What do you first think when you hear the word "Law Enforcement Officer"? Some may feel safe, security, thankful, fear, concern or even hate. What does Law Enforcement mean to you?
I started full time law enforcement here as a deputy sheriff for Sheriff Leland O'Dell in June 1985 and since that day have been able to see, help and work with many people. Although this is Chillicothe, Livingston County in north central Missouri we deal with people from all over the United States and even other countries. Many times I have heard from people outside this area make wonderful comments about how they had a positive encounter with a law enforcement officer here.
It is a common thought that law enforcement is the same regardless of the agency or location but actually there are huge differences between municipal, county and highway patrol organizations. Each agency has their own responsibilities defined by statutes, or other mandates, policies and directives to follow. The only bottom line equal among all law enforcement agencies is we have the authority to arrest given us by the public we serve.
This about this: Recently I stopped a vehicle doing 90 and the male driver had his hands on the side of the vehicle and legs pulled back before I could even say hello, who I was and why I stopped him. After explaining why I was there and no one was going to harm him he somewhat relaxed and was more willing to talk with me. Consider what has taken place in his life in inner city Chicago Illinois that prompted his immediate actions with me. Yes the man received a citation but during this contact there was a level of respect shared and earned on both sides, followed by thankful comments from the driver about our law enforcement service here as compared to where he is from.
I have frequently thought about that stop and fully understand daily life is not the same in Chicago as it is in rural Missouri. There is a world of difference in the frequencies of violent crimes, gang affiliations, hate crimes and many other issues in Chicago as compared to our area. I am thankful I do not work in Chicago but I also have a great deal of respect for those officers in large metro areas.
I just wonder if that speeding driver still thinks about what happened that day, about our conversation, or if anyone even gives thought to the fears law enforcement officers often face. Not everyone is willing to walk up to strange vehicles, deal with aggressive people or even stand up for what is right.
Another thing I am proud of with our staff is we typically have minimally intrusive encounters with people. Meaning we try to use verbal skills in handling all types of people and situations. We all know there are times when verbal communication does not work, when we get cussed out, when someone wants to be physically aggressive and/or refuses lawful commands and challenges us. Most often when people are violent or unreasonable there are other reasons behind their actions such as outstanding warrant(s), intoxicated on alcohol and/or drugs, or other on-going criminal acts.
Look at law enforcement officers and look at them outside of work or in uniform. What do you see? Men and women with families, in relationships, working second jobs, being your neighbor, and supporting safe communities. Remember that law enforcement officers are people too, we all have the right to go home, see our kid's graduate, enjoy our grandchildren and live daily life. Just because law enforcement officers have the power of arrest does not mean their life is worth less or we have to tolerate abuse and assaults upon us. All of us want to go home at the end of our shift and can hopefully do so without becoming a crime victim or being placed in a life threatening situation. We get no pleasure in seeing others suffer. Some officers have or do suffer from issues such as PTSD and other trauma related incidents that can build over time. Remember we often see people at their worst and some don't mind telling us how they will retaliate against us or our family for doing our job and try their best to harass or intimidate officers while others become lifelong friends.
One thing we try to do is cause officers to interact with the public in a variety of ways. It is SO refreshing at times to see the vast numbers of awesome people and families we enjoy working for. Seeing and talking with people who do appreciate the more relaxed way of life here and understand we do deal with criminal acts and even violent career felon violators of all types. To see the reasons we are here to make positive impacts on ALL people's lives.
Please think about this with the next officer you see: Where has he/she been today? What was their last call for service? Did they interview a person who beat their child or just sold drugs to an addict? Did that officer just hold the hand of a person injured and trapped in a car wreck while the emergency responders were cutting the injured person out of the vehicle they were trapped in? Or was it the officer who was directing traffic around the accident who just got cussed out by a driver for the 3 minute delay in his travel because of the crash? We are asked to clear our minds and emotions from contact to contact and we try to do that however somethings never leave our memory for the remainder of our lives too.
National Police Week is about honoring Law Enforcement Officers who have sacrificed their lives in performance of their duties. This is also a time to open our minds about law enforcement officers and what they do for all of us. We are not perfect but I assure you most every officer I know in our area tries to do things right for everyone involved and has the betterment and safety of the community in mind. Please join me in giving thanks to law enforcement officers when you see them. Remember we are here to help you, your family and your friends.
Thank you for reading this lengthy editorial and for your continued support of the Livingston County Sheriff's Office and all law enforcement. God Bless.
Sheriff Steve Cox