OPINION — As protests rage against police in cities across the country, often accompanied by violence, looting and vandalism, law enforcement nevertheless remains our first line of defense against crime. In our local communities, their contributions go far beyond simply arresting the bad guys.
As I have reached out to local police and county sheriffs throughout this congressional district over the last few weeks, I’ve sought to better understand the hundreds of ways policing impacts our daily lives. As the nation considers policies to prevent abusive incidents, we must always be aware of the unintended consequences that overly broad policies and reforms could exact from our communities.
Almost 3,000 people in Washington County called police for assistance in the last 12 months. During that same period, there were 593 motorist assistance and 468 psychiatric calls. In addition, Washington County has executed more than 100 search and rescue efforts this year, including dangerous high angle rescues, water rescues and heat-related incidents. Often these events require law enforcement personnel to deliberately place themselves in danger to save a stranger.
Local law enforcement has to be ready to transition effortlessly from community service to life-threatening peril on short notice. In Sevier County earlier this month, officers cooked dinner for 1,000 people at the county fair before setting out to rescue a man who had fallen off a cliff. This is all in a day’s work for Utah’s men and women in blue. They ensure our safety at events like the St. George Ironman, parades, firework shows and anywhere that draws crowds. They deescalate disputes, connect victims with important resources and even supply color guards on solemn occasions.
Not only do they provide important services, they contribute as law-abiding members of our communities. They volunteer as baseball coaches, self-defense instructors, school volunteers and event organizers. They are parents, neighbors and friends.
That integration with the community is important. It creates a natural accountability in which bad actors are easily identified within local law enforcement, but it also engenders trust. We have a county sheriff who is elected by the residents and a police chief who serves at the pleasure of the mayor, giving us two separate levels of accountability and influence.
Another thing I have heard, repeatedly, while talking with local law enforcement officers in Utah is that they are as anxious as anyone to see bad actors held accountable. Let’s not make the mistake of confusing a few people who abuse their badges with the vast majority of officers working to make our communities better places for their families and ours. They certainly don’t want to be lumped in with anyone who abuses their badge or practices police brutality. I fully support them in their efforts to make sure they maintain high standards of service and respect within their ranks.
Efforts to defund police budgets are touted as a way to make us all safer, but they could have a very real impact on lives and livelihoods. Putting innocent people in danger and threatening the economic stability we often take for granted is the more likely outcome. In the event of chaos, we must be able to depend on local law enforcement. In times of peace, we need the community involvement of our local officers and their families.
To maintain law and order, sustain stable communities, and enjoy the quality of life America has always offered, we must protect the men and women who protect us. Defunding the police only makes sense if you assume that our way of life is not worth protecting and that everyone with a badge is an enemy. Instead, let’s take a minute to notice all of the benefits we enjoy because of the people who are willing to wear a badge and stand between us and harm—when we are on the side of the road with a flat tire, when a child wanders away from home, when someone gets lost on a hike, and yes, even when someone needs to be arrested. We will all be worse off if we defund the police. Let’s support them in their efforts to serve us instead.
Submitted by CHRIS STEWART, Utah Congressional District 2.
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