How we police our streets and keep our communities safe has been a hot topic lately. More attention has been put on how police officers and police departments conduct themselves than ever before.
Events like the fatal officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Mo., have sparked outrage from local community groups and government officials, all the way up to the White House, with President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder calling for special investigations into what happened.
Think about that for a second: the president of the United States took time out of his schedule to comment on a single incident involving a police officer in Ferguson.
Community groups have demanded justice and some citizens have vented their frustrations by destroying and looting their own community.
But the national media mostly has focused on the officer’s actions in Ferguson and not the behavior of the person who contributed or led up to the deadly encounter.
I have not read the Ferguson police reports and have not been given any other details, but I do know that any loss of life in our communities is tragic. A young man’s life was cut short and his loved ones, as well as the officer and his loved ones, will suffer enormously because of that incident.
In the last five days, seven police officers have been killed in the line of duty — four in California. That makes well over 100 since the beginning of the year. These officers were just doing their jobs trying to keep our communities safe. They were aware of the risks when they signed up to do the job, and in the back of their minds knew that getting killed always was a possibility, but hoped it would never be them.
Now, families have been left without a father or mother, husband or a wife, son or daughter, or a friend.
Where are the news conferences honoring these sacrifices? Where is the media to document the tragedies? Where are the government officials attending the memorial services? Where is the president demanding that the violence against these public servants come to an end?
Where are the special investigations ordered by the attorney general into plots to find officers’ home addresses so gangs can vandalize their homes? Where are the community organizations demanding offenders be brought to justice to support those that protect them daily?
Where are the special protections against the officers’ names being released to protect their families? Where is the public outcry?
The bottom line is, these officers have been forgotten.
What’s it like to feel forgotten?
Ask any man or woman in a police uniform right now and they will tell you. They will tell you that it makes them want to find another job where their families don’t live in constant fear. They will tell you they are not making as much effort to hunt down bad guys because it is not worth it.
They will tell you their cousin makes more money than them selling houses as a real estate agent. They will tell you about their anxiety they feel every time they put their uniform on.
They also will tell you about their inability to sleep, their back problems from wearing heavy equipment, their deteriorated eyesight from working night shifts, their hyper-vigilance, and flashbacks of trauma they have witnessed.
It leaves them asking, is it worth it?
It never has been more important to acknowledge and remember that no one forced these people to become police officers; they did so because they felt compelled to be of service.
They are just your husbands, wives, sons, daughters, moms and dads trying to do a dangerous job so they can provide for their families. Remember this the next time the media or government officials focus their fear-based reporting or political agendas on the split-second decisions an officer made to defend himself or herself or another person’s life.
Unfortunately, I think you will get that chance very soon.
I simply ask that their service and sacrifices not be forgotten and that the public appreciate their willingness to stand guard so our communities can sleep safe at night.
A well-known metaphor is used to help train new police officers what their job is all about. New officers are told you’re a sheep dog now, and it’s your job to protect the herd of sheep from the wolves.
You see, wolves eat sheep, and if it were not for the sheep dog to keep the herd together and scare and fight off the wolves, there would be no herd left.
Keep up the good fight and stay safe sheep dogs. The wolves are out there, and your herd needs you.
Kevin Von Luft is a columnist for Behind the Badge OC. He is a 16-year law enforcement veteran. Von Luft also holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology and helps police officers and their families as a marriage and family therapist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org