The World is Your Office: Policing in Public
After recent news stories, I’ve been thinking a lot about LEOs involved in deadly force incidents. That is not unusual because I think about that all the time and represent a bunch of folks who have recently been involved in Officer Involved Shootings (OIS). However, my thoughts recently have been focused on one particular issue. Perhaps you can help. I’m trying to think of another profession in which the vast majority of your operations and decisions, including the most difficult and controversial decisions, are made in full view of the public. I’m never one to give up, but I’m really having a hard time.
This analysis was sparked by an OIS in Virginia that took place at a Costco store. LEOs responded when they received calls for help because a woman was reportedly threatening store employees. She was said to have been brandishing at least one edged weapon and when a less than lethal option deployed by one LEO was not effective, the other LEO fired several rounds. The woman did not survive.
There is no dispute that the use of force, especially deadly force, is one of the toughest decisions a LEO can make and one of the most scrutinized actions in the law enforcement profession. No one could dispute that a Costco, second perhaps to only a football stadium during the Superbowl, is a VERY public place! I shop at Costco. They do a great job of keeping people moving through the store and checking them out in a timely manner. However, their stores are always packed! As a capitalist, I’m happy to see that.
So given those types of parameters, which are not unusual in law enforcement, I’m still stuck! I cannot think of another profession with equal public access to its critical moments. There are no boardroom discussions, no executive sessions, and no committees to meet and discuss whether or not deadly force is appropriate. Each individual LEO must make that decision in an instant and if they are wrong, they either face prosecution or forfeit their lives. Those are pretty high stakes.
I’ll keep thinking, but I do not believe I will find another profession that operates in such an open environment. The LEOs will tell you its part of the job. I believe it’s more than that. It is borne from the oath they take and the commitment to respond to calls for help from strangers. It is a calling to a profession that exemplifies the motto of “service before self.” Stay safe.