Law enforcement. The thankless profession.
Sure, there’s the occasional polite “Thank You” for services, and even the obligatory political citation for acts beyond the call of duty. But unless you’re a police officer, or member of a cop’s family, there’s no true understanding of what law enforcement goes through.
Cops don’t expect it. No one goes into their particular flavor of public service expecting citizens to understand the intricacies and the intimacies of policing.
It’s likely the same for any emergency response profession. It can’t be adequately explained, but such vocations are filled with life and death decisions, intense experiences, and a lot of stress – either at an incident, or waiting for one. Firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, search and rescue, corrections, military … having an appreciation of what particular professionals go through can only be speculation, never experience.
There IS a world of understanding (and some envy) in the cop’s shrug-worthy expression: “Everybody loves a firefighter.” They earn and deserve every accolade, but they’re not law enforcement.
There’s a difference between appreciation and appreciation. That’s not a misprint. One begets the other.
What is appreciation, really?
Appreciation takes two forms: acknowledgement, or full understanding of something. You CAN have one without the other. Police officers deserve both. In the current environment of uninformed, anarchic, extremist hatred of law enforcement, I suspect, given a choice, most police officers would choose understanding over acknowledgement. Knowledge over awards.
January 9th is National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day (L.E.A.D.) which was started by the National Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) in 2015. “Those citizens who appreciate law enforcement and are discouraged about the negative attention being given to law enforcement are encouraged to take time on January 9, to show their support,” C.O.P.S states on its website.
As wonderful and needed as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day is, it’s sadly, in large part, gestures in the dark from families, colleagues and friends who already have cops’ backs. The love and support are truly appreciated because it comes from the heart. I think most police officers, however, would trade speeches, blue lights, and social media posts for some demonstrative, concrete support on the street. We lost 145 police officers in 2018 – a 12% increase over 2017 and a 15% rise in firearms-related deaths.
We need to call on ALL citizens, particularly those who battle the police at every step, to APPRECIATE the job at hand. It boils down to a return to hopeful human tenets – good over evil, choose right not wrong. Requesting citizens return to better behavior, particularly after generations of it lacking at home … it’s a tall order.
From the criminal to the highest court, from the youngest voter to elected representatives in every branch and level of government – we need to remind them lawlessness is not an option. From grade schools to the most fire-branded universities, there needs to be a dialogue of understanding – that our republic, our nation of laws, cannot survive without law enforcement.
To extreme left activists and zealots on the right – the lessons of constructive discourse need revisiting.
Civil disobedience needs to draw the line at any consideration of violence, including property damage, particularly when directed at the very men and women protecting their freedoms – the police.
Better behavior and respect toward law enforcement when they’re doing their jobs would go a long way – THAT’S an appreciation. Tougher laws made by stalwart legislators, and dedicated prosecutors and judges unafraid to dispense justice – THAT’S an appreciation.
Remove police from political agendas
Bending to political pressure, hatred, or excited falsehoods for the sake of appearance or popularity is weak and places police officers in danger. Elected officials understanding an orderly system put them in office, that disorder will take them out, and allowing the police to do their jobs ensures order – THAT’s an appreciation.
In pockets of our country, police officers have been ordered to stand down, stand by and tolerate lawlessness by extremists. Common sense as well as the spirit and the rule of law was lost. Innocent citizens were injured, businesses damaged, public property destroyed, and police officers hurt – direct results of misguided, personal, political agendas. Anarchy seemingly ruled at times.
Only when society suffers widely, and severely, will it gain an understanding, and appreciation of the role police play. By then it will be too late. Unbridled violence in cities like Chicago proves that.
Meanwhile, so-called “sanctuary laws” prevent inter-agency cooperation between local and state authorities with their federal partners to combat crimes committed by people here illegally. Both citizens and police officers have paid for this stupidity with their lives. Repealing these laws and giving law enforcement the ability to communicate – THAT would be an appreciation. Taking the politics of immigration out of law enforcement, stopping the use of police as pawns – THAT would be Law Enforcement appreciation.
Support and listen
Give police at every level the tools to do their jobs. Stop making agencies struggle and compete against each other for funds for training, preparedness, education, and equipment. It’s so basic. Adequately fund efforts to fight crime. Government has a knack for making jobs difficult, particularly the police. Just like the education movement encourages us to “let teachers teach,” allow police to police.
We currently see increased efforts nationwide to combat “the opioid epidemic.” Cooperation between law enforcement and community resources that provide addiction outreach, recovery, counseling and other services is great, but is a reaction to a crisis. Police and other responders predicted this several years back as they saved lives, saw people die, and shared the impact on victims’ families.
Law Enforcement Appreciation Day – What can you really do?
Do you REALLY want to have an appreciation, and show your appreciation for the work law enforcement does?
Listen. Listen to your police officers. Provided you can get them to talk.
Cops are so used to hearing “no” in response to suggestions, or requests for training, equipment, or other resources, they clam up. The hierarchy of government provides few opportunities for police at any level to be heard. There are systemic disconnects inherent in government that need to be overcome.
From the street where the critical problems occur – police officers don’t feel they’re heard by Command for any number of reasons – personal, political, organizational, traditional. Even Command isn’t heard because of the typical disconnect of appreciation between civilian governance and law enforcement.
It’s not public displays of appreciation we’re lacking. It’s the current culture lacking an appreciation for what cops do.
We hold law enforcers to “a higher standard” than ordinary citizens. That produces extraordinary people – individuals willing to put themselves at risk for others – for society’s sake. They need people to listen. They deserve to be treated as the professionals they are. They deserve to be heard.
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Hank Kula is a retired police sergeant with 26 years in law enforcement. A certified crime scene investigator, crash reconstructionist, and former journalist, Hank works as a police instructor with recruits, veteran officers, and supervisors. His instructional specialties are in crime scene management and investigation, photography, communications and public information. Click to view more articles written by Hank.