Convenient heroes?

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) recently released 2021 end-of-year preliminary law enforcement officers fatalities report, 458 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2021.

That’s 458 of our brothers and sisters lost in the line of duty. With countless more injured.

Now, in 2022, we are continuing to see shocking acts of violence against law enforcement. One of the most recent, and heavily reported, attacks was perpetrated against 22-year-old NYPD officer Jason Rivera and his 27-year-old partner, Wilbert Nora.

As I am sure you know, these two officers responded to a Harlem apartment based on a 9-1-1 call from a mother who was having a dispute with one of her sons. As the officers arrived on scene, the mother directed the officers to a back bedroom. As the officers moved down a long hallway toward the bedroom, the door opened and the woman’s son, identified as Lashawn McNeil, began shooting at these two young officers and murdered them both.

Officers Rivera and Mora were the fourth and fifth NYPD officers shot during the first three weeks of 2022. And, as I was writing this article, an off-duty NYPD rookie officer on his way to sign in for his shift was shot in the shoulder during a carjacking in Queens.

Like so many of our brothers and sisters, they began their day willing to run toward danger because that is the oath we have taken. They were doing the job so many across this country have chosen as their profession, and they made the ultimate sacrifice every member of law enforcement knows is a potential consequence of running toward that danger.

Officers Rivera and Mora were rightly hailed as heroes, and they and their families were shown their proper respect by thousands and thousands in Manhattan who attended their funerals and additional outpouring across the country. Countless media stories praised them for their sacrifice and denouncing the violence in our country.

And then, the very next day, the mediate went back to running stories about our salaries, overtime and side jobs and purported impact on taxpayers. In fact, the morning after these two officers were murdered, our state’s largest – and one of the most anti-law enforcement – newspapers decided the top story on their website was their analysis of overtime and income that law enforcement officers make outside of the job working construction and concert details.

These are details officers have undertaken on their own time. Details that entail time spent to earn extra income away from the individuals’ families and often in dangerous situations. Of course, there is little mention in the biased coverage of the fact that these hourly-wage details are paid for by private contractors and not local governments, and the payments are not pensionable.

The road jobs also bring in additional revenue for local municipalities and counties. But these facts are not essential to the media’s misguided narrative.

This was their top story because the folks at the newspaper prioritized the need to highlight their anti-law enforcement research as part of “The Pay Check,” what they described as an “in-depth look at every dollar earned by 24,000 law enforcement officers across New Jersey in 2019.”

For the leadership at this newspaper and other media outlets, circulation is drastically down, so their online “clicks” is how they try to drive revenue as they drown in red ink. So, months and years of long investigations into our salaries under the guise of “protecting taxpayers” are an essential tool to survival, even as they demonize law enforcement and embolden people with misleading information.

Their tactics are no different than those employed by politicians like Chris Christie when he was shaping public sentiment to harm our pensions and our health care. Every story needs a villain, and we are an easy target for the media these days. Except when we are needed. Or when one of us is shot or killed in the line of duty. Then we are “heroes,” of course.

But are we only heroes as we risk our lives and those of our families when we continue showing up every day during the pandemic? Or when we run toward shots fired. Or when we are murdered doing our jobs?

Of course not. But the rest of the time the public is told repeatedly by the media that we are all racist, we are all robbing them with exorbitant salaries and gratuitous overtime demands and we all simply cannot be trusted. And then the media is surprised by the rising crime, disrespect for laws and complete disregard for law enforcement officer safety and even our very lives.

We keep waiting for the pendulum to swing back from these difficult times and for the broad generalizations of every person in blue to stop. But waiting for common sense support of law enforcement is taking a large toll on police office lives. This is unacceptable.

We should not be convenient heroes. Our job does not change day to day, but the clickbait for revenue disguised as “media reports” does, and that is what fuels public perception.

NJSPBA President Pat Colligan and I are consistent in our viewpoint. We believe every dime of every dollar earned by a member of law enforcement is just that. Earned. And we will continue to fight every day to protect our members’ rights and reputations, without fail.

The truth is that continued efforts to demonize our brothers and sisters can only result in more violence against our members. All the while, the public becomes increasingly immunized to the important work law enforcement officers are doing in communities across our state and across this country.

We will continue fighting every day on your behalf in local municipalities, the halls of Trenton and the corridors of Washington D.C. because there is nothing more important than working to protect each of you. But, please, be mindful of one another. These are the most dangerous times I have witnessed in my entire career, and the willingness to fan the flames of distrust between law enforcement and the communities we serve to increase clicks has never been more prevalent.

In the meantime, remember the most important task is to make it home safe to your loved ones at the end of every shift. Please also look for signs among our ranks for anyone you know who may need assistance. We lose to too many officers to our jobs, including the rising incidents of suicide. Even one member is too many.