By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
This has been a tough year for law enforcement. The actions of a small handful of officers in some unfortunate and disheartening incidents received nationwide media attention that quickly led to mass protests and demonstrations against law enforcement. This civil unrest and the inaccurate narrative that paints all officers as bad has had an adverse impact on the hundreds of thousands of officers who do their job honorably and with integrity each day.
The Major Cities Chiefs Association, which is comprised of law enforcement leaders from 69 of the largest police agencies in the United States, detailed the impact of the unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The association found that more 2,000 law enforcement officers were injured within the first weeks of the protests and unrest. Between May 25 and July 31 there were 8,700 protests nationwide with 574 declared as riots with violence and various criminal acts.
Just as it is unwarranted to label all protesters as engaging in criminal activity, it is equally unwarranted to label all police officers as responsible for the injustices that we have all witnessed by a few police officers.
Now that the riots have subsided, the movement to defund police departments continues to have a demoralizing impact on the hundreds of thousands of officers who daily put their life on the line for the citizens that they serve. In addition, the Defund the Police movement undermines the opportunity to engage in real police reform to prevent rare occurrences of police misconduct. Reform can be accomplished through increased training, accountability standards, and field supervisory reforms. The Defund the Police movement, on the other hand, would only diminish law enforcement’s capability to address crime in the community and would likely make communities more unsafe.
Another nightmare for law enforcement this year has been the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike many professions, telecommuting is not possible in law enforcement. According to the Council on Criminal Justice, homicides in 20 major cities in the United States increased by 37% from May to June, led by Chicago, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. Aggravated assaults increased by 35% during the same time. This, coupled with the riots and protests this summer, has led to lots of interactions between the police and the communities they serve.
This may explain why “more police officers have died from COVID-19 this year than have been killed on patrol,” according to the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), a nonprofit organization that tracks law enforcement fatalities in the line of duty.
At least 101 officers have died from COVId-19, while at least 82 have died by other means, as of September, according to ODMP.
This year has no doubt had an impact on police morale. A study involving anonymous surveys provided to one agency in the Midwest found that around 80% of officers have considered leaving their police agency this year and 40% felt that morale was as low as it has ever been.
Most Americans never have any significant interaction with law enforcement. Therefore, it is especially important now that law enforcement officers throughout the United States be true representatives of the dedication and professionalism that is displayed day in and day out. Such displays will overshadow the false media narrative and the negative, unfounded impressions of law enforcement expressed by the misguided Defund the Police movement.