As the summer heats up and we see an increase in outdoor activities, we have also been forced to confront the ever-present incidents of gun violence in our country. Whether it is single acts of violence or the seeming increase of mass shooting atrocities like the one that took place at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York or even the latest horrific shooting of children at the school in Uvalde, Texas, reports of gun violence have gone from events that shatter our norms to an almost daily news event.
While this violence permeates our nation and shatters our communities, those of us who have chosen to serve in law enforcement are all that’s standing between those who would seek to perpetrate violent action and those who adhere to the law. For many of us, instances where we can protect these communities are the exact reasons we chose to serve in the first place.
In these times of distress and need, the general public must truly recognize the valuable service we provide. And, while I wish there was never a need for any of us to have to spring into action, I also recognize that the critical decisions made in those moments are what separate law enforcement from the rest.
It is in those moments that people are allowed to see that the actions of one individual cannot and should not define the entirety of law enforcement. This is the work in which our brothers and sisters in law enforcement in New Jersey and around the country take such pride. Unfortunately, that is not the work held up when media outlets are calling to “defund the police” or when we find the 99.9 percent of our members lumped in with a bad actor, even as we ourselves denounce that same bad actor.
Even when legislators determine the steps being forced upon law enforcement to be unfairly and unnecessarily punitive as they did with the Justice in Policing Act, we find ourselves thrust into the negative spotlight as our chief executive ignores the will of Congress and simply signs an executive order enforcing the act. We continue to be the easy big blue target President Biden and other politicians feel free to use as their pinata whenever they need some red meat to rally their base.
Of course, we are now seeing the effects of all of the above on recruiting into our profession.
If I told you that you need to train and pass an exam so that you can possibly run toward gunfire and directly into ever-increasing danger while the public calls for you to lose your job simply because of the uniform you wear and politicians fight with you over your pension and healthcare as the president paints a negative target on your back, I sincerely doubt you’d be first in line for that job. Yet, that is the environment we are confronting when we are working to bring in new recruits.
For many of us, law enforcement officers were respected members of the community when we were kids. While that does remain the case in some places, in others we are looked upon with disdain and disrespect. And President Biden’s decision to mark the two-year anniversary of the George Floyd incident with an executive order that seemingly implied every member of law enforcement should be condemned is indicative of the problem.
I was proud to see NJSPBA President Pat Colligan respond immediately on behalf of all of us by calling out the truths about an executive order that is making our jobs more difficult. In a public statement, President Colligan pointed out that “Agencies throughout the country are facing a crisis in recruiting qualified law enforcement officers. Morale has never been lower and police suicides are at near epidemic levels. As expected, the ‘defund’ movement has proved to be an epic, deadly disaster and intentional killings of law enforcement officers are the highest since 1995. This executive order does nothing more than further handcuff our nation’s law enforcement officers and make an already dangerous job exceedingly more difficult amid record-setting rises in violent crime.”
President Colligan concluded, “President Biden should be embracing our nation’s law enforcement, not signing an Executive Order that further ties their hands behind their backs.”
In the absence of this basic truth, we will continue to find ourselves on the wrong end of the narrative, even as we prioritize the health and safety of those we have sworn to protect. In that absence, what we do remains the same. Our brothers and sisters in law enforcement will continue to go out every day and do the hard work.
Summer is here. And the warmer weather typically results in more interactions between law enforcement and the public. Stay safe, and remember, whether you are responsible for guarding prisoners or protecting local communities, the priority is to make it home to your family safely after every shift.