This officer was clearly concerned about an incident that occurred during a recent encounter when he and other officers had to serve an arrest warrant on a person in a home in a less-than-safe neighborhood. This officer, with many years of experience, was being intensely questioned by his own superiors over a completely nonexistent “violation of civil rights” claim made by a convicted felon in the home. I don’t feel it would be appropriate to give any further details because of the ongoing investigation, but the conversation angered me a bit and guided me in writing this column. I also hope that I eased his mind.
Some of you probably think that it is ironic that I would be writing a column defending the work of police officers in general. However, I am a citizen of this community first and a criminal defense attorney second. Besides, my practice provides me with first-hand knowledge of the important and dangerous work that law enforcement officers perform in our community.
First, let me make this clear. My job is to represent my clients, who are charged with crimes, to the absolute best of my ability. Part of my job is challenging police officers in court during cross-examination, motions hearings and trials. Almost every officer whom I have met under these circumstances understands and appreciates that I have a job to do, just as they do. Additionally, there are countless times that I can recall when an officer has assisted me in the prosecution of a case by taking part in the negotiation process with prosecutors.
In my world view, there are two classifications of citizens who in general deserve an extraordinary level or respect. These are military personnel, including veterans, and civilian police officers. Our soldiers have the support of most of our nation. However, law enforcement officers seem to come under more and more scrutiny as our society “progresses.” This criticism of police work and procedure typically comes from left wing interest groups and members of Congress who have no clue what it is like to put their lives on the line for the public safety of our citizens.
I want for you to imagine a scenario where we did not have civilian police officers patrolling the streets, investigating crimes, and assisting the public. The community would develop into a violent storm of unimaginable criminal activity. You would not be safe in your home at night, on the road as you travel with your family, or safe from violent attacks by people seeking old-fashioned retribution. Think of “Tombstone Justice” and the lawless west of the 1800s.
For most of us, this is unimaginable. But, “civilized human beings” can easily and quickly transform into lawless criminals just trying to survive. This would be life without people willing to serve as police officers to keep law and order on the forefront.
Lastly, I am enamored by the courage and sacrifice that our local officers exhibit. Each traffic stop can either be routine or in rare cases escalate into a dangerous situation. You never know what might happen when an officer knocks on the window of a vehicle during a traffic stop. Officers have been killed in recent years during such encounters. Additionally, each search warrant that is executed at a home that may be harboring people who do not want to be found can also either be routine or become a very dangerous situation.
The point is that these folks put their lives on the line for each of us in the community on a daily basis. They are also frequently criticized for decisions that have to be made in a split second. This is unacceptable.
I encourage each of my readers to thank an officer for his or her service the very next time that you see an officer. I promise to do the same. But, that doesn’t mean that I will let him or her “off the hook” in court the next time we meet! We are all doing our constitutional duties to the best of our abilities.
Swindle, a Carrollton resident and an attorney, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian.