No person or organization is perfect, and things do go wrong. When this happens, there should be scrutiny. Everyone should be held accountable, writes guest columnist Dave Reichert.
LAST August, a young man was tragically killed in a confrontation with law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo. Since then, we have seen an outbreak of protests and violence across the country that have resulted in the destruction of property and a mutual mistrust between communities and law-enforcement officers. We have seen it escalate to the point that two innocent police officers in New York were brutally and pointedly assassinated by a man who blamed everyone wearing the badge for what happened in Ferguson.
This cannot continue.
I spent 33 years in law enforcement. For three decades, I would hug and kiss my family goodbye and not know when I would see them next; I did not know when or if I would be coming home. I missed holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. When you are a cop, you are always a cop — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This wasn’t just my life; this is the life of hundreds of thousands of law-enforcement officers across this nation. They put their lives on the line every day and night for the sake of others. They put up with ridicule, hateful comments and dangerous situations to keep our communities safe.
Most Read Opinion Stories
Too often a cop’s sense of duty and dedication to service means that he or she makes the “ultimate sacrifice.” This is the delicate phrase we have chosen to replace “killed in the line of duty.” But it doesn’t matter how you express it; it means a mother or a father, a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a wife or husband, has lost his or her life, orphaned their children and widowed their spouse. The men and women who keep us safe find themselves in life-or-death situations far too often.
No officer wants to find him or herself in a such a situation, making a split-second decision that could cost someone his or her life. Law enforcement’s entire purpose is to protect life, not to take it.
I remember being on a call in Burien, knocking on an apartment door to serve a drug warrant. There was no answer and my partners and I had to force our way in. Almost immediately, I was confronted with a man, heroin needle still in his arm. I ordered him to put his hands behind his head and instead he drew a weapon on me.
I could have shot him. If you found yourself in that position today, would you shoot or not shoot?
That day, I decided not to shoot. I felt I could talk him out of his gun. And on that day, I was right. But not every situation works out that way. Sometimes the instinct is to not shoot and the criminal fires instead.
Each and every law-enforcement officer makes choices based on training and strict procedures and guidelines. In most cases, they make the right decision. However, that is not to say law enforcement is without flaws.
No person or organization is perfect, and things do go wrong. When this happens, there should be scrutiny. Everyone should be held accountable, and we can best hold each other accountable by allowing our judicial and review processes to take place, learn from our mistakes and make corrections where the process shows they are needed. Communities should not respond by disregarding the rule of law — this can only make bad situations worse, and ultimately harms rather than strengthens the community.
Law enforcement and communities must be partners in protecting our families. Good partners back each other up — they trust one another, depend on one another and work together. In light of recent events, there are many challenges facing us. Let’s pray for peace and calm across this country as the facts are gathered and the truth is told. We must act together, as a nation united, to end the violence. We are the United States of America: We are strong and we are free, and, when we are united, we can overcome anything.