American cops ensure 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness'

On a daily and nightly basis, American LEOs risk life and limb for the preservation of our citizenry’s unalienable rights


“When in the course of human events...”

So begins the Declaration of Independence, the document we recognize as the birth certificate of the United States of America. In famously-flowery language, 56 brave American heroes declared “that all men are created equal” and that we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Wonderful stuff. However, it could also be rightly said that “When in the course of human events, someone does something stupid or dangerous (or both), the police will invariably be called upon to sort out the mess, determine who did what to whom, and decide what charges should be filed.”

10 Basic Reminders
As we prepare to celebrate the “official” beginning of America's war for independence, I want to briefly reprise a tactical tip I posted back in 2009, and follow that up with some thoughts from a few law enforcers on what this day means to them.

1.) Fireworks can be weapons. Don’t disregard that fact if you’re making contact with partiers.

2.) Drunk drivers can hit you, too — both while on patrol and when you’re off duty. Watch the road.

3.) The 4th can be hot. If you’re working, stay hydrated.

4.) Do the math: Lots of people + 4th of July consumption + heat = recipe for disaster. Stay sharp. Remember that drinking and a charged up crowd can inspire some people to be more confrontational with police than they would normally be. Be ready for that.

5.) Crowds can quickly get unruly during mass celebrations. Be smart and wait for back-up if you predict you might need it.

6.) Repeating #3, the 4th of July can be hot. Wear your vest anyway!

7.) Bone up on your holiday-specific first aid. Are you ready for first responder treatment of missing fingers, a variety of burns, a bottle rocket to the eye, alcohol poisoning, dehydration, etc.?

8.) Don’t forget your own kids. You likely caution others about the dangers of screwing around with fireworks (and other explosives), drunk driving, drinking too much, etc. Make sure your own kids are included in that discussion.

9.) Refresh yourself on water rescue protocol and procedures. Lots of people are in the water during the 4th weekend. Be ready if you’re called to a water-related incident.

10.) Make sure you’ve got a fire extinguisher in your car. With fireworks being lit, the potential for a fire is definitely there. If you’re prepared to act early, you can help avoid a bigger problem.

PoliceOne Members Speak Out
A week ago, we posted a question on the PoliceOne Facebook Fan Page: “When you think about July 4th, do you think ‘I’ll have a lot more DUIs and assaults tonight,’ or ‘I finally have the seniority to spend this one with my family,’ or something else entirely?” Here are a few responses (in the comments area below, add your own thoughts on the question, “What does Independence Day mean to you as a cop?”).

Jim Paselk
I’m lucky enough to have that night off but I work the morning of the 4th (Tuesday night). I’m sure it’s going to feel like a weekend night. Bar fights, assaults, DVs, etc...

Kyle McKeever
Gunshot complaints... all night.

Rich Bittleston
Shots fired or fireworks? Roll the dice.

David Bresko
Work every 4th... Nothing better then BBQ, beer, brawls, and cherry bombs calls (usually all at the same residence... Woo hooo...

Craig Hill
It’s about damn time to get some time off!

Chris Lisenbee
Seniority gives me the option to be at home with family or on call if needed. Happy fourth and be safe to all my brothers sisters on duty for the fourth.

Alex Argote
Yikes... Firework complaints and loud parties!

Rob Marshall
It means five billion complaints of ‘Someone is shooting fireworks off, I’m trying to sleep. I have to work tomorrow.’

Chris Bandak
What?! There must be a mistake. I didn’t request it off, but they gave it to me. Hell yeah! Pleasures of being somewhere in the middle.

Kenny Henry
As a cop, I get frustrated seeing people celebrate the independence we enjoy by making another excuse to drink like a fish. We have families getting together who already don’t get along, then they start drinking, and that is where we come into the equation to clean the mess up with some domestic violence arrests.

