Staying safe: To secure best protection, understand role of police

Classes are beginning at schools all across America. As families prepare for the new school year, educators and community officials are making their own preparations.

In many cases they include reviews of security at our schools, with many seeking more officers or greater armament. Members of the public also are calling for greater campus security. Police forces, both campus and municipal, are holding public shooter response activities that are just as much about raising public confidence as they are about training officers for dealing with armed attackers.

It’s a far cry from just a couple of years ago, when people were marching in the streets all across the country demanding reductions in the number, and the potency, of our police forces.

What changed?

Simply put, law enforcement became a major political tool, and target. That’s unfortunate, because the very forces we need to secure our safety became political pawns, subject to extremist demands that changed with the social and political winds.

That needs to stop — otherwise public safety will continue to be compromised.

News of police brutality and otherwise overstepping their bounds in recent years had fed a growing public sentiment that law enforcement forces had become too militarized.

Driving such changes was a get-tough-on-crime political attitude that changed many law enforcement agencies from community cops in which officers walked beats and interacted socially with the people they met on the streets, to professional officers that saw every contact as a potential “criminal subject.” Tough-guy tactics became more frequent and we began to see news stories about extreme, sometimes lethal use of police force.

A breaking point was the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, who died pinned under an officer’s knee as onlookers pleaded for him to stop. Protests, some violent, followed, and “defund the police” became a popular demand.

Then came the massacre on May 24 of this year in which nearly 400 law enforcement officers from several local, state and federal responded to a call at a Uvalde elementary school, then did nothing for more than an hour as an 18-year-old boy killed 19 students and two teachers with a semi-automatic rifle.

Now the public pendulum has swung the other way, with people calling for more police, not fewer.

Lost in the debate is the fact that attention-grabbing events, whether criminal assaults or police misconduct, remain rare. Millions of police hours are logged every day across America without controversy, and millions of people go about their daily lives without incident.

Anomalies should not determine public policy. All major crime events must be reviewed to help improve both mitigation and response, without extreme actions that could compromise overall performance.

Responses to major crimes that are rational and reasonable will better ensure that officers’ response to the next major event is also measured and appropriate. We can’t eliminate our need for law enforcement, but we can work to ensure that police are trusted parts of the community, rather than targets for criticism whenever something goes wrong.