforcement officers feel threatened and decide to use deadly force via their firearms as a result. We don’t question that the officers feel threatened. But the officer-involved shooting in Atlanta, Ga., that made headlines across the nation deserves some discussion.
Is chasing an individual just because that individual flees the right move in every case? The mindset of police here and nationwide appears to be that if someone runs, they need to be chased down and apprehended, even if it’s uncertain why they’re running.
Most of us would agree that running after a murder suspect is definitely a necessary move to ensure public safety. But is it worth chasing a panicked individual who’s simply fleeing from a motor vehicle stop? In most of these cases police know or can easily find out the identity of the fleeing individuals, track them down and arrest them without incident later.
Furthermore, plans to arrest a suspect should be devised to limit the chances that deadly force will be needed. Every time officers open fire there is always the chance of an unintended individual being struck. That could be a fellow officer or innocent person simply walking down the street.
What’s tough about police work is that seemingly normal situations can go awry and our officers can be placed in situations in which they have to make split-second, gut-wrenching decisions to protect themselves and the public.
The point is that no local law enforcement agency takes an officer-involved shooting lightly, even if the individual who’s shot is a wanted criminal.
But when the outcome of any police incident is a citizen being shot, it’s far from ideal. Such outcomes cause local law enforcement agencies to launch their own investigations to determine whether officers acted properly.
The vast majority of law enforcement officers enter that career because they want to help people. They want to be and are the proverbial good guys protecting the rest of us from the bad guys.
Do police make mistakes and do innocents sometimes get hurt as a result? Unfortunately, yes.
But in the vast majority of incidents, the men and women who accept the perks of being a cop — low pay, bad hours and the chance of being killed every shift — save countless lives every year and offer up the best defense possible against our society’s criminal element.
We probably don’t say “thank you” enough for their service.
We hope local law enforcement agencies realize that the default position of most Carter County and Elizabethton residents is that our police officers, deputies and state troopers make good decisions and when a cop opens fire he or she has a very good reason for doing so.
Unlike some of America’s urban areas and large cities, law enforcement officers in Northeast Tennessee enjoy widespread support from the public.
That pays dividends for our local cops in a variety of ways — from people not being hesitant to report crimes or other suspicious activity to people being willing to not just cooperate with law enforcement but to even help the cops solve crimes and locate and arrest suspects.
The high standards we must be able to expect from law enforcement make it especially troublesome to witness occasional failings such as those reported in recent weeks.
Perhaps the best that can come of the recent examples of what not to do is that they will be used as teaching moments for current and future police officers so they won’t make the same regrettable decisions.
Good cops live lives rich with meaning. To the fullest. In service to others.

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