Community Policing At Its Finest
By Ken K. Gourdin
Officers get a bad rap – sometimes deserved, but often not. Too rarely do they get appropriate recognition, appreciation, and praise for what they do. Too often, officers see the “bleed over” from problems in the home, in the family, or at school, but as often as they are called upon to be psychologist, sociologist, foster parent, surrogate family member, authority figure, role model, and so on, the problems they so often see in those arenas are ones they couldn’t solve no matter how much they want to do so.
Time is too short, resources are too limited, and the problems are too vast and too deep; there’s an entire community to protect, always another report to write, another call to respond to, another unsafe motorist to stop, another traffic citation to write, or another hearing or trial to testify at. Yes, officers are sworn to uphold the law “without fear or favor, malice or ill will,” but the law does have its limits. There are some problems the law simply cannot solve – ones that it was not designed to solve, such as those alluded to above, in the home, in the family, or at school. There’s no way an officer could be everything needed to solve the problems he so often encounters.
And as I’ve written before, often, it seems that an ungrateful, apathetic public wouldn’t care – and wouldn’t give officers credit where it’s due – even if they could solve all of those problems. As I’ve said elsewhere on the blog, rhere’s a good deal of cynicism in law enforcement, and not without good reason. As I’ve written on the blog before, it’s hard to work very long in law enforcement without beginning to feel as though there are only two kinds of people in the world: cops—and everyone else. It’s easy to give in to the feeling that no one appreciates you.
But every once in awhile, an officer finds a way to make a small difference, or a small way to make a big difference, in the life of someone in the community he serves. Norman Rockwell’s painting Runaway, seems to evoke that ideal. For my imagining of the scene depicted in Runaway, see here: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/2222/.
By all accounts I’ve heard, Draper, Utah, P.D.’s Derek Johnson was such an officer; Utah County S.O.’s Sergeant Cory Wride was such an officer. (For more on Officer Johnson, see here: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/end-of-watch-sergeant-derek-johnson/. While I was writing of Officer Johnson, I’m sure those sentiments are no less applicable to Sergeant Wride.)
And then there’s this, an account in the spirit of Officer Johnson, Sergeant Wride, and the Trooper depicted in Rockwell’s painting. Indeed, this account is that spirit come to life in the person of Emmett Township, Mich. Officer Ben Hall, who, instead of citing a mother for her failure to secure her daughter in the required booster seat (which the mother could not afford), bought the daughter a booster seat: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/world/58496250-68/seat-booster-delorenzo-hall.html.csp.
Kudos to all of the officers out there who follow the lead of the Officer Halls, Officer Johnsons, and Sergeant Wrides of the world. Even optimism and goodwill that sometimes are betrayed are better than cynicism and pessimism that are always rewarded.
Be safe out there.
Update, 30 November 2014: Sometimes, All It Takes is a Hug – But even for all of the problems they cannot solve, sometimes, all it takes is a hug, as Portland P.D. Sergeant Bret Barnum found out. A Ferguson, Mo. grand jury’s refusal to indict (now former) Ferguson P.D. Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown has sparked protests nationwide, including in Portland. Devonte Hart, who is black, held a “Free Hugs” sign at the Portland rally, and Sergeant Barnum motioned for the boy to come closer. The A.P.’s Gosia Wozniacka, via The Deseret News, reports what happened:
Barnum told The AP he noticed the boy and wondered what was wrong. So he motioned for him to come up to his motorcycle.
The officer asked for his name and shook his hand. He also asked Devonte where he went to school (he is homeschooled), what he did this summer (he traveled around the U.S. with his family), and what he likes to do (art). The tears stopped.
Barnum has two teenage sons and has worked for Portland’s police force for 21 years. While continuing to talk to Devonte, he looked at the “Free Hugs” sign on the ground and asked if he might get a hug as well.
Devonte put his arms around the officer.
“Knowing how he struggled with police, his bravery and courage to catch my eye and approach me were impressive,” Barnum said. “And it’s a blessing for me that I didn’t miss an opportunity to impact this child.”