(WASHINGTON) -- In New York, three officers were sent to prison for their roles in the brutal assault against a man, Abner Louima, who was in police custody. In New Jersey, five officers were recently found guilty of civil rights violations in the beating of a man they wrongly arrested on suspicion that he murdered a fellow officer. In Los Angeles, members of an elite anti-gang police unit were convicted of planting evidence and other corruption charges.
For many Americans, those are the unforgettable images of policing in America during the year 2000 -- and for good reason. Because of the great power and trust that we have bestowed upon our law enforcement professionals, we must hold them to the highest standards of conduct. When they come up short, we should be shocked and outraged, and appropriate punishment should result. This is a view shared by every honorable law enforcement officer in America. They understand better than anyone else that when a bad cop infiltrates the ranks, or when a good cop loses control, it tarnishes the badge of every officer and breeds mistrust with the public they serve.
Skeptics might dispute this fact and point to what some have called a "code of silence" that supposedly prevents officers from ratting on a colleague. But, the facts simply do not support this claim. Actually, in many law enforcement agencies around the country the majority of misconduct charges investigated by a department's internal affairs division are filed not by citizens, but by other police officers.
Those same skeptics would probably also argue that excessive use of force by police officers is widespread and that the cases that make the newspapers are just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Based on a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, fewer than one-tenth of one percent of all calls that police respond to ever result in the use of any type of force. Put another way, police do not use force of any kind 99.9 percent of the time.
There are some, I suppose, who will always expect the worst of our police officers. And, if that negative attitude helps to challenge our officers to do a better job and to work harder at building the public's trust, then that is okay.
But, as we assess the job performed by our law enforcement officers during the past year, let us not forget about the innocent lives that were saved and the brave officers who died preserving public safety. While the plummeting crime rate appears to be leveling off, the FBI recently reported that the number of serious crimes declined again during the first half of 2000 to its lowest level since 1978. More police officers, who are better prepared for the job than ever before, is the biggest reason America is safer. This fact is too often overlooked, and so are the sacrifices made by our officers. Between 1992, when the crime rate began its steady decline, and 1999 there were 1,250 federal, state and local law enforcement officers killed in the performance of duty. They put themselves in harms way so the rest of us could be safe.
In the year 2000, those sacrifices continued. Some 150 officers made the ultimate sacrifice during the past 12 months -- that is roughly one officer killed somewhere in America nearly every other day. Maryland State Trooper Edward Toatley was conducting an undercover drug buy when he was shot and killed. Cincinnati Officer Kevin Crayon was dragged to his death by a car being driven by a 12-year-old boy who attempted to flee when the officer asked for a driver's license. Oklahoma Corrections Sergeant Joe A. Gamble, was stabbed to death when he went to assist a fellow officer who was being attacked by an inmate. California Highway Patrol Officer Sean Nava was struck and killed by a drunk driver while assisting at an accident scene. Texas Trooper Randall Vetter was shot and killed by a man he had stopped for not wearing his seatbelt.
The stories of police corruption and brutality must not be forgotten, but neither should these stories of selfless service and heroic sacrifice. In the words of Molly Winters, the National President of the Concerns of Police Survivors, "Too often, the rare missteps of our police officers are sensationalized and the many sacrifices go unnoticed."
Editor's Note: Craig W. Floyd is chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund ("NLEOMF") in Washington, D.C. This year-end commentary has appeared in major newspapers across the U.S. PoliceOne.com is a sponsor and financial supporter of the NLEOMF.