End of watch
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.