A law enforcement officer’s credo is, “If you need me, I will be there for you. I will risk injury or death to get to you, because that is my promise” (citizensforpolice. org).
A day in the life of a law enforcement officer is unlike that of any other profession. There are many people eager to stand up and criticize the many fine men and women that work in law enforcement. While it is true that some wayward people do end up in a police uniform, that too can be said about people in every profession.
Police officers are in a very precarious position every day of their lives, on duty and off duty. It is necessary to be fair and open-minded when a police officer is being accused of excessive force or when their use of lethal force is being questioned. People have enough to fear in today’s world without being led to believe that the police are the enemy. They are not. In most cases, the only people that have any reason to fear the police are the people that are breaking the law. “Police brutality” has become an easy scapegoat for many people, but an officer’s use of force in the line of duty is often necessary and justifiable.
A police officer’s day is unlike that of any civilian. While most people spend their nights at home with their families, all police officers must have their turn at the graveyard shift, which is usually between the hours of midnight and eight o’clock in the morning. This also happens to be the time period when most serious crimes and drunk driving accidents take place. On an average shift, a police officer is likely to experience things that would devastate most people: child abuse, drug overdoses, suicide, fatal car accidents, and violent crime. On a regular basis, officers have to be physically up close and personal with people who are HIV+, people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, in addition to violent criminals. The average citizen will hope never to encounter such a person.
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Even while off-duty and trying to enjoy an evening with family or friends in a public place, an officer may be recognized and harassed by a suspect that he or she has arrested, and then have to worry about the safety of their loved ones. Police officers’ lives are inherently stressful. A uniformed police officer is as much a target as he or she is recognizable. They are trained to be constantly aware of their surroundings and watching their backs.
While on the job, an officer’s adrenaline level is tremendously elevated. For their own protection, officers have to foresee the worst of situations. Any typical traffic stop could escalate into an extremely hazardous situation. Officers are trained to read a suspect’s physical and behavioral cues. If an officer detects any threatening behavior, he or she is taught to react physically and restrain the suspect. A law-abiding citizen, with nothing to hide, would feel no need to become defensive and react physically to an officer’s questioning.
However, a person who becomes extremely defensive or makes any sudden movements will automatically trigger an officer’s defense. In most cases, a police officer only becomes physically aggressive with a suspect if they fear for their own life or for the safety of others. Also citizens must understand that if they choose to physically resist arrest, an officer must take physical actions to coerce that person into compliance. The safety and best interest of law-abiding citizens is an officer’s duty. On July 6, Inglewood, California police officer Jeremy Morse was videotaped placing teenager Donovan Jackson onto the trunk of a patrol car and punching him one time after the teenager grabbed the officer in the groin area.
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Within days, civil rights activists, community leaders, politicians and protestors amassed on the streets of Inglewood demanding that Officer Morse be fired and immediately jailed before investigations into the incident had begun. In addition, groundless allegations of racism and police brutality ran rampant and the threat of another L. A. riot loomed when shouts of “no justice, no peace” rang out from the protestors.
The press and news organizations were very biased and unfair to the police officers involved. The videotape was shown repeatedly, but hardly ever put into context with the entire incident. The incident was inaccurately portrayed as a “beating” and “pummeling” and irresponsibly compared to the Rodney King incident. In Officer Morse’s defense, the police and the sheriff’s deputies maintain that Donovan Jackson became “combative” and that force was needed to subdue him and take him into custody. According to the incident report filed July 6, 2002 by Deputy Lopez, Donovan Jackson “pulled, scratched, and fought.” As a result, Officer Morse sustained lacerations to the left side of his face, left knee, left side of his head, lower neck and abrasions to his neck, in addition to the pain he suffered from the injury in his groin area (web).
This type of inflammatory coverage did nothing but incite the anger of many people and literally put the police officers’ personal safety in jeopardy.
As a result of this superfluous behavior, Officer Morse is being charged with assault under the color of authority for which he faces a one to three year jail term and a $10, 000 fine. He is listed as one of many defendants in a blatantly inflated civil rights lawsuit, he has been fired by the Inglewood Police Department and it still has yet to be determined if he will be federally prosecuted for civil rights violations. As for the cries of “No justice, No peace” it implies that if Officer Morse is found not guilty (no justice), there will be riots and vigilantism (no peace).
This is being said without all the facts of this incident being examined. These songs of injustice are being sung based on the assumption that Donovan Jackson had absolutely no responsibility for this incident. When all facts are considered, it is very evident that his behavior instigated and escalated the incident.
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When police officers are physically assaulted, they should not hesitate to defend themselves. Not only are they responsible for their own safety and protection, but for the protection of their communities. Unfortunately, police brutality does exist. There are undoubtedly some cases in which police officers have abused their power. These offenders should be brought to justice in a court of law, and not pre-judged by press and special interest groups. The recent inflation and publicity regarding police brutality cases has caused people to assume that any form of physical aggression from a police officer is gratuitous brutality.
In many cases, officers are executing a dutifully learned reaction of self-defense and defense of law-abiding citizens. An officer’s use of force is often necessary and prudent. While some complaints of police brutality are legitimate, it is not uncommon for repeat criminals and “cop-haters” to file nuisance complaints in retaliation against their arresting officers, and to take the spotlight off of what they were being arrested for in the first place. In cases dealing with police brutality, there are many issues to be seriously evaluated.
First of all, when did it become acceptable to physically resist or act out against an arresting officer? A law-abiding citizen would have absolutely no reason to physically resist or become combative with a police officer. The only people who should be afraid of police officers are lawbreakers and criminals. When a person does act out and physically assault an officer, it is necessary for that officer to protect himself or herself and everyone else in the community by physically restraining that subject. When officers must defend themselves and others, where is the line drawn between necessary force and excessive force? It is scary to think of living in a country in which officers of the law might lose the right to defend themselves when they are assaulted. If an officer can lose his or her job for physically controlling an offender, this only serves to empower the offender and completely lose sight of the original arrest or complaint. Hence, the offender becomes the victim, the officer becomes the offender, and the offender’s original misdeed is swept under the rug and virtually forgotten in lieu of a completely inflammatory allegation against the officer.
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It is very easy to sit back, comfortably ensconced in a safe home and judge the actions of a police officer. However, there is no way for any of us to know what it is like for them to be involved in physical altercations, often with violent criminals who aren’t afraid to fight back. Officer Morse’s case is only one example of the many inflammatory accusations that police officers are constantly enduring. Officers are now performing their jobs continuously under a microscope.
Police officers’ lives and jobs are constantly on the line. They encounter dangerous situations every day, and sometimes it’s a matter of life and death. It is common for police officers to be assaulted while they are simply doing their jobs. They are spat on, cursed at, physically assaulted and even shot at while trying to deal with violent, angry citizens. It is necessary to keep in mind that some arrests will not go smoothly and that at times, some use of force is critical and prudent.