From Contributing Writer Robert Zabbia
This past election cycle has been a whirlwind of change. Many voices have risen claiming that the policing practices that have been in use for many years are inherently racist. This isn’t going to be about whether they are or not, this is a plea for people to realize the role of the police in our society, and why they need our support. Now the pushback to this trend has already started with the surprise win of the Republican Candidate for Virginia’s governor race upsetting the former Democrat governor, and the too close to call race in heavily Democrat New Jersey, not to mention the law to disband the police department in Minneapolis being voted down.
The news has been filled with the dramatic increase in violent crime since the “Defund the Police” movement started. Violent crime in Minneapolis is up nearly 30% this year compared to the first 10 months of 2019. The police force has lost about a third of its officers and response times for 911 calls now average about 15 minutes. Our major cities have abandoned the practices of upholding the “lifestyle” violations and following the broken windows method of law enforcement that cleaned up NY City under the Giuliani administration. In Seattle more than 300 officers have resigned or retired in the past two years. Seattle has seen some 443 shootings this year, up from 332 in all of 2019. The streets are full of homeless, human waste and the downtown businesses struggle with a rise in shoplifting and drug use.
We are hearing residents of the hardest hit communities are coming out against their political leaders and asking for help from the very police that some politicians are looking to defund. Eric Adams beat out the “defund the police” candidates in the Democratic primary and won the NY City Mayors race with a law-and-order message. The moderate in Seattle was leading the progressive candidate for mayor 65% to 35% and in Buffalo, the former mayor who lost in the primary to the defund the police candidate won in the election as a write in. The message people are looking for is to hold the police accountable, but to back them so they can properly protect the citizens.
Law enforcement is a noble profession and one that demands respect. Police officers are the thin blue line that stands between law-abiding people and criminals, between order and lawlessness. They protect our communities, and by enforcing our laws, they enable those communities to flourish. I believe it is important for the media to call attention to the successes of law enforcement and to encourage our fellow citizens to support police officers in their difficult and dangerous work. It is also their responsibility to hold the police who have violated their oaths accountable.
Law enforcement officers have taken an oath to faithfully execute and enforce the laws of our cities, counties, states, and nation. They are literally the business end of where legislation meets the people. But their actual day-to-day duties go way beyond these fundamental ones. After all, a high degree of professional conduct is expected of our law enforcement officers.
We expect them to have the compassion of a pastor, bravery of a soldier, reflexes of a cat, memory of an elephant, accuracy of an accountant, diplomacy of a congressman, patience of a teacher, articulation of a lawyer, knowledge of a professor, and impartiality of a judge. As the Tennessee Supreme Court has so aptly observed, “Police officers are society’s problem-solvers when no other solution is apparent or available.”
Yes, we expect law enforcement officers to do all these things, all at once, and while earning a paycheck that is equal to only a fraction of their true worth as public servants. And, we also expect them not to die in the line of duty. But, tragically, they do. Police officers have extensive training, but they are human. They run to danger when everyone else is running away.
All too often critics of law enforcement talk about police officers like they are the problem, instead of the solution to crime. Those who feel sorry for criminals and seek to excuse or even celebrate their lawless, antisocial and immoral behavior now engage in dangerous rhetoric to encourage people to “resist” all forms of authority, including law enforcement.
In fact, there is a whole social movement which has co-opted the term to encourage persons to defy and ignore laws and policies that they don’t like, and to actively oppose any attempts by law enforcement to enforce those laws. The cognitive dissonance is staggering, and it’s dangerous. This is wrong, and it’s a slander of the honorable men and women in law enforcement. This slander must to stop—and it must stop right now. This rhetoric, unfortunately, has consequences. It discourages cooperation with law enforcement, making us less safe. And it can even encourage violence. It’s no surprise, then, that we see rising levels of violence against law enforcement.
Today we are facing troubling new challenges. Our law enforcement officers are being asked to do more with less, and it is putting their lives at risk. In addition to their conventional crime-fighting responsibilities, our officers are on the front lines facing an increase in violent crime, a rise in criminal gangs, the threat of terrorism, an unprecedented drug epidemic, and cultural trends that too often show a disturbing disrespect for the rule of law.
