Is the pendulum of cop antagonism swinging slowly back to common sense?

Events in 2019 signal a top-down renewed appreciation for law enforcement officers that will hopefully continue into the next decade


This article originally appeared in the December 2019 PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit LEO optimism | Developing a 'vision GPS' | 2019 SCOTUS roundup, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions

I just want to help people. 

That was my claim during my first interview for my first police job. A lot has changed between then and now, but the truth of that statement has been a constant. Although I admit that this foundation was shaken by one assault after another.

My first call was an unknown disturbance at a residence. I arrived in my pressed uniform like it was the shining armor of Sir Lancelot and slid from my patrol car as slick as a dismount from a trusty steed. With professional compassion, I approached a distressed young woman who stood on the porch of the small house. Before I could ask or say anything, she screamed: “Get the *%#* off my porch!”

President Donald Trump is pictured at the 2019 IACP conference in Chicago after signing an executive order creating a commission to study law enforcement. Applauding on the right is Attorney General William Barr who recently said that the American people
President Donald Trump is pictured at the 2019 IACP conference in Chicago after signing an executive order creating a commission to study law enforcement. Applauding on the right is Attorney General William Barr who recently said that the American people "have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves."  (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

I just wanted to help.

One of our regular customers – the ones where you already have their date of birth memorized because you’ve run them for warrants so often – was walking with a pronounced limp in addition to his usual stagger, so after a brief contact, I had EMS check him. I didn’t need ten codes, I just said: “It’s Ernie.” The medics, who also knew Ernie quite well, realized he probably had a broken leg and transported him. He became combative in the emergency department, so myself and two other officers were helping with restraints so he could get treatment. For some reason, Ernie focused (to the extent he was able) on me and demanded that the other two officers get “that son of a bitch” (meaning me) “out of here.”

I just wanted to help.

I have been sworn at for correcting a child safety seat violation, blamed for not preventing the burglary I was investigating, and accused of favoritism for not arresting one person and of bias for arresting another.

I just wanted to help.

I realized early on that evaluations were going to be critical, that complaints flooded in and commendations trickled, and that attaboys were as rare as gold nuggets. And this was mostly before the viral videos edited to make anyone behind the badge look foolish or vicious, or the epidemic of false narratives from activists and politicians. We even saw the previous White House state that police investigating a suspicious person “acted stupidly.” 

Interesting times

It is said that an ancient Chinese blessing “may you live in interesting times” is ultimately a curse. Regardless of one’s perspective, it seems that we do, indeed, live in interesting times.

A scan of the biggest news stories beginning with the dawn of the quickly closing decade shows no national headline directly involving police issues until 2014, the year that two NYPD officers were assassinated and the year of what is now known simply as “Ferguson.”

For the next few years, police behavior and mass killings were regular topics. With the media obsession with Donald Trump’s presidency, officer-involved shootings were edged out as top headlines. Although it may not seem like it, the heat has turned down a little bit.

Attorney General Barr’s comments on supporting police may signal a top-down renewed appreciation for law enforcement officers. There were some legislative victories for first responders, a huge increase in awareness of the need for wellness and mental health support for cops, and even some media attention to the plight of wounded officers.

Opportunity for optimism

Whatever it takes to keep your motivation, grab onto it tightly in the coming year. Whether it is ritual, family, faith, past victories, or the quiet knowledge that you’re doing the right thing and that makes a difference in the world, amplify your intentional focus on those things. That motivation may create a new you or reinvigorate the old you.

We know that the profession is still trusted and respected. We know that whatever gets thrown in our way, whether by the public, our peers, or the policymakers, our hearts are still beneath the badge reminding us what our purpose is.

Whether we consider the turn of the calendar page on January 1 as just another day or the dawn of a new decade, there’s never a bad time to do a good thing. If the pendulum of cop antagonism is swinging slowly back to common sense, 2020 could be a pivotal year. It might be a little easier to remind ourselves why we got into law enforcement in the first place because that never changed no matter how hard it was.

We just want to help people.

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