Saturday, May 12, will be the start of National Police Week. National Police Week is a DC Metro Area gathering of officers, families, and friends of law enforcement. The gathering draws in between 25,000 to 40,000 attendees each year. It is a week unlike any other; a solemn national honoring of police officers who died in the line of duty.
This year, 129 fallen officers have been added to the memorial.
Each year I attend various memorial events. I listen to the life stories of the fallen officers, and I listen to surviving family members and affected officers. Each year, I share their pain and tears. Their loss is substantial. Their sorrow is palpable. Their broken hearts are irreparable.
This may sound strange to those of you who know what I do for a living. There is an assumption that criminal defense attorneys despise police officers, and visa versa. But this is generally untrue.
Defense attorneys are the checks and balances of law enforcement. We verify those police officers do their jobs correctly and that police power is properly exercised. My job requires a vigorous cross-examination of officer testimony to ensure that an officer’s recitation of facts is honest, that procedures were followed, that arrests were legal, and so on. Trust me when I say that I give those officers hell on the stand.
But I also respect what these officers have to do. Law enforcement is a dirty job, but it needs to be done. I’m glad I’m not the one practicing law on the street. Think of it this way: I get to wear a nice suit and argue about law enforcement in an air-conditioned room; police officers put on 20-lb duty belts, go out on the streets in 100-degree weather and physically enforce the law.
Their job lends itself to mistakes. Officers need to think very quickly on their feet and respond proportionately to each danger. Mistakes are bound to happen. No law enforcement department is error-proof, and officers have a lot of power on the streets that is not always correctly exercised. (That’s a big part of the reason why my job exists in the first place.) But an overwhelming majority of police officers in the United States do a great job on the streets. We need to give credit where it’s due.
Which brings me back to National Police Week. It is heartbreaking to realize that many of the officers who were killed in the United States were killed merely because of the job they chose. According to officers, their killers were empowered by politicians and the media. That is a hard pill to swallow - the realization that politics is fueling hatred that has materialized into murder. Law enforcement has gone from a respected career to a political bullseye.
Law enforcement needs to be checked in the courts, not on the streets. Not through murder. The concept of a lawful, justice-system response, to whatever police wrongdoing one may claim, needs to be responsibly communicated to the public by the media and by politicians. For National Police Week we need to remind the public that police officers are an integral part of our community and that we need to respect them and the challenging work that they do.
Police officers perform a necessary job. If you believe they are evil, then they are a necessary evil. For there is no society without enforcement of laws.
Respect law enforcement. Respect our legal system.