By Rikki Schwab
With all the current situations being covered in the news media involving law enforcement, it is understandable that people are overly cautious when dealing with the police. Many people have come to me lately asking, why do these things happen?
I can’t speak for every law enforcement officer in the world, I can only answer for myself. There have been many situations in my own 16-year career that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Some are understandable, others it took a couple of days to set in.
One situation involved a teenager who took a fake gun to school in his backpack because he thought it was funny. This created a chaotic scene in the school. Students were afraid, and I didn’t want to have a Columbine incident and have people running everywhere, along with panicked parents.
Another situation involved a 12-year-old boy who had a BB gun in his front waistband and had pointed it at passing cars. Someone gave his clothing description, and the location of the “gun.” My partner and I stopped him. He had his hand at his waistband, we had him at gunpoint, and he was refusing to take his hand away. That young man almost didn’t see the sun come up.
As a detective I saw teenagers and young people murdered and it didn’t make sense to me, just as the stuff in the media doesn’t make sense to others. It is hard trying to do your job with people surrounding you with cameras. Several times in my career people were instigating other people, encouraging poor behavior, and the cameras didn’t start until the situation was about to get out of control and I had to put my hands on someone to place them under arrest.
It is so important in these situations to keep an open mind and not be judgmental. The first impression that we receive from someone is the most lasting and the hardest to change. Sure, there are officers who lack the integrity and morals to do the job the way it should be done, but that doesn’t mean it gets overlooked.
The value of respect
My advice would be to listen to people in authority. Authority figures have their positions for a reason. I wouldn’t go into court and disrespect the judge. I could be punished for that, so I have discipline. If I was pulled over by a law enforcement officer, I would be respectful and listen and cooperate. I don’t do this because of my position, I do this because I respect authority figures.
A lot of kids these days don’t respect their elders. We need to instill this in our youth. Manners are not a bad thing to have and will get you far in life. If we don’t instill in our kids the respect for authority, then they will go into a job interview relaxed, without discipline, and thinking it’s just a chat with a friend. This will obviously not get them where they need to go, or where we want them to be.
The ride-along program gives a great police perspective to individuals who are not in law enforcement. It also works great if you study criminal justice. If you just don’t understand policing, and you feel you want to see why we do what we do, I recommend a ride-along.
Law enforcement is like a brotherhood, and is paramilitary. We have teams, we have platoons, and we are on the streets trying to go home every night to our loved ones. It’s not about anything else. We train for months and years to make split-second decisions that in our whole careers we pray we never have to make. I’m not saying you should run out and hug a cop today. What I am saying is if you are involved in an incident, and have contact with law enforcement, stay calm, keep your hands in view, and do what is asked of you. It will make us feel safer, the situation will be a lot calmer, and you just might learn something.
And please don’t forget earlier advice. We are moving forward to better times, but let’s continue to keep our homes and vehicles locked, and look out for our neighbors. Happy New Year.
Rikki Schwab is the Winthrop town marshal.