Police officers deserve more respect, appreciation

By Jess Craig / Columnist

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Cops: heartless, cold-blooded killers. Villainous racists who shoot unarmed, innocent bystanders. The hothead who gives you a speeding ticket for going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit when you were late for an important interview. 

Cops get a notoriously bad rap. But, following the Michael Brown shooting this past summer, the anti-law enforcement sentiments have spiraled around the country — through Twitter’s #iftheygunnedmedown campaign, the outpouring of citizens’ stories detailing reluctance to call the cops and the increased presence of anti-police protests.

It’s easy for cops to be the scapegoat when something goes slightly wrong, but why is it so hard for Americans to give cops credit when they deserve it? Turn on CNN, NBC or Fox, and you will often hear how a cop shot a civilian, and maybe he shouldn’t have, but it was the heat of the moment. When major shootings hit national news — think the Sandy Hook shooting — there is more emphasis on what the cops should have done better, rather than what they did do well. Heroic acts of police officers usually go unnoticed, but the slightest hint of police brutality and wrong-doing instantly spreads from local to national news.

Why do cops only get national news attention when something goes wrong? Why do we think cop and think about violence, rather than safety and protection? Why do our stomachs drop and our hearts pound when we pass a cop on the highway? Is it that cops have an authority that we envy, or is it that we all in one way or another have broken a law and fear getting in trouble?

I have never personally been in trouble with the law, never been arrested, never been close. Nor do I know any cops personally. And as a 5-foot-7-inch white girl, I am generally not a target for special law enforcement attention. Still, there is something that makes me uncomfortable about police officers. 

Everything meant to be intimidating about a cop is, well, intimidating — stance, posture, waistband of weapons, badge and every tassel and button on the uniform. And yet today, there is even talk of changing the uniform to make it appear less intimidating. But intimidation is important when a police officer is taking down a criminal, and, for that reason alone, it should not be compromised. 

However, what could be done to help resolve the spreading bad cop reputation is to bridge the gap between cops and the people cops serve through a law enforcement social outreach program. A few police departments around the country have implemented state-funded programs such as police department tours, junior police academy, Community Police Academy, and Citizens on Patrol.  

Unfortunately, government officials often cut these programs  first because of tight budgets. But they might be the most important aspect in regaining the public’s trust in law enforcement and may be vital avenues to give cops a human voice so we can stop thinking of cops in terms of their guns and uniforms.

This Saturday is National Thank a Cop Day. Although there are few events to celebrate it, small and meaningful acts can be done. Perhaps, on this day, Americans can think about the dangers and horrors of a police officer’s job. We can accept that cops certainly make mistakes, but, cops work to protect and serve. Cops can think about the way Americans perceive them and begin to break down the fear that their presence instills in them. It is only through mutual understanding that society can erase the bad-cop reputation, and the American public can replace a fear of cops with a trust in cops. 

Write to Jess at jnc34@pitt.edu.

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