Yes, It’s in the Job Description
Law Enforcement is a dangerous profession. Few will dispute the fact that it is a high-risk occupation in which any seemingly innocuous moment can turn deadly in seconds. Those who sign up to do the job are well aware of the risks and they volunteer to carry the gun and badge anyway. They don’t ask for your pity and rarely ask for sympathy. However, as recent events remind us, they deserve our respect.
Over the past several days, we’ve followed the news as tragedy struck the Canadian town of Moncton when three police officers were gunned down by a man with a rifle. Days later, two Las Vegas officers were shot while doing nothing more than eating lunch. In Forsyth County, Georgia, a man assaulted a courthouse and instigated a three-minute shootout with law enforcement officials. Fortunately, no law enforcement officers were killed in that attack. As a Pittsburgh-area resident, I was immediately reminded of a 2009 ambush that left three Pittsburgh officers dead and several others wounded. It was an incident that gained national attention but, like many such attacks, faded from the media spotlight rather quickly.
Support in the Courts?
It’s important to remember that for each high-profile incident, there are dozens where an officer is injured or killed by a suspect, a car crash, exposure to hazardous chemicals, or from other causes. We have become somewhat numb to these “routine” incidents and sadly, so have some components of the criminal justice system. Even some courts have come to take it for granted that officers will be harmed in the line of duty. Years ago, I worked in an area where if a suspect assaulted an officer or Federal agent within the borders of that particular jurisdiction, the suspect would likely not be prosecuted. The crime wasn’t deemed to be important enough to take to the courts. Imagine going to work, having someone punch you in the face, and then you are implicitly told, “Well, that’s the way it goes.” Needless to say, a lack of attention by the courts mean there is no deterrent against future assaults and this can lead to a dangerous escalation of violence from both sides of the law. Some states – like Virginia – have much tougher penalties, and assaulting a police officer can bring about a mandatory jail sentence. When I was a police officer in that state, I was once bitten by a suspect who ended up on the receiving end of such a sentence. The perpetrator got to think about that assault during a six-month stay in a county jail, and I doubt that individual ever assaulted another officer.
A Symbol By Existing
It is unfortunate that it can take high-profile incidents like those over the past week to remind us of dangers officers and agents face simply going to work. They aren’t just in jeopardy when they make that 3 AM traffic stop or execute a search warrant on a drug den. They are at risk when they walk out of their homes, eat their meals, or even when they write out a report while sitting at a desk. Rarely does the danger come from a personal grudge. The Hollywood storyline of a criminal obsessed with seeking revenge on a cop is largely a myth. While there are certainly cases of individual officers and agents being targeted for revenge, those are actually rare. Often the real target isn’t the officer, but what the officer represents.
Rather than a particular individual, it is often the badge, uniform, or even the building where our protectors work, that often become targets for a disturbed person’s rage. When this happens, the people who carry that badge, or simply walk through the entrance of that police station or Federal building, become targets for doing nothing more than performing their assigned duties. One of my former employers, the U.S. Secret Service, lost six employees in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Those employees went to work like any other morning and never got to return home simply because they represented something an evil man despised. When symbols are attacked, human beings often pay the price, and all humanity suffers. We saw this on September 11, 2001 when some of our nation’s symbols were attacked largely because of what they stood for and thousands of citizens died needlessly. We see this on a smaller scale every time a law enforcement professional is gunned down because they choose to stand for an ideal. The question is: Will we let these attacks fade from memory, or will we honor the fallen and hold dear the ideal of justice they represent?
What acts of law enforcement heroism can you share? Leave a reply below!
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE and other works of fiction. He is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
RESOLVE has been named a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization.
RESOLVE was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine.