Here’s the thing about the police…

I have interacted with a lot of police officers over the years, both as a citizen and through my work as a private investigator. Most of the police I have interacted with were highly professional and competent; a very small percentage were not. In light of recent (and not-so-recent) events, I decided to put some of my thoughts in writing.

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Being a police officer is a difficult job for a lot of reasons. It’s dangerous, sometimes unappreciated, and it can be very stressful. At the same time, it’s also a great job, because police officers get to help people, have a lot of variety in their work, and it’s an exciting career. Part of the overall package is that it is absolutely essential for police officers to have a high standard of professionalism, and they must be calm in emergency situations.

What this means is that, even when someone is screaming at them, cursing them, slamming them with fists or a bag, trying to hurt themselves, and so on, police officers still need to be calm, professional, and do their best to de-escalate the situation. Because IT’S THEIR JOB. Their job isn’t to punish, to establish dominance, or to protect themselves at all costs. Their job is to stay calm, be Jon Stewart quoterespectful, and try as hard as they can to resolve every single encounter peacefully.

If an officer is being shot at, he or she can absolutely return fire. If someone is holding a knife to the throat of a spouse or child, the officer may have no choice but to kill the person in question, if they can’t disarm that person otherwise. If someone they believe committed a crime is running away, it is the responsibility of the police to chase them, and do their best to stop them without harm.

However, there have, obviously, been a lot of cases in the news lately where police have used lethal force to stop people (very often black people) who were unarmed, or not holding a weapon or threatening anyone, or who had toy guns. Some of these cases are unclear, but a great many others involved clear instances of police officers escalating situations, using force where none was called for, more force than was needed, shooting at the mere sight of something that looked like a gun, or otherwise acting inappropriately. These killings are wrong. They are criminal.

A lot of people will question the actions of the person who was killed. Some suggest the person should have been more respectful, or more compliant. No. Just NO. Being disrespectful isn’t a capital offense in this country—and even if it were, it’s not the officer’s job or right to execute someone for being disrespectful. Officers don’t have a right to shoot or choke or otherwise harm someone because they don’t instantly and unquestioningly comply with demands, either. What they do—what they are supposed to do—is calmly, coolly work through it. And if they can’t do that, they should not be police officers.

More, it’s the duty of police officers to protect the public—not just from criminals, but from police officers who don’t belong on the job. If they are willing to protect officers they know are racist, inappropriately aggressive, and even violent, they are betraying every bit of their job, their community, and their own honor. And we, the people, should do whatever we can to stop it—while supporting the police officers that do their very difficult job responsibly and professionally.

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