When a law enforcement officer acts contrary to his or her training, departmental regulations or the law, the officer should be disciplined or criminally charged. But it is neither just nor helpful to condemn all officers for the actions of a few.
It’s 3 a.m. and the street is empty save for the single car pulled over to the side of the road, its engine running. As you approach the car with its darkly tinted windows, you cannot see into the car, but you can make out the shadow of someone moving in the car. Standing alone in the street, you tense as you see the driver reaching into the glove compartment box but then give a small sigh of relief as the driver turns to face you, extending the registration through the open window.
Police officers are required to make life-and-death decisions within mere seconds while processing facts and circumstances. What if the car matched the description of a vehicle that drove away from the scene of a double homicide? What if instead of paper, the officer thinks he/she sees the glint of metal in the driver’s hand? What if the driver flees a traffic stop and then after crashing the car, fails to put his hands up and exit the car as ordered and instead can be seen moving around in the car?
The officer has seconds to decide how to react. Do we really expect a law enforcement officer to take his/her chances by waiting to see if the driver fires first before deciding how to react?
Ten seconds counted out (one one-thousand, two one-thousand …), while sitting still and focusing upon nothing but the passage of time appears to be plenty of time to study what is in the driver’s hand before deciding how to react. But living those 10 seconds, standing alone on a deserted street, not knowing who is in the car or what they are doing and all the while running various scenarios through your head while trying to observe as much as possible, those same 10 seconds pass by in the blink of an eye.
These are the circumstances under which our police officers must operate every day. I am not advocating that police officers be given special treatment, but I do believe that when judging an officer’s actions, we must take into account all the facts and circumstances. All too often, when someone is hurt and it is later discovered that the victim was holding a glasses case and not a gun, the public plays Monday-morning quarterback, exercising 20-20 hindsight to condemn the officer for making a bad decision.
Will law enforcement officers make mistakes? Of course, they will make mistakes because they are human just like us. If a white officer shoots a black or brown person or vice-versa, is that automatically a racist act? Of course not. While there are likely to be some police officers who are racist (that human factor again), the majority of officers are not racist. Fortunately, most officers are committed to serving and protecting the community.
We are fortunate that we have few police shootings in our community. The low number is evidence of the quality of men and women who serve and the training they receive. We employ human law enforcement officers who try to react in the best and safest manner possible given the circumstances.•
Celestino-Horseman is an attorney and represents the Indiana Latino Democratic Caucus on the Democratic State Central Committee. Send comments to [email protected]
Click here for more Forefront columns.