OPINION – Some people seem mildly surprised to learn that I have a number of friends who are in law enforcement. Because I regularly question whether government power is being exercised properly, it is often assumed that I must hate cops. I do not.
My commitment to good government is simply stronger than my desire for approval from the powers that be. That means being willing to question some aspects of the state that the public has been taught to regard as sacred cows. Law enforcement is one of them.
Allow me to illustrate.
Ask the average person on the street what goes through his or her mind when they realize a police car is behind them in traffic and most individuals will say that their first reaction is a sense of anxiety.
That’s a rather curious reaction when the words “to serve and protect” are written right on the officer’s car. Why wouldn’t our first reaction be a sense of happiness or comfort instead?
This topic came up as I was having lunch recently with my friend Isaac who is a police officer in Cedar City. I was surprised when he informed me that he has a similar reaction when he is traveling in other cities outside his jurisdiction. It’s not because he’s a scofflaw.
It’s because he too recognizes that state power is always prone to abuse and requires constant vigilance. I’m proud to be friends with a number of police officers who regularly ask themselves if what they are doing makes them part of the solution or part of the problem.
They understand that the vast majority of citizens in our community govern themselves and do not require supervision.
Unlike heel-clickers who see things purely in terms of legal or illegal, these good officers are also guided by a profound sense of right and wrong. They are likely more representative of law enforcement than it sometimes appears.
Their willingness to consider what they’re doing can be problematic for them as most bureaucracies tend to consolidate power by promoting and encouraging order-takers. Gratuitous enforcement, coupled with a growing nanny state, is why we feel trepidation when we see a black and white in the rear-view mirror.
Thankfully, there are officers who put on the uniform for the right reasons.
Isaac and I share a common love of liberty and good government. We also have common ground in that his late grandfather Jerry was my writing mentor when I first moved to Southern Utah. Few people have had a greater impact on my life and my thinking than Jerry did.
Shortly after I moved to Cedar City some nine years ago, Jerry told me that his grandson would be joining the Cedar City police force and that I should get to know him. He told me that Isaac was a young man who understands and takes seriously the protection of liberty. Over the years, I’ve found this to be absolutely the case.
As we ate lunch, Isaac and I discussed the public’s changing perception of the police and why it was happening. Both of us recognized a growing divide between the government and the people and we talked about how this gap affects local law enforcement.
The “us vs. them” mentality works both ways. It can be found in citizens who believe that all police are little more than robotic code enforcers and it can be found in officers who view the public as a resource to be controlled.
Both of these broad-brush viewpoints are lacking perspective.
Instead of allowing this divide to grow further in his community, Isaac is taking a positive approach. He suggested and received permission from his chief to host a community event called Lunch With a Cop this coming Saturday.
Local businesses have agreed to help underwrite the costs of pizza and donuts for the event.
Nov. 1 from noon until 2 p.m. at the Main Street Park in Cedar City, the public is invited to come and enjoy lunch with local police officers. Rather than showcasing the latest tactical tools of the trade, it will be a chance for community members of all ages to freely talk to their local police.
Nothing tends to bring down the walls that separate us from one another like having an actual conversation with the person on the other side of that wall. The simple act of breaking bread with others likewise creates common ground.
It will be a chance to see our police for who they really are: members of the community who are employed to give full time attention to the duties that are incumbent upon each of us.
It will also allow them to connect with the public whose trust is essential to the work they do.
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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