Giving Due Respect To Our Officers

Giving Due Respect To Our Officers
Posted on 02/02/2015
Mike Shelton

A short time ago, I heard a story that really upset me. One of my friends is a sergeant with the Unified Police Department. He has enjoyed a distinguished career, spanning more than 20 years as a police officer.

He was recently in a convenience store in his hometown of Cottonwood Heights. He was wearing his uniform, which made it easy to identify him as a law enforcement officer. He was in line, waiting to pay for his items when a woman whom he did not recognize as anyone he had met before walked up behind him and got his attention. As he turned to face her, she looked him in the face and spit on him. She said something to the effect of: “That is for what you represent”.

He explained to me that he has come to expect that kind of behavior when he is making an arrest, but to have a random convenience store patron treat him that way was shocking even to him.

National and local news stories have created a very difficult environment for police officers. My friends in the law enforcement profession tell me that we may now be at a generational "low" in terms of the respect and civility that we show our officers. My experience with the police has been very different from the stereotypes they are so often painted with today.

I have come to know some of them well enough to have great respect for the kind of people that they are, and for the work they do. I count some of them as my dear friends. Being involved in city government, I am aware that there are occasional problems with officers. In every bushel of apples, you will find a few worms. This is true of butchers, bakers, candlestick makers and cops. On average, cops are about as good a group of individuals as you will find in any walk of life. Like most of us, they expect to work hard, be paid an honest wage for their efforts, and hope that their work results in some good.

The officers that I know hold themselves and their colleagues to high standards. They expect the public to hold them to high standards as well. They often trust their lives to those they work with, and therefore tolerate very little that would diminish public or private trust.

The requirements of their jobs mean that they often have to demand respect. While most of us bristle at those who demand respect, we should remember that demanding respect is part of their training. It improves their safety in a dangerous job. They learn the instinct to run toward situations that most of us have the instinct to run away from. They are charged with enforcement. Society asks them to be the enforcer of the rules. When we break the rules, we hate to get caught. They are sometimes the bearer of bad news. We should never forget that this is exactly the job that we as society have asked them to do. If they fail to enforce the rules, we would consider them to have failed at their jobs, and society would collapse.

Most of us make decisions every day, and make decisions with ample time to consider alternatives. Most of us are not in a position where our decisions impact life and death. Unfortunately, in the line of their duty, police officers are occasionally (more often than you would hope) forced to make split-second life and death decisions under extreme pressure. They have to weigh their own lives, or the lives of other innocent people against the life of someone who appears to be willing to do harm. I’m grateful for the officers who are willing to put themselves in that position. Society needs people who are willing to make those difficult decisions. I have great respect for the men and women who fill those needs.

I have had the opportunity to participate in a few ‘ride alongs’ and experience law enforcement first hand. I leave my house with a sense of nervousness every time I go. I think about the officer who attempted to assist a stranded motorist, or the officer who walked up on a car after a routine traffic stop, or the officer who was serving a warrant, each of whom never came back home. It reminds me of what the families of police officers deal with every day. These families know that there is a good chance that their loved one will find himself or herself in harm’s way. These officers and their families deserve our kindness, our respect and our appreciation.

My experiences with the police have shown me that most of them are generous, helpful, kind, even heroic. I could tell you story after story of officers doing something deserving of great praise and respect. I have seen unusual good in them far more often than I have seen anything else.

For those who have had experiences, which lead you to be more cynical about the men and women of law enforcement – I would like to provide another perspective.

Dale Carnegie once quoted an old saying: "Give a dog a bad name and you may as well hang him." He added his own wisdom, saying, "Almost everyone – rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief – lives up to the reputation of honesty that is bestowed upon him.”

If you want bad police officers, treat police officers badly. When you spit in the face of one of them, your results are self-fulfilling. No good man or woman wants to work in an environment of suspicion and disrespect. Treat officers poorly, and you will find that only the poorest recruits will sign up for the job.

We should hold officers to high standards. At the same time we should also treat them with the great respect and appreciation they deserve. I am so grateful to the good men and women of law enforcement. To those noble officers who have been treated poorly, I am sincerely sorry. I hope that we all will take the opportunity to be kind to a cop.