Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

You don't know me, you just think you do
Written by Kristen Roman

On a recent evening, as I walked with my five-year-old son into the park near our home, I encountered one of our neighbors. I don’t know him that well, but I have seen him in the park many times with his grandchildren, and I’m sure we exchanged names once long ago. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 16 years, having moved here when I began my career as a police officer. Many of my neighbors know that I work for the Madison Police Department, so it was not surprising to me that the neighbor I expected to simply pass by in the park that evening knew I worked in law enforcement.

As my son and I headed toward the play equipment, we passed the neighbor, and he and I nodded and smiled politely. Then he turned and asked me if I’d read a recent news article about two NYPD officers who had been indicted for various and sundry criminal activities. Honestly, I wasn’t paying much attention to the details of the story to which he was referring, because I was distracted by the realization that the only conversation I’d ever had with this neighbor was a variation on the same theme – police misconduct.

I realized that he was not interested in whether I’d read the article or what my thoughts were on the matter. Instead, he just wanted to vent about the police to the police. And to him, I was the police. I decided to give him a few minutes to finish his story and then try to politely move on. I suppose I could’ve responded with my own variation on his theme, such as “Did you hear about that grandfather who abused his granddaughters?”

He is, after all, a grandfather. Trust is essential in human relations, professional or otherwise. We entrust doctors with our physical well-being, clergy with our spiritual growth, teachers with our children, bankers with our money and police officers with our safety. Of course, nearly all societal roles carry with them an authority that can be responsibly applied or abused. When that trust is broken – whether by doctors or teachers, police officers or grandfathers – it is crucial to remember that the acts of a few are not representative of the whole. I am not “the police.”

I am an individual, proud to work in law enforcement and certain that I practice my profession responsibly, honestly, passionately and always with a keen awareness of the trust that has been placed in me by those in my community and by those with whom I serve. As human beings, we all have a responsibility to each other and we should all be held accountable for our behavior, regardless of our profession. Why, then, is the law-enforcement profession so easily criticized, and why do so many citizens believe they know how to do our job better than we do?

Few people think it is their place to tell a doctor, or a carpenter, or a financial adviser how to do his job if they know nothing of what they speak. It is difficult enough to sustain enthusiasm for one’s work when a significant portion of the people encountered did not seek you out and are not pleased you are there. One can deflect only so much second-guessing, and rude commentary – “I pay your salary!” “Why aren’t you out catching real criminals?” “Why didn’t they just shoot him in the leg?” – before it begins to instill a sense of alienation.

A continued absence of support and an “us vs. them” paradigm can breed a type of isolation and disconnect. This, in turn, can create an atmosphere ripe for some people – who got into this profession to make a difference for the better – to take a turn for the worse. Too often, stories printed in newspapers and reported on the six o’clock news perpetuate a mistrust of police.

The mistakes of a few officers are held out as representative of the profession, or, worse, officers who acted justifiably have doubt cast upon them when none is warranted. And as with media coverage when the occasional plane crashes, an objective perspective is lost because no one hears about the thousands of successful flights that occur each day. Law enforcement is a noble profession made up of individual men and women who pilot countless successful “flights” in their careers under the most turbulent conditions.

A single officer shouldn’t be held accountable for every instance of police misconduct any more than a single snowflake should be blamed for a blizzard. It is better to engage meaningfully with officers, avoiding sweeping generalizations and perhaps even offering a simple thank-you. Odds are it is well deserved and long overdue.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Newspaper Headlines That Make You Say...Huh...?

"Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead"

"War Dims Hope For Peace"

"Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge"

"Enfield (London)Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide"

"Cold Wave Linked To Tempatures"

"If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile"

"Man Struck By Lightening: Faces Battery Charge"

"Juvenile Court To Try Shooting Defendant"

Makes you wonder who does the editing at these fine publications...