How would you react in a split second if your life depended on it? That’s the question law enforcement officers across the country have to ask themselves every single day.
I am the daughter and stepdaughter of two law enforcement officers. My father is a SWAT officer in a community outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, and my stepfather is a detective in South Charleston. With the current issues our country is facing, I felt that this was my time to speak out as a family member of two wonderful men who wear a badge daily, ready to give their lives for you or your family member at any given time.
While I understand that not all cops are like my fathers, I would like to believe that figuratively speaking, most are. I believe that we have a huge issue on our hands as a society. We must convince those who have long believed that the stigma surrounding law enforcement officers and the distrust put into communities by the “bad apples” isn’t true.
We must also convince society that law enforcement officers are needed and to help bridge the gap and figure out a way to mend the relationship between law enforcement officers and the areas they serve.
I truly believe that community policing is the answer, as well as policy reform. What better way to show people that you genuinely care about the community you serve than to get out in the community and get to know the citizens? My stepfather has a firm belief that he stands by that he must respect everyone he encounters, even if they are under arrest for the most brutal and heinous crimes. If he does not show respect to them, it is a two-way street and he cannot expect respect in return. He is not the judge or the jury.
Currently, there is a South Charleston police officer named Tony Messer who is doing his own act of community policing. Officer Messer has created a project for humanizing the badge by streaming online gaming with popular games such as Call of Duty and Fortnite to raise money to provide kids in the community he serves with ice cream. Something so small could do so much if everyone took this extra step to show community members that these officers genuinely care about the citizens they serve.
While I know that some things are not that simple, I know that policy reform is needed. Officers in West Virginia undergo training at the West Virginia State Police Academy in Institute. They are taught during their months of initial training about the use of force continuum, this is the basis that they go off of that helps guide them to de-escalate a situation and to determine if use of force is needed and what level. I feel that this should be an annual re-training along with de-escalation tactics and classes for law enforcement on dealing with mental health emergencies.
With these steps, I truly believe that West Virginians and our law enforcement officers could feel that they have a better understanding and it would give them more tools to use when dealing with issues on calls.
I would love to feel OK about both of my dads going to work, knowing that they are not going to be injured solely for the uniform they are wearing. However, I know that for some they would love to be able to trust the police and feel safe in their communities from those that are sworn to protect them. We can do this — we can bridge this gap, but it starts with us and it starts now. We can do better, West Virginia.