“We the people of the United States…” is how the Constitution of the United States of America begins. Unfortunately, our Constitution does not address the fact that a small number of these people commit acts of pure evil. Those who fall into the hands of these individuals or who witness their actions are grateful for the extensive training of the law enforcement personnel who respond.
It is essential that law enforcement be trained to combat this evil in order to minimize its effect on society. In intense situations that contain an imminent threat to safety, law enforcement personnel are required to take action. As is true for all human beings, the likelihood of making mistakes increases when stress levels surge and there is a limited time frame in which to act. The next time you read an article or watch a video of law enforcement personnel in action, first consider that the individuals you are watching are putting themselves at risk to do a much-needed job. Consider also that the majority of those judging them from the outside, inevitably with limited information, would never consider doing this job themselves.
Let me be clear that I am not justifying the actions of the few individuals in law enforcement who disregard the well being of the people they serve. Instead, I want to convey my belief that the vast majority of law enforcement personnel are doing a good job for the right reasons. We need to appreciate these people, their actions, and the sacrifices they make.
Many Americans today are voicing concern that the law enforcement community seems to be in the process of becoming paramilitary. It is true that law enforcement is utilizing better equipment and training to help combat the growing evil in our country. Back in 1997, during the LA bank robbery, law enforcement nationally became aware that it was outgunned and unprepared to combat certain elements of society. It is also true that a large number of prior military personnel fill law enforcement rosters. According to USA Today, only 6% of our population serves in the military, yet 19% of law enforcement has prior military experience. Some people are concerned that these former military personnel might bring mental health conditions like PTSD with them. Yes, military and law enforcement personnel alike would benefit from receiving more mental health care, but the important question is, why do so many prior military personnel go into law enforcement?
First and foremost, these individuals have a sense of duty and wish to serve others. Second, law enforcement agencies appreciate the fact that these individuals have already been exposed to stressful situations and are less likely to freeze up under intense conditions. Third, these individuals have tactical training that becomes vitally important in active shooter and terrorist events. Sadly, as time goes by, these events are increasing in frequency and magnitude.
The fact is, most law enforcement agencies are understaffed and overworked. This is primarily due to budget restraints but is also due to the fact that fewer people are answering the call to serve, in great part because of the public’s mostly negative perception of the profession. Today, very few law enforcement agencies can financially support stand-alone SWAT teams. Instead, police officers and sheriff’s deputies with advanced SWAT training and equipment are enforcing the laws. There is a huge advantage to having access to individuals with SWAT training and equipment, but this show of force necessarily reflects a willingness to intimidate. Problems can arise when individuals with specialized training begin policing through intimidation in situations when intimidation isn’t necessary. With appropriate training, individuals can learn to switch this special training on and off as needed.
Almost all agencies would benefit from increased budgets to employ more law enforcement personnel, not in order to have more people on the street at any given time but to give their people more down time, to reduce stress and burnout, and to promote more patience and understanding of how they are doing their jobs.
Law enforcement personnel and civilians alike need to better understand how and why law enforcement does what it does as well as the impacts these actions have on others, both directly and indirectly. As we begin to understand one another better, we will be able to come together more effectively to combat the evil that continues to plague society.