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On indiscriminate hero worship

harris ROBERT
HARRIS

 
Oregon
Outpost

Hero: [heer-oh] noun, plural heroes; also heros. 1. a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. 2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal:

Police forces on the defensive and in fear of patrolling our streets. Protests in cities large and small. Police and community afraid of the other.

How did it become such a binary and non-nuanced argument, with defenders of our blue line insistent that any critique of police techniques or actions is an attack on them personally and endangers their safety? And why are some critics of police tactics and individual officers insisting that all police are corrupt and dangerous?

Our current culture of unquestioned hero worship of regular people just doing their jobs – difficult jobs – and a police culture embracing that hero worship could be a primary cause of the disconnect.

Heroes aren’t supposed to be wrong. Or bad. Or make mistakes. Post 9/11 it seems it’s assumed – and we’re constantly being coaxed to publicly acknowledge – that every single public safety officer is a hero. So when an officer does something bad or makes a mistake, it engenders a sense of real betrayal . You expect bad guys to be bad. You expect imperfect humans to make mistakes. You don’t expect either from a hero.

The unquestioned hero worship is unfair to officers as well. If an officer has been told for 15 years that they are without question a hero by putting on a uniform, there could be a sense of entitlement by that officer. Heroes may not expect to be criticized for their errors or may become overzealous because of righteousness. They may not expect to be talked back to or questioned. All of these behaviors are bound to lead to some very bad interactions with the public.

Without a doubt it takes a person with some bravery to enter a profession where you face bad guys and unpleasant situations on a daily basis. And even though police officer isn’t in the top ten most dangerous jobs (33 officers died by unlawful violence in the line of duty in 2013), it is still dangerous physically even if officer deaths. Officers engage in scuffles and incur minor and major injuries. And the threat of violence itself is stressful and mentally damaging.

I know a lot of officers and for the most part they are good decent people doing the best they can. They take their job seriously, some are very talented and positive influences in the community. And when they make mistakes, I assume they were acting in good faith doing the best they can. They simply made a mistake as we all do. Of course their jobs are particularly difficult at times, and their mistakes can carry severe consequences so we all hope that mistakes are rare. And if an officer makes too many mistakes, for the safety of the officer and others, it may be best for all of us if they to choose another profession. Either voluntarily or not.

And if they are dishonest, or corrupt they need to be immediately terminated, and if appropriate, prosecuted.

But applying for the job and putting on the uniform is too low of a standard to award a hero label. Some have acted heroically in the line of duty. And that is worthy of praise as a hero. But we can’t tell who has acted heroically based just on a uniform.

Our public servants who wear a uniform are humans. With human frailties and qualities. They may be in general a braver and more heroic group of people than most of us and in fact some of those people wearing uniforms do heroic acts in the performance of their jobs. It would be beneficial to officers, police forces and our communities if we just stopped the hero worship of the uniform. If we did that, maybe the public could more easily accept the occasional mistake for what it is, a mistake. And perhaps some officers would have a better understanding of a community’s legitimate concern and occasional outrage when officers engage in over reach, dishonesty, and abuse of power.

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