John Bishop, OSSA Executive Director & Curry County Sheriff
February, 2016 — As we move into 2016, I would like to reflect on what we saw in 2015 and where we may be heading. In 27 years of law enforcement, I have never seen the distrust and outright disdain for public safety as I witnessed this last year. Some of it is warranted but the vast majority is not, and the media shares a huge responsibility for this. The media and certain community or political leaders have played on people’s fears and emotions. They do not use facts; instead they use innuendoes, theories, and political rhetoric, and then twist everything around. They have made it work and we as a group have let them do this.
As I began to look at this, I remember hearing a quote one time and it went something like this, “Words vs behaviors: you can write words on paper, but they are only words. The words have significance only if behaved. Behaviors then have significance only if believed.” This quote has stayed with me and the following is how I relate this to law enforcement.
If you as a law enforcement professional do not 100% buy into your commitment to law enforcement and the sacrifices that will be made to make our society a better place, and to do your job correctly and professionally, the words Integrity, Responsibility, Honor, Dedication, Faith and Accountability will be just words on a piece of paper. If you truly do not believe in these words and turn them into everyday behaviors, we in law enforcement will never be any better than the people we arrest, control behind bars or supervise. It is crucial that every public safety official takes these words, believes in them and makes them into behaviors.
The 98% of us who have made the sacrifices and have strived to faithfully live our lives by behaviors of Integrity, Responsibility, Honor, Dedication, Faith, and Accountability pay the price for those who only use these traits as mere words on paper. These thoughts then brought me to the following definition:
Integrity is a concept of consistency of action, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes. It can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy.
I truly believe the 98% will have to work even harder to overcome the 2% of our profession who give the media, community and political leaders all of their ammunition to use against us. It is ironic that a different, highly reputable profession kills way more innocent civilians. “The Journal of Patient Safety says — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care, suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death. That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second.”
Yet we have no rioting or picketing, we don’t see ambushes and shooting of the innocent because they happen to wear a uniform. The media doesn’t mention this fact, yet for the very low number of deaths that do occur, especially compared to law enforcement contacts, mental health issues and more brazen suspects, the opponents would have you believe law enforcement goes out every day just to shoot or hurt someone. This is just simply not true, a fact which our opponents refuse to bring up because it does not serve their agendas.
In my opinion this issue is going to get worse before it gets better. We will have to work harder and smarter. Public safety in Oregon has been doing just that with the help of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training and their Center for Policing Excellence, which has been recognized nationally as one of the front-runners in training professional public safety officials and holding them accountable. The way Oregon certifies and decertifies officers every year is way out in front of the nationwide standard regarding these issues, and we are all working to make this a better state.
We need to understand that when something happens somewhere else in this country, it doesn’t mean it will happen here, and the worst thing to do is act emotionally. We need to turn the perception around so the public knows that they can trust us and that we are here to help and protect them. Yes we are human, yes we will make mistakes, and yes there are some among us who should not have ever been allowed to put the uniform on. But remember, over 98% of us will be there in your time of need or emergency and we will do our best to do it right … even if it means giving our life to do it.