Yet, there are fewer officers on the street, and other precious resources such as training and equipment dollars are also being cut as a result of smaller budgets. At the same time, we have seen law enforcement be constantly attacked, maliciously targeted, and unfairly maligned. And as recent events show us, there is now a more brazen criminal prowling the streets of America, and our law enforcement officers are uniformed targets for these criminals. These trends cannot be allowed to continue, and we must meet them with a firm resolve and effective measures.
In 2020 there were 295 police officer deaths nationally a huge increase over the 139 officers lost in 2019, which was a lower total since 2013. Every day when a police officer goes to work, they fear becoming another statistic and can only hope that if they are to die on the job, maybe their death will mean something and make society wake up and understand that the way the police are being portrayed is no longer OK. Assuming that police brutality is alive and well is costing us more lives than it’s saving. Rioting for things like “a world without police and prisons” is detrimental to society, and should be an entirely unwelcome thought in the minds of Americans.
Certain instances like the deaths of George Floyd, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner lead the public to think that this is a matter of race. It’s not. In fact, unarmed black men only account for 4 percent of lives taken by fatal police shootings. In December of 2015, a study was conducted to find that 965 people were killed by police that year, and 875 of those people were armed in some way. Ninety were not. So, in 2015, over three quarters of deaths at the hands of police were caused by their duty and vow to protect someone else or themselves, a vow that the public is made very aware of.
Being raised in Levittown in the 70’s and 80’s, I have to admit that I was sheltered from diversity, and what was going on in our cities and poorer neighborhoods. It isn’t that I grew up in a ritzy neighborhood, and didn’t know what struggle is like, but outside of my Hispanic friends, there just wasn’t much diversity in the town I grew up in. Most of my friends were raised in blue collar households, and many struggled as many families did at that time to make ends meet. Not that any of us were missing a meal, but scrounging change together to buy pizza, or soup and sandwich night was a common thing in many households.
The police in our town were pretty friendly. Like most adolescents, we looked at them as “the man” and keeping us from having fun. Meanwhile they were keeping us safe, and from doing many stupid things. They would often tell us why we shouldn’t be doing what we were doing, and at worst, bring us home to our parents. Luckily, I never took it that far, but I watched a few kids get in the back of a squad car and be driven home.
When I got to college, I got to learn about many more cultures and the experiences that they had that were different than what I experienced. Some of my friends ended up in the NYPD, or local police. I knew that they were all good people, and that they weren’t “racist” in any way. They were just out to do their job. I have family who served in the South Bronx in the 70’s, and heard about how the police were treated there, and what they had to do to stay safe. It was a troubled time back then, and many people today forget about the high crime that we experienced.
Walking through Times Square or Central Park were actually dangerous back then. The same with the South Bronx, and parts of Brooklyn. The police had their work cut out for them because of the challenges they had to face to protect the same people that were hostile to them at the same time. Maybe I’m old, but it seems like we have gotten back to the same situation as we have then.
I’m not going to say that racism doesn’t exist, and that there aren’t police officers who don’t look at certain people in ways that they shouldn’t. We have had incidents that just shouldn’t have happened of police brutality. There is no place for that, and America came together when George Floyd was killed and condemded such acts.
Unfortunately, acts like this have been used to start a movement that I just can’t believe we are finding ourselves in. The defund the police movement is a misguided attempt of fixing the wrongs that occur. People have gotten used to such a long period of prosperity and peace, that they forget what it was like in the 70’s and 80’s. Avoiding neighborhoods, not going to parks at night, being afraid to travel the subways were all common prior to the improved policing policies that were brought in to place in the 90’s.
Times Square and Broadway became a huge tourist destination, and was likened to Disney Land. Central Park was safe to travel at night, and so were the subways. Citizens could walk the city streets in relative safety. My wife lived in Manhattan, and I was shocked at the difference from when I would visit the city when I was growing up.
Now we are going back to the time of the criminal taking back the streets. Not because the criminals are better armed, or smarter than the police. It is because the politicians have decided that enforcing the law is somehow racist in and of itself. We have cities that won’t prosecute theft of less than $1000. Homeless people were encouraged to go to the shelters to be safe and healthy. Now they are allowed to roam the streets, and many have mental disabilities and are causing harm to others and themselves.
