Few occupations are as stressful, or as dangerous, as the job of law enforcement officer.
Whether they work as city police officers, county sheriff’s deputies, correctional officers, town marshals, state troopers, conservation officers or in similar capacities, those who wear the uniforms and badges are the essential linchpin of our safety and security in Indiana.
Consider what typical uniformed police officers might contend with during the course of a normal shift. They might pull over and arrest a drunken driver who endangered other motorists, or might be dispatched to someone’s home to serve an arrest warrant, taking the risk that the person might try to flee or forcibly resist. Or they might be summoned to the scene of a narcotics overdose and have to administer the antidote Narran to revive the unconscious patient and restore breathing so they can make it to the emergency room.
Officers often are called upon to comfort a victim – a child who has been abused, or a victim of sexual assault – on the way to the hospital. They might be dispatched to a family’s home to deliver the tragic news that a loved one has been involved in a car accident.
Law enforcement officers often see the most unpleasant facets of the human condition, and it’s understandable if some officers become jaded. Yet the fact remains that idealistic young people who want to serve their communities still step up to study criminal justice and pursue law enforcement as a career.
This week we have had occasion to think about that public service and to remember those who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Sunday, May 15 was Peace Officers Memorial Day and today ends National Police Week. The observations were proclaimed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, and marked each year since.
Over those years the law enforcement field has changed enormously. The latest communications technology means officers stay in constant contact with their headquarters to maintain situational awareness. Advancements in forensic science, particularly DNA, allow investigators to solve previously unsolvable crimes. The internet sadly opened the floodgates to identity thieves and sex predators; but talented investigators in cybercrimes units use the same technology to apprehend perpetrators.
But let’s not lose sight of the sacrifices officers and their families endure — the dangers of being wounded or injured, the long shifts during early mornings and late nights in all weather, the missed family dinners and kids’ ballgames and birthdays and other special occasions, and the constant stress and exposure to witnessing some of the worst behaviors of humanity.
Despite that, officers have told me they find their service very rewarding and they enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow officers and the opportunity to serve their communities and make a difference. Many volunteer as youth coaches or scout leaders. Many officers say they wouldn’t want any other job.
The vast majority of officers, deputies, chiefs, sheriffs, troopers and departments perform their duties honorably and courageously, while properly observing citizens’ constitutional rights in enforcing criminal laws. Some of the public debate about the role of law enforcement in recent years can be healthy if it results in police chiefs and sheriffs being able to convince their elected officials to acquire the training for officers they have long sought, and obtain equipment such as body cameras or vehicle cameras for law enforcement that is needed.
Officers put their lives at risk each day and are called upon to make split-second decisions that can have life-altering consequences for officers and citizens alike. We all should reflect upon the sacrifices officers and their families make daily to protect the safety of their fellow Hoosiers. So the next time you see a law enforcement officer in uniform, thank them for their service.
Greg Zoeller is attorney general for the state of Indiana.