By Barry Donelan
When you pull open your car door or the front door to your home, you have a reasonable expectation of what awaits you. Every day is similar.
For cops, we arrive at every door never knowing what will happen next.
Whether responding to a domestic violence call or approaching a traffic stop, the next moment can take a number of turns. Thankfully, the vast majority of situations are resolved without issue. However, the very nature of emergency response seldom allows perfection.
Recent incidents in the Bay Area have put added strain on police departments already struggling to bring together neighbors and officers. Mistakes have been made and law enforcement must adjust. But we must not forget that the cop on the beat is the difference between those in danger getting home safely, or a situation ending in tragedy.
I’ve been a police officer for more than 15 years, in a leadership position at the Oakland Police Officers’ Association for a decade, and on the Peace Officers Research Association of California board much of that time.
My fellow board members and I discuss the changing realities of public safety. The 66,000 officers we represent see the shift firsthand; many of us are experiencing a new level of noncompliance. There’s often a disregard for law enforcement bordering on acrimonious.
The era of new rules for engagement is taking hold; we need to see if it works. Crime is up. Low-level offenders skate by with a citation. Drug rehabilitation in return for reduced sentencing is moot, as offenders are well aware they will likely serve no time for their refusing to abide by the rules.
Criminals with serious offenses are being let out early. Those with ill intentions are emboldened when criminality has no consequence.
Add to this the alleged perception of the “Ferguson effect,” which suggests officers are reacting more cautiously, and a situation can escalate from troubled to dangerous.
Everyone who deals with law enforcement deserves respect. It’s time to right the wrongs and move forward.
We must define the root causes of the cycle of violence resulting in communities being plagued with crime. We need to find an answer to drugs, gangs, intolerance and a disregard for our laws.
Attention must be given to those struggling with mental health issues. Our health care system must function properly, so we keep the mentally ill from being treated as a public safety hazard, or not deserving of special care to preserve their dignity.
Let’s stop the finger-pointing and name-calling. No more impulsive policy decisions made without being fully vetted.
Instead, let’s work together and address the frustrations of communities feeling marginalized. Oakland police officers and Peace Officers Research Association of California are committed to creating a positive dialogue focused on facts, instead of unconstrained focus on events that don’t reflect the daily efforts of our men and women behind the badge.
It’s time for real solutions. The safety of our families depends on actions we take today. And if our families aren’t safe, nothing else matters.
Barry Donelan is a sergeant and president of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association.