'I have done nothing to cause feelings of guilt': A veteran officer speaks out
I have been a sworn member of the East Lyme Police Department for 36 years, and I want to preface my ensuing narrative with the following statement: What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis was a tragic, violent, criminal act, and the police officer, who perpetrated this inhumane crime, although he is entitled to the due process rights granted to every American citizen, should and will be prosecuted.
Everyone I know is appalled by the events captured on the video; however, the behavior of many citizens, during the aftermath of this tragedy, has been fraught with antipathy toward police officers all over the country.
In response to this unfair demonization, I feel compelled to respond and remind the citizens of East Lyme just who polices their community. The overwhelming majority of men and women with whom I presently work or have worked during my career are responsible, dedicated people. They started this job with noble, altruistic intentions, such as serving, protecting, and helping people with problems.
For some, it is not a job; it’s a calling.
Life's dark side
They are mothers, fathers, grandparents, and your neighbors. Many reside in the community they police. Their children are educated in our school system. They patronize local businesses and volunteer their time coaching your children in youth sports. Some volunteer their time with our fire departments, responding to structure fires and medical emergencies. They own property and pay their taxes. Generally speaking, they are invested heavily in the community they serve.
Professionally, they respond to every conceivable emergency, including motor vehicle accidents, some with fatalities, domestic family violence, assaults, sexual assaults, burglaries, larcenies, child abuse, missing persons, incidents involving people afflicted with mental illness, suicides, drug overdoses, youth problems, every imaginable variation of alcohol related dysfunction, and even murders.
They routinely, and adeptly, mediate conflicts and disputes. They make compassionate death notifications, in person, to the decedent’s next of kin. The list of duties they perform seems interminable. On occasion, their efforts touch lives in the most positive manner, but do not ever mistake them for targets, punching bags, spittoons, or trash receptacles — or the dynamics change abruptly.
An unfortunate reality of our profession is sometimes we have to use force against people — who are either violent criminals, mentally ill, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs — in order to enforce laws and restore peace. I often remind the younger officers not everybody will allow himself/herself to be de-escalated, and sometimes policing is a contact sport.
Force is never aesthetically pleasing to the eyes of the more gentile members of society; however, at times, it is necessary to resolve the problem with which you are confronted. For every person I have dealt with harshly, there are dozens who have been given a “coffee ride” and allowed to decompress in the front seat of my cruiser. We often see people, both good and bad people, at their absolute worst.
Another reality of policing is that each law enforcement organization polices its community in accordance with the particular needs of that community. I do not profess to know anything about the Minneapolis Police Department, but I can tell you that what happens in that location has nothing to do with what happens in East Lyme, or any other agency in southeastern Connecticut.
What most people don’t know is that each and every day in the United States, a police officer is shot on duty, and some die. Many of these attacks happen during vehicle stops or when responding to calls for service at residences. This occurs in densely populated urban areas, rural areas, and suburbia.
Sadly, these shocking incidents are typically relegated to a brief paragraph on page 2 or 3 of our newspapers. It is a potential danger of the job, which everybody who wears a uniform accepts.
Treat all fairly
With respect to race, both personally and professionally, I have done nothing to cause feelings of guilt, so I don’t have any, and I have done nothing for which I need to apologize, so I won’t. I treat everybody fairly and respectfully. Within reason and my limited range of knowledge, I will speak with any person about any topic.
I will always stand proudly and salute, with reverence, the American flag, which remains the symbol of the greatest nation on Earth, but don’t expect me to kneel in support of any person or cause, because I won’t. In private, I kneel before my Christian God to pray for many people, including the families of George Floyd and David Dorn, age 77, a retired police officer from St. Louis, who was murdered by rioters while checking a friend’s business, and for Shay Mikalonis, 29, the Las Vegas police officer paralyzed from the neck down after being shot in the back of the head during the riot in his city.
I, for one, have no intention of changing my approach to my job or life.
I have three humble suggestions for those of you who have participated in local protests and sincerely want to effectuate productive change.
First, if there is a perception of a problem with the police in your community, do what we do, and investigate. Reflect upon your personal experiences and interactions, then analyze statistical data compiled and published by the FBI each year before drawing a conclusion as to whether or not the perception is validated.
Secondly, join us. Submit your applications for employment as a police officer or firefighter, because life is much different when you move from your safe haven, pontificating in front of a computer screen, to a hostile environment, where you have to look people in the eye and make a quick decision during emotionally charged situations, or walk into a burning building and think and act quickly during medical emergencies, as firefighters do regularly.
Finally, those of you who possess the requisite educational background should research the school systems in, or outside, this area and then volunteer your time and energy to improve the literacy rate and mathematical skills of those students, who are the least proficient, because knowledge and education empower people.
In our world, every life is precious. None more or less than another.
Bruce W. Babcock is a veteran of the East Lyme Police Department. He holds the rank of sergeant.