The Spartan Sentinel

Police and Misconceptions: What’s True and What’s False

Asheby Kearns, Writer

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Police officers are dedicated to helping their community and keeping it safe. A recent example comes from the January 13th shooting at Fashion Place Mall, where Murray Police Department and other agencies worked to safely escort civilians out of the mall.

Despite this positive example of officers in our community, it doesn’t change the way others may view law enforcement. A good deed falls short in a time police shootings are prevalent. When news of police shootings surface, it can morph one’s opinion to be negative.

With these events spawning negative opinions, there’s one thing people need to be reminded of: police officers aren’t as bad as people think. The actions of one officer shouldn’t influence the whole view of law enforcement. Law enforcement officers shouldn’t face unjust misconceptions because of bad decisions made by the minority of the group.

Some of the pessimistic views towards police officers stem from media misrepresentation and/or bias in the media. Three out of the five officers I spoke to all said the same thing: “The media will report [on] what draws in the ratings.”

As a quick aside, when an officer expresses their opinion, it’s best to keep them anonymous. This is protects them from backlash and protects the reputation of the officer and agency.

A prime example of police misrepresentation stems from police brutality. In a Hastac article, the writer asserts, “Recordings of these incidents are proof in showing how corrupt and cruel some of these confrontations can be.” The incidents of police brutality reflect the actions of a very small group of officers, whose attitudes towards the public differ than most officers.

Another example comes from one of Murray’s own officers. They explain, “I have been in three shootings and all of them were reported completely different than what really happened.”

The influence the media has over the lives of human life is extreme. Society constantly looks towards the media for information, but the trust for it is fading in a time fake news reigns. Despite the fake news movement, Officer 4 mentions, “The public gets information from various media.”

 

Three of the officers agreed the media should present all of the available information. Officer 1 expresses, “There should be no speculation by the media outlets.” The media shouldn’t speculate on a situation, because its accuracy is key when reporting.

Often, the media misrepresents the investigation process, and develops stereotypes for officers. Many believe “…we all like donuts. While not ALL of us like donuts, it is a tasty treat.” Smithsonan.com describes, “…cops around the United States began to be associated with doughnuts back in the 1950’s, when they were some of the only snacks available to police walking the late-night beat.”

Since this stereotype became popular, it’s associated with all officers. It’s somewhat of a nice stereotype, but one must consider how they never really witness an officer indulging in a box of doughnuts.

The investigative process is over dramatized and lacks a lot of detail in Hollywood. “The process is much longer and more difficult than is shown in movies and TV. For example, not everything has fingerprints on it. And even when it does, that does not necessarily mean the suspect is guilty.”

Officers need to gather as much evidence as possible to find a suspect, which is a process in itself. If officers could somehow speed up the investigative process, they probably would. However, “there is nothing wrong with exploring information and being a skeptic, that is how true research is done.”

Researching how the process actually develops allows for an individual to understand why it takes specific cases a longer time to be solved. Research breaks the misrepresentation presented by Hollywood, and why releasing “… all known information to the media … can have a negative impact on the investigation.”

“Officers are genuine about wanting to protect their communities,” which is why people go into law enforcement. The second officer interviewed believes, “Most cops do it for the love for their community, and their country.”

This is important to remember when looking at the majority of officers in the field, and a key point looked over all the time: “Police officers are human.”

Due to this love for their community, “We experience things that the human psyche was not made to see and endure.” They sacrifice their sanity to witness awful things in order to ensure their community is protected and safe.

At the same time, “the uniform often becomes a barrier to allowing people to see their human side.” Law enforcement figures are usually looked to be strong individuals, who only present strength and little emotion in the field. Since this is somewhat of a stereotype, “the public has trouble remembering we are human too.”

Officers “…experience PTSD just as a war veteran does.” They “…have families and feelings” like any other human being. At the end of the day, after the job, they are same as any other civilian.

It’s important to remember they aren’t statues with stern faces, but “the public could make efforts to understand that most officers want to be helpful.”

With being human comes the time an officer has to make a difficult decision. Police shootings serve as an instance when an officer makes a difficult decision. Officers “…are placed in situations that require us to make a split second decision to make sure we go home to our families.”

Officers are tasked with making important and crucial verdicts, but “sometimes officers are forced to take a life. It is never something we want to do, but sometimes it’s necessary.” The same officer who said that continues to discuss how that decision can haunt them for the rest of their life.

Officers are meant to cast judgement “…that would cast a positive light on the badge.” Occasionally, “…the decision that was made does not look like a good one. Remember, it was made in a fraction of a second.”

To avoid putting difficult tasks on an officer, and to ensure one’s safety, it’s easy for an individual to “…[comply] when they were told to.” The better solution is to not argue with the officer. If one does, it “is causing people (police and citizens) to get hurt for not reason.”

“People in general are not educated on tactics, mindset, laws, etc.” Becoming educated on the basics of laws ensures both parties have a safer resolution to the conflict. Being knowledgeable protects everyone in the end.

In order to terminate the thoughts of bad police, it’s crucial to understand how an officer’s job works. Murray Police Department has a program civilians can go through called the Citizen’s Academy. Salt Lake City Police Department notes, “…citizens will receive training in varied aspects of law enforcement.”

Comprehending and going through a similar process an officer does combats the misconceptions. One learns of the strain being apart of law enforcement brings.

Waiting “…to draw conclusions until the facts have been released…” ensures a lack of bias against an agency. It prevents negative opinions to develop concerning law enforcement, and ignores the inaccurate representation in the media. Knowing the facts is more important above anything else.

Officers try to change misconceptions via “…great improvements in public relations.” They assure the department has a relationship with its community. If the public has “…conversations with officers about issues and get to know officers beyond their uniform and badge,” they establish a relationship with the law.

Evolving a relationship between the public and law enforcement helps humanize the officers. The media can humanize officers by reporting positively on them “…It would help the image of what police really are.”

Police officers are great people, and I have the privilege to experience this first hand. Working in their environment helps humanize the officers for me, and interactions are essential, even if it’s a quick hello. When one overcomes the invisible barrier built by society, hopefully everyone will watch just how amazing these men and women are.

It is beneficial to thank them for all they do. They do a lot for the community. If you extend thanks to an officer, the gratitude you express will surely make their day.

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