Police officers today are working in one of the toughest times in our profession’s history. We are facing more scrutiny than in decades past despite the fact officers at the Duluth Police Department and many others are better trained, more educated, and working harder to create positive relationships than ever before. There’s been a clear disconnect created by the narrative driven by national and social media that has created a negative climate for our police officers. This narrative has overshadowed the countless times every day when our officers are helping people and solving crimes.
Police officers are standard-issue human beings but are expected to act beyond human and handle every situation with perfection as defined by many. Police officers take an oath to protect and serve: They will search for your lost children, protect you when a relationship isn’t safe or come to your house when there is a bump in the night. They also will break up a fight, chase down a robber, or search a business knowing the bad guy is hiding. We get asked, “How do you do it? Aren’t you scared?” Police are not immune from fears but will always come to your aid despite them.
When asked by the News Tribune Opinion page if we were interested in writing a commentary on this topic, we had just been briefed and were following a priority call in eastern Duluth where a despondent male had overdosed on medication and was threatening to shoot at police officers. Thanks to the great work by our officers, that incident was resolved in a couple of hours without anyone being hurt, and the suicidal male was taken to the hospital without any injuries. Situations like this happen here daily.
Unfortunately, the narrative we are hearing and seeing on the national news is far from this. In some cases all police officers are being painted with a broad brush as the out-of-control racists of our cities. National stories have skewed public perceptions of police, and it is being felt by our officers. We’re not offering an excuse, nor are we defending the national incidents. Instead, we just want to bring balance and reality back into the discussion. There is no other profession that can be brought down as quickly as police can by the actions of a relative few.
There are almost 900,000 police officers working in our country, and, according to the FBI, there are an average of 58,930 assaults on police and 149 police officer deaths per year. Additionally, police work can shorten your lifespan. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health found that the potential loss of life for police officers is 21 times greater than for the general population.
We in the Duluth department have a staff of dedicated officers who leave their homes and families every day fully aware of the inherent risks of policing with a primary focus of helping people and improving the community’s quality of life. These officers are good people with good character, motives, and intentions who sometimes deal with dynamic and instantly evolving violent encounters. These encounters happen in a split second but will be etched in their memories for a lifetime.
Error in judgment is inevitable despite the best training, policies, and supervision. The results of these errors can be incredibly tragic and can create great angst among the community. Unfortunately, many times, conversation shifts from human error to the allegedly willful intent to harm or oppress. The narrative often is shaped on sound bites that don’t tell the whole story.
Given the current national climate surrounding law enforcement, police officers are feeling down, and they need your support. As we move forward, remember the good work that is done every minute of every day by our police officers, and don’t judge all by the actions of a relative few.
Gordon Ramsay is chief of the Duluth Police Department and Mike Tusken is a deputy chief. They wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.