PoliceOne Columnists Speak Out
As I often do, I reached out to a couple of my PoliceOne colleagues to get their perspective on this topic. I asked Joel Shults (who wrote Are cops 'frienemies' of the Constitution?) and Dan Marcou (who wrote American Policing: Born on July 4th) for brief comments, which are below.

I asked Tim Dees to step outside his typical coverage area of police products and share with us some memories of his time as a patrol officer in Reno, Nevada, which you’ll find in the sidebar of this article. And naturally, I’ll close this thing out with some final comments of my own.

Joel Shults
We will always worry about crime, but the greatest period of lawlessness in our nation was before modern policing. Our profession has had a remarkable civilizing affect on our citizenry’s ability to live and prosper in domestic tranquility.

The greatest threat to liberty would not be the terrorists dismantling the national government, it would be the loss of local police agencies.

We can talk about national health care but it starts with the paramedic. We can talk about education reform, but it starts with the kindergarten teacher. We can talk about liberty and justice, but it starts with the patrol officer. The Constitution has no sword of its own, it is ours to bear.

During the 1976 bicentennial year, the Springfield (Missouri) police department marked their cars with the words ‘Liberty Enforcers.’ I’ve pondered that oxymoron. As physicians cut in order to heal, and firefighters use controlled burn to prevent smaller fired from becoming a bigger fires, police officers often must do things that look, at first glance, to be the very opposite of their purpose. We restrain the liberty of some for the liberty of all.

Not long ago, one of the hard-edged officers I know responded to a lost child call. Without a thought to the creased perfection of his navy blue uniform, he scooped up a muddy two year old and slowly sifted through the baby talk to navigate back to the toddler's home two blocks away.

I wish every police critic in the country could have seen that. Selfless service, compassion, and the business of restoration — making wrong things right and chaos into peace. If that’s not a picture of the American lawman, I don’t know what is.

Dan Marcou, PoliceOne Columnist
Whenever I worked a 4th of July parade as a police officer and I saw the veterans march by carrying the flag, I would always salute. I would get choked up a little bit, realizing the significance of the moment because the old soldiers that fought for American Freedom were passing me, an American police officer, who was entrusted to ensure that the Constitution was not just words on parchment.

During that salute I would always mentally pledge to police in a manner that ensured that the buddies of those old warriors, who went to war and stayed forever young, did not give their all in vain.

Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief
On my person pretty much at all times is a well-worn copy of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. I buy copies in batches of ten, and give them away to people I meet (you can do so too, by clicking here). I read it during my commute, or sometimes when I just want to take a ten-minute break from whatever it is I’m doing here on the job. 

What I find interesting about the Declaration of Independence, at least within the context of law enforcement, is that police officers have a sworn responsibility to take from a person any/all of those unalienable rights. 

Cops may affect an arrest, therefore denying “liberty” and may — when the circumstances require it — use deadly force, thereby denying “life.”

Cops may also conduct a prostitution sting, consequently denying “the pursuit of happiness.” Of course, I’m joking on that last one ...but only half joking! 

In all seriousness, what I love about all of this is that the police officer’s sworn authority is purposefully for the preservation of some innocent victim’s unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That dualism, that dichotomy, is delicious stuff for a “words guy” like me. But far more importantly, that delicate balance is held every day by more than 800,000 sworn officers, working around the clock at some 18,000 police agencies across the country.

On a daily and nightly basis, American LEOs risk life and limb for the preservation of our citizenry’s unalienable rights — and do so with honor and valor.

The Independence Day holiday can increase exponentially the number of intoxicated knuckleheads you’re likely to encounter on your shift. Some morons even use firearms as noise makers to “celebrate” the occasion.

Stay safe out there my brothers and sisters. Thank you for everything you do for our great country. 

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 800 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Read more articles by PoliceOne Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie by clicking here.

Contact Doug Wyllie

  1. Tags
  2. Officer Safety
  3. Police Heroes
  4. Patrol Issues

Recommended Off Duty

Join the discussion