Criminals have been emboldened by the bail reform laws that let them back onto the streets. They know that if they get caught, they will be quickly released to do as they please. This has lead to massive retirements of our police officers across the country, and a decrease in the desire to be a police officer.
The latest attack on the police is the mandatory vaccinations causing the police department, and other first responders to lose their jobs, or go out on leave. There are many who have suffered through COVID, and recovered, and many doctors and experts say there is no reason to get the vaccination if that is the case. There is no science behind this latest edict from the same political leaders who still call for the defunding of the police, so is it a coincidence?
Resistance is on the rise among police officers, even though they have been hit hard by COVID. More than 460 officers have died from the virus, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks deaths in the line of duty.
John Catanzara president of the FOP local in Chicago, said about half of his members have not been vaccinated and called a mandate requiring inoculation “absolutely wrong.”
“They were willing to go into a no-pay status at midnight tonight and get sent home,” he said, suggesting during an appearance of Fox News that that the city could not afford to lose police officers.
“You know, the reality is we have a profession nobody else wants to do right now. They cannot get anybody to go into this police academy,” he said.
Many of these officers are resistant to taking the vaccine because of the mixed messages that have been sent out. Many officers worked through the pandemic, where hailed with other first responders as heroes, were exposed to the virus and recovered or didn’t have any symptoms. They feel that anti-body tests, prior infections, or testing should be an option. Some have religious reasons to be exempted, and others are being told by their doctors not to take the vaccine.
We need to back those who are staying on as dedicated servants of the law. We need to welcome our local police into our establishments and let them know that they are welcome. They are good people who deserve the respect that they have earned through the hard work and dedication to serve their communities. Are there some who violate their oaths and do the wrong thing? Of course there are, but we aren’t supposed to judge people solely on how they look, how can we judge them by their occupation and the color of their uniform?
Reform and better training obviously are necessary in many police precincts. Many departments do a better job of outreach to their community. Just the other day I watched a piece on the news of a Sergeant in LA spending time in a neighborhood and getting to know the parents. People who despised the police are now realizing what they are there for. To keep them and their kids safe and to protect the neighborhood from criminals.
If we don’t show our police the support they need, they will avoid patrolling the neighborhoods. They will stay in their cars when someone is being assaulted because they are fearful of being filmed at the wrong moment and made to look like the attacker in a situation. Our news media has perpetuated many of these stories, and only showed the parts of the videos when the policy is trying to arrest the perpetrator, but not what they did to the officer before they were being arrested.
The law-abiding citizens need to get together and show our support at the ballot box. This isn’t a left or right issue. It isn’t Democrat or Republican either. This comes down to do we want to have our neighborhoods safe. There are many safe, well policed communities that enforce the law, but lean more to the left. I know of many Democrats who support the police, and many police officers who identify as Democrats or liberals.
The media needs to do a better job of investigating the events that happen and show that there are good on both sides. It almost seems like the media feels like it is their job to divide us. We need to come together, because safe neighborhoods is a common right that everyone deserves. Our political leaders need to be held accountable to the crime statistics, and if they won’t do what needs to be done, they need to be removed from office. We have seen the beginning of this is this past election, but we need to stay focused.
The most important thing that any government does is keep its citizens safe, and that means we must all support, respect, and honor those who protect us every day. A few practical suggestions: Call on your local and state elected leaders to adequately hire, fund, train, and equip police officers in our communities. Encourage victims and witnesses of crime to report, come forward and cooperate with police investigations. Teach your children to respect and comply with proper authority in our society, especially police officers. Reject and condemn hostile and divisive anti-police rhetoric. Go out of your way to give an encouraging word of thanks and appreciation to an officer for their service. And pray for the families and departments of officers killed in the line of duty.
It takes courage to wear a badge for even one day. It takes even more courage to respond to a robbery call, to engage a dangerous suspect, or to confront a terrorist. But for police — that’s just part of the job.
Reach out to your local politicians and let them know how you feel. Gather your friends, neighbors, PTA groups and reach out to the local department to get them involved with the police. There are many outreach programs available so children can get to know who the police are and not to fear them regardless of the color of their skin. We are only a few years away from the peace we had in most of our communities, so we can do this again. It will just take us working together to get to the common goal. A safe place to raise our children.