Reflections On 2020 With a Police Chief
So much has happened throughout the course of 2020, what started out as a new year, filled with hope and endless possibilities, was in truth wrought with struggle and challenges beyond what many of us has ever faced. For police officers at first, it was the uncertainty of a novel Coronavirus, it took time for everyone to fully understand what that meant, but more importantly how contagious and deadly it was. As a student of world affairs, I wondered what I would be doing as a police chief, keeping our officers safe, ordering supplies, collaborating with our fire department, instituting new processes for 911 calls, ensuring public safety and everything in between. At the same time, I never took my attention off the growing cases of police and community interactions that were ending in tragedy. The Nation was focused on the pandemic, yet critical events such as the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and the death of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky had one thing in common, they involved African Americans needlessly dying and the criminal justice system seemingly failing them.
The early summer death of George Floyd was senseless and tragic on all levels, there are not enough words to describe the horror and disbelief of what we all witnessed. As a police officer at heart, I wondered if there was more to the story, but as more and more unfolded, I realized there was no more, seeing a man take his last breaths under those conditions left a mark on my conscience; as a leader in policing, I asked myself if there was there more I could have done?
Soon, the critical events we witnessed at the start of the year, coupled with the case of George Floyd gained the attention of the country. I was torn, peaceful protests are part of our democracy, but outright physical and/or verbal assault on police officers along with devastating damage and unrest was heartbreaking. I realized that seeing police officers painted with a broad brush was a reaction from the perspective of the whole, the actions of the officers in Minneapolis was inexcusable, and a catalyst for the unrest and frustration that African Americans have been decrying for years. In that instant, what was lost, is that at the heart of it all, there are so many good officers, toiling in utterly difficult and messy social situations, they don’t complain, they do their best and achieve amazing outcomes that only the officer and the person they’ve helped will ever know about; the tragic death of George Floyd effectively wiped all of that out.
Throughout my career and certainly through the writing of our book and this past summer of discord, I held my belief that police officers are good people, however that said, I’ve always felt that we need to work at continually reminding ourselves and act upon the fact that we swore an oath to protect others, to stand up for their rights in the face of difficulty and challenge and protect the basic rights enshrined in our Constitution. Kudos, to the strength that so many police officers displayed when they spoke their mind on the injustice we witnessed; for the country to regain trust, we need all of them to stand for what it is right; courage is essential and it comes in all forms.
The collaboration of our book was in part inspired by my friend Mark Ziska, my love of the police profession, the everlasting challenges of policing in a free and democratic society as well as our summer of tragedy and discontent. At the heart of it all, Mark and I believe in the vision that we should strive for “no harm” in what we do; the focus of our book is how to improve policing and endeavor for a distant yet amazingly worthwhile goal, saving lives.
In the words of George Floyd’s brother, “honor George, and make the necessary changes that make law enforcement the solution and not the problem”
It is the hard work of this nature that will push our institutions, private and public to be their best, to revere the sanctity of life and acknowledge that good police officers will continue to play a role in the strengthening of the fabric of our society.