John Bishop, OSSA Executive Director & Retired Curry County Sheriff
September 2016 — The events over the last couple of months have been extremely troubling, and the division in our country seems to be spreading. The reason it is so troubling, in my opinion, is that it’s truly based upon false information, lies, fear, and politics.
It is sad that we lose even one officer in the line of duty, let alone have them ambushed and hunted by people who are misled and extremely misinformed.
Law enforcement is the front line, so what we see now is indicative of the issues in our society. Our jails are being asked to solve the mental health crisis, which is partly caused by governments not properly funding mental health programs and hospitals. About 40% of our jail population is considered mentally ill. When you couple the mentally ill issue with drug and alcohol addiction, it can be extremely overwhelming. Our elected officials need to start adequately funding avenues with which to address these critical issues and stop relying on law enforcement to fix a problem they are not necessarily equipped to handle.
This year has also seen a dramatic increase in criticism of law enforcement. We are seeing that communities and their law enforcement agencies are not communicating with each other. We need to have more citizen academies for citizens to see what their public safety officials are doing, how they are doing it, and most importantly why they are doing it. It then is important for the public safety officials to listen to the citizens. Communication is a great thing if it is used, but nothing can be solved if we refuse to communicate civilly with each other.
I have also found it interesting that some communities do not want any military tactics or equipment used. We should be using tactics and some equipment when the action by law enforcement requires us to put our officers’ lives on the line. Sheriffs use military equipment all the time to save lives in floods, search and rescue, fires, etc. Active shooters have taught us to use military tactics on the front line instead of waiting for special units to arrive. This saves lives.
Do we have problems in law enforcement? Absolutely, but law enforcement leaders are working daily to try to solve the issues. We don’t like rogue cops any more than citizens do. Of law enforcement, 99% go out every day to protect our way of life and to keep us safe 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Where would we be without them?
If we are to get back on track we must communicate with each other; we must have leadership from the top including Washington, DC.
My last point is advice. We need all citizens to remember that whether you feel you did anything wrong or not, obey the commands of the officers. If the officer was wrong, there is an avenue and a way for this to be addressed. NFL football player Ben Watson wrote many great things about this issue in his book “Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race,” but I would like to quote one: “I’m confused because I don’t know why it is so hard to obey a policeman. You WILL NOT WIN!!! And I don’t know why some policemen abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over a populace.” You have a responsibility to obey law enforcement, and law enforcement has the responsibility not to abuse this power.
We need to acknowledge we have problems and we have issues, but violence will not solve anything. Communities need police officers and the police officers need the community. To the politicians, if you can’t help people come together, then at least stay out of the way. I would simply ask you to do what the people who voted for you want you to do, and that is to lead.