By Carie Levy | firstname.lastname@example.org
In May of 1997, a young police officer was on his first day of the job following training. In the afternoon, he got a call about a suspicious drunk man at a bus terminal. When he arrived to speak with him, the man pulled out a gun and pressed it against the officer’s forehead. In training, the officer had been taught what to do in a situation like this. He could swing his arm around in order to hit the man’s hand away from his head. However, doing so would endanger the young children who stood directly behind him.
He remained still.
A frantic mother stood frozen outside of the door saying, “Those are my children!” The officer calmly requested that the man allow the children to leave the building safely, all while feeling the cold of the weapon against his skin. As the children passed behind them, the officer began to back away slowly until he was next to the automatic doors. They opened, and he swiftly slipped out and pulled his gun. Before he could do anything, the doors shut behind him, and all he could see was his reflection staring back at him in the mirrored glass.
He remembered that there were others inside, and immediately went around to the back of the building to rescue the remaining employees. There was a small peephole in the door separating the employees and the man with the gun was. The officer stood watch as he ushered the employees out of the building. As they were leaving, bullets began flying through the door behind him. He and the others managed to exit unharmed, and by the time he got out of the building, the S.W.A.T team had arrived. In order to get the key to the back door to the S.W.A.T team, the officer had to run through the parking lot, weaving in and out of cars all while trying to avoid being shot.
That is when the last gunshot sounded — the man inside the bus terminal had committed suicide. Not only did the young officer escape after having a gun against his head, he also saved the lives of several people, including children. Following this incident, the officer received the Medal of Valor for his acts of bravery on his first real day on the job.
That officer was my father.
Law enforcement officers all over the country are faced with terrifying, life threatening situations like this often, which is why it bothered me when I began hearing that “all cops are bad” the past couple of years.
In light of recent events, the general outlook on police officers has changed from positive to negative. All of my life, I have categorized them as heroes alongside of soldiers, firefighters, and others who risk their lives everyday in their occupation. Countless times in the past year, I have heard of police officers in general referred to as the “bad guys” because of the poor choices made by certain police officers around the nation. While I absolutely acknowledge that the deeds done by some officers have been horrible, that is not a reason to condemn the group as a whole.
Because of some bad police officers, officers in general have been stripped of their hero status — at least in the opinions that I have been exposed to in the past year. This is unfair.
Many people do not realize what police officers must go through every day. Above all, there is the risk of never coming home. There have been 118 officers killed in the line of duty in the United States this year and, sadly, that number will probably go up before this article is published. In few professions do you have to fear for your life on a daily basis. This can have a devastating effect on the psychological state of officers. The suicide rate among officers is 52 percent higher than that of the general population, according to Policeone.com. The odds of suicide due to factors such as stress become even greater than the odds of being killed by homicide.
Fear of being killed, however, is only one of the many stresses that police officers have to deal with every single day. In nearly 19 years of serving as an officer, my father has had to wrestle a man who was engulfed in flames from head-to-toe in order to save his life, engage in high speed car chases and foot chases, dive to the bottom of alligator-infested lakes and rivers to recover dead bodies, watch people take their last breath, inform parents that their child had died, see a mangled child on the road after being hit by a truck, experience friends and colleagues die, and the list goes on and on.
“We have to go from extremely high-stress situations to having to be calm and level-headed immediately afterward,” my father told me. “I have had to go from being in the room with someone holding a gun to an hour later back on the streets dealing with a disrespectful teenager or a barking dog call.”
Law enforcement officers are not just out to get people. On the contrary, they act as servants for the good of their community. “Police are expected to be a counselor, enforcer, psychiatrist, preacher, friend and protector,” my dad said. “Enforcing the law is only a portion of the job.” The same cop who pulls over a speeder is also one who has to try to talk an individual out of committing suicide. My father, along with countless other officers, has driven homeless people to shelters on a cold night and given a stuffed animal to a sad child from the stash kept for such an occasion in the trunk of his patrol car.
The fact is that some police have made terrible decisions, but the honor of officers in general should not be degraded.
Police officers are heroes. That is an opinion from which I will not waiver. They continually risk their lives for others everyday while many go above and beyond to serve those they encounter, all with little reward. In fact, many police officers have a salary that is considered to be poverty level. There is little material reward for their valiant actions besides the satisfaction that their deeds are helping others. That, after all, is the true definition of a hero — someone who does for others with little regard for personal gain.
Of course, in any profession, there will be those who don’t live up to those high standards. But the profession as a whole should not be looked down upon as a whole. Perhaps, instead of taking them for granted, more people could think of the sacrifices they have made in order to ensure the safety of others, just like that young officer did almost 20 years ago.