End of watch

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

And, for law en­force­ment of­fi­cers, the watch goes on

Mioso­tis Fa­milia sat in the front seat of a mo­bile com­mand post,

mak­ing notes. It was a rou­tine act. Po­lice of­fi­cers across the coun­try are trained in de-es­ca­la­tion strate­gies, hand­gun skills, per­sonal de­fense and other im­por­tant abil­i­ties, but the ac­tiv­ity they en­gage in per­haps as much as any other is that crime-fight­ing pa­per­work.

At 48, Fa­milia had worked for the New

York City Po­lice Depart­ment for a dozen years and was on duty in the com­mand ve­hi­cle, which had been set up in a high-crime neigh- bor­hood af­ter a triple shoot­ing in March. Fam­ily mem­bers and friends said she be­came a cop to help her com­mu­nity, the place where she lived with her mother and her three chil­dren.

The New York Times re­ported she was the baby of nine broth­ers and sis­ters, which no doubt con­trib­uted a lot to her abil­ity to take care of her­self.

She had grown up in the Big Ap­ple, deal­ing along with her friends with life in a high-crime area in which crack co­caine ru­ined peo­ple’s lives.

“She was around all of that stuff like we all were as kids, and she came out of that want­ing to help peo­ple and want­ing to be­come a po­lice of­fi­cer,” a life­long friend told the Times. “It’s a tes­ta­ment to who she was as a per­son.”

The man who fa­tally shot Of­fi­cer Fa­milia late in the night af­ter the city had cel­e­brated In­de­pen­dence Day didn’t care who she was as a per­son. He had a long crim­i­nal his­tory and strug­gled against schizophre­nia and bipo­lar dis­or­der. Ac­cord­ing to all ac­counts, he did not know Of­fi­cer Fa­milia.

“Make no mis­take: Of­fi­cer Fa­milia was mur­dered for her uni­form and for the re­spon­si­bil­ity she em­braced,” Po­lice Com­mis­sioner James P. O’Neill said.

Preliminary counts by the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers Me­mo­rial Fund put the num­ber of of­fi­cer fa­tal­i­ties na­tion­wide at 68 so far in 2017, up two from this point last year.

On the same na­tional hol­i­day, Of­fi­cer Robert John­son of the Northville (N.Y.) po­lice depart­ment also died. He had just got­ten off duty and wit­nessed a car hit a deer as he trav­eled home. He got out to put the deer out of its mis­ery and a sec­ond car struck him along the road’s shoul­der.

Those deaths came three weeks af­ter the most re­cent loss in law en­force­ment right here in Arkansas. New­port Po­lice Lt. Pa­trick Weather­ford, a 15-year vet­eran, re­sponded to a report of a ve­hi­cle breakin. He and other of­fi­cers were search­ing an area and be­gan chas­ing a man who ran from them. That man sud­denly turned and fired, strik­ing Weather­ford. In a mo­ment, a hus­band and fa­ther of two sac­ri­ficed his life as he and other of­fi­cers at­tempted to pro­tect the peo­ple of his com­mu­nity.

These men and women of law en­force­ment have, in re­cent years, had to work in an en­vi­ron­ment that leads them to ques­tion whether their neigh­bors and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have their backs. Had the sit­u­a­tion been re­versed for Weather­ford, for ex­am­ple — had Weather­ford been able to take down his at­tacker be­fore the of­fi­cer him­self was killed — would any­one have been sur­prised if the first ques­tions raised had been about a white of­fi­cer gun­ning down a black teenager? Some would have ques­tioned if Weather­ford fired pre­ma­turely. Af­ter-the-fact guessers would have sug­gested a warn­ing shot was in or­der or ad­vanced a naive no­tion that the of­fi­cer should have, in that split sec­ond, shot the weapon out of the as­sailant’s hands. Those folks have watched too many Hol­ly­wood movies.

Lead­ers of law en­force­ment say they’re hav­ing a tougher time re­cruit­ing of­fi­cers to the pro­fes­sion. Mike Reynolds, deputy chief of the Fayet­teville Po­lice Depart­ment, said safety and public per­cep­tion about the pro­fes­sion is the ma­jor fac­tor po­ten­tial re­cruits worry about, with low pay rel­a­tive to the risks rank­ing next. With cam­eras record­ing a lot of the shoot­ings these days, peo­ple get a chance to re­view re­ac­tions in slow mo­tion and reach con­clu­sions in the safety of their liv­ing rooms be­fore spread­ing their opin­ions by so­cial me­dia. The re­al­ity is de­ci­sions in the field have to be made in frac­tions of sec­onds.

There’s cer­tainly no sug­ges­tion here that po­lice are im­mune from crit­i­cism. We’ve seen of­fi­cers here in North­west Arkansas fire too quickly and we’ve seen them face con­vic­tions. But of­fi­cers striv­ing to do the right thing — which most of them are — should be able to ex­pect sup­port from their com­mu­nity, not sus­pi­cion, as the de­fault.

Early this year, the Pew Re­search Cen­ter found in a sur­vey that only 27 per­cent of all of­fi­cers say they have ever fired their ser­vice weapon while on the job. And yet many at­ti­tudes about of­fi­cers are drawn from the worst-case sce­nar­ios.

And more re­cently, as with Fa­milia’s death, of­fi­cers and po­ten­tial of­fi­cers stand wit­ness as they are tar­geted. Re­mem­ber the five of­fi­cers killed in Dal­las last year? Three of­fi­cers gunned down in Ba­ton Rouge?

“When I started, I knew about the dan­gers of the job, but the thought never crossed my mind that I’d just be sit­ting in my car, walk­ing down the street or hav­ing lunch and I’d just be shot and killed be­cause I’m a po­lice of­fi­cer,” Reynolds said.

This week, New York Mayor Bill de Bla­sio and Po­lice Com­mis­sioner James O’Neill spoke at Fa­milia’s funeral, urg­ing the public not to just rely on po­lice of­fi­cers to help us in times of trou­ble, but to be “their eyes and ears.”

The of­fi­cer’s death “should re­mind every­body that the ci­vil­ity of our city rests on a knife’s edge,” O’Neill said.

Of­fi­cers face dan­gers ev­ery day as they guard their com­mu­ni­ties against a myr­iad of dan­gers. They’ve got plenty to worry about.

Sup­port from the com­mu­ni­ties they serve should not be at the top of the list of things they need to worry about.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.