“[…] Do justly […]” – ] -Micah 6:8
Law enforcement has been at the top of our national conversation for the past five months, and our law enforcement officers (LEOs) have been caught in the maelstrom. We see and hear voices calling to #defundpolice, but what does that mean? Some try to fool us with fancy words by claiming that “defund the police” doesn’t really mean “defund the police,” it just means “reallocate their budgets,” so there is deep confusion.
With all the debate and disorder, I wanted to speak with a professional LEO to find out how officers “in the trenches” are viewing things. I recently spoke with a police officer based in the Roanoke Valley. Considering today’s hyper-politicized environment and to let him speak freely, he will remain anonymous.
He explained that emotionally, the polarization is taking a toll. The debate about police often devolves into an “us versus them” diatribe, but LEOs live among us, in our neighborhoods, and we often know them, their spouses, their parents, and their children. The officer I spoke with described this summer this way: “It’s been overwhelming. Here in the Roanoke Valley we’ve been blessed with nothing really out of hand, but in big cities like Richmond, lots of stuff has been destroyed.” He cited the media “overload” that causes officers to report for work “not knowing what’s going to happen.”
He said the ongoing ambiguity is undermining officers who can’t help but think: “There are so many unanswered questions. Is it reasonable for me to stay on the job?” With almost daily reports of officers shot or attacked without provocation, many officers fear losing their families or homes and are considering leaving law enforcement and taking up a new career. He mentioned the “information overload” from the daily news cycle and stated many officers report for duty but are thinking, “Am I going to be the next police officer on CNN because of something I said or did being taken out of context?”
Eager to keep pace with political correctness, many Virginia Democrat politicians have been working overtime to undermine our first responders. Virginia’s disgraced Governor, Ralph Northam (D), who after 20 months is still refusing to resign over his outrageous racist photograph scandal, called the General Assembly into special session late this summer ostensibly to deal with the budget mess triggered by Democrat overspending and declining revenues from the virus. However, in a political act of bait-and-switch, the Democrats transmogrified the session from a budget-focus to a “reduce public safety” focus.
For some five months we have seen news reports of violent rioting in many cities across our land, and the Democrats’ recent moves in Richmond have caused even more first responders to feel unappreciated and besieged. “Everybody I know in law enforcement is feeling some kind of pressure,” he added, “especially regarding qualified immunity.”
He was referring to one bill the Democrats tried to pass that would have stripped law enforcement officials of legal immunity from being sued while carrying out their duties. He added that some in the public are under the false impression that police officers “can bully people and get away with it, but not really.” He was concerned that losing such immunity would have opened all first responders to “frivolous lawsuits” and it would have declared “open season for suing officers.”
I covered this issue in more detail in my Sept. 11 column. Thankfully, Roanoke State Senator John Edwards (D), in a rare flash of independence from his party bosses, helped kill that bill in committee on Sept. 10, the eve of Sept. 11, at a time we should be honoring our first responders, not undermining them.
A second bill this summer aimed to reduce assaults on a first responder, police officer, jail employee, judge, etc., from a mandatory felony to a possible misdemeanor. It would have also ended a mandatory six-month jail sentence for assaulting an officer.
The LEO I spoke with saw this as a less-severe threat. That was “not the same tier as losing qualified immunity.” However, he still saw it as a risk to his ability to do his job. “A felony sends a strong encouragement [to criminals] to comply, but reducing the punishment makes a statement: we want to punish the police rather than work with them on actual issues.”
Both Roanoke City legislators Sen. Edwards and Del. Sam Rasoul (D) voted to end the mandatory jail sentence and felony designation. Due to public outcry, however, enough other Democrats in the House of Delegates joined their Republican colleagues on Sept. 22 to squash those proposed changes.
I asked the officer: what do you think of our local legislators who are actively undermining your safety and ability to do your job? He responded: “I’d like to say, you are legislators, so you should be smarter than this. If they don’t understand it, they should research it.”
He continued by showing his appreciation that there was a public outcry and these two bills were defeated. “Many people became active by emailing their legislators, especially about qualified immunity, by letting their legislators know they are about these issues and that they are important. Obviously law makers are concerned about getting votes,” so they will listen to their voters.
In closing, I asked him: What do they want us normal citizens to know and do? He responded: “Pray for the situation, for all law enforcement officers, and for all localities. There are a lot of different layers to this.”
– Scott Dreyer