A right and a duty to survive: Why police lives matter

Thousands of men and women around the country who have been participating in protests and unrest reveal that there are huge issues of misunderstanding and distrust between American cops and the people they serve

Every police officer in the nation who has been following the events in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland understands that “there but for the grace of God, go I.” Every time a man or woman who has sworn the oath “to protect and serve” goes out on patrol they are in harm’s way and may be called upon to protect themselves, a citizen, or another cop. 

The use of force is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’ for us and when that moment inevitably comes, the possibility for it to go horribly wrong is always present. Split-second decisions may have never-ending consequences and there is absolutely no possible way to write a procedure or create a technique that will fully manage physical violence.

This is one reality of the streets, and another is that every law enforcement officer has not only a right to survive, they have a duty to survive. They owe that duty to themselves, those who love them, and their communities. The harsh reality is that this may mean that they must kill in order to preserve their life and their safety. We must work to ensure that this message gets out and isn’t crushed under the weight of the politically correct talking heads and politicians.

No Cop Wants to Kill
During an interview, the mother of Eric Garner — who died while being arrested by the New York Police Department — made a speech where she called the death of her son “a thrill kill” for the police. The media adored that phrase and played it repeatedly in their quest to fan flames and boost ratings. The inconvenient truth is that when a death is accidental and results from a physical altercation where the intent was simply to take a suspect into custody, the psychological and emotional consequences can be devastating. 

No cop wants to kill, but every cop must be prepared to kill. Police officers know this — we have to find a way to help the public understand it, too.

Further, because the men and women who have chosen law enforcement as career are human and not automatons, each will bring their unique perspective to the job, and this is a double-edged sword when it comes to use of force. The very diversity that police agencies seek out and encourage within their ranks also plays a role in how and when use of force decisions are made. 

For instance, a “street smart” officer who grew up in the inner city and had to use physicality growing up to protect themselves will assess danger differently than a person who grew up in a rural community and never had a fight in their life. Although their training in the Academy may be identical, they will perceive threats and responses to those threats very differently. 

Training is key to accomplish the police mission and is most critical when it comes to the “use of force.” It is because of training — and technology — that the number of officers murdered in the line of duty diminished since the 60s and 70s from hundreds to figures in the double digits today. The blood of police officers was running in the streets and the police profession realized that to protect officers, serious changes needed to be made. 

The need for officer survival training is critical and unfortunately continuing education and proficiency in all areas of law enforcement is often lacking depending on the agency philosophy and budget. If the Federal government truly wanted to make positive efforts to improve American law enforcement, it would provide resources — both in terms of money and developing advanced training courses — to officers around the country. 

The technology in ‘shoot / don’t shoot’ training has improved dramatically yet is often prohibitively expensive for some agencies in the country, so many officers never gain access to it. This is unfair to the citizens in communities across this country as well as to the officers who protect them. Instead of discussing those types of issues which would be positive for law enforcement, we have heard how important it is to equip the police with body cameras. 

While body cameras could prove to be beneficial, it should not be portrayed as a method to protect the public from the police (which is how everyone from the President of the United States to the “talking heads” on news stations across America have presented it). In fact it is the police themselves who need the protection from those that make false claims of brutality, sexual misconduct and discourtesy against them, that would probably benefit most. 

A Right to Survive
The intensity and passion of the thousands of men and women around the country who have been participating in protests and unrest reveal that there are huge issues of misunderstanding and distrust between American cops and the people that they serve. 

This is a tragedy. It’s especially tragic because the vast majority of men and women who have chosen law enforcement have dedicated themselves to the communities that they serve and protect. Countless acts of bravery, kindness, compassion, and empathy take place each and every day in small rural communities and the largest of cities. 

Every law enforcement officer has a right to be proud of themselves and the men and women who stand beside them in their fight for justice just as they have the right and the duty to survive. 

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