How police officers can respond to these widely held, but false ideas

Dispelling some myths and rumors police officers often hear while on-duty

By Chief David Oliver

Individuals that do not like law enforcement often offer talking points which use words or phrases that incite readers or listeners. Below are two often cited examples to be aware of so officers can act accordingly when they are brought up. 

1. Prisons are full of non-violent drug offenders
Instead of giving opinions on this, let’s look at some facts. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in a 2012, violent offenders comprised the majority of the state prison population in 2011. Inmates sentenced to more than one year of imprisonment for violent offenses continued to account for the majority (53 percent) of the state prison population in 2011. Among male inmates, 54 percent were incarcerated for violent crimes, 18 percent for property offenses, and 16 percent for drug offenses.

The majority of incarcerated offenders are there because of violent crimes and property crimes. The number of drug offenders in the federal system is 49 percent.The number of murderers is less than 3 percent. Why is that? Because federal law enforcement officers rarely work murders. They do, however, work international trafficking cases, involving the transport or thousands and thousands of pounds of drugs into the country. 

Federal law enforcement officers do not normally conduct street corner operations.There are some exceptions. For example, a violent criminal selling drugs may get the attention of the DEA or FBI. Most of the time, the federal drug agencies are working top-level dealers. I spent more than five years working undercover drug operations. I worked closely and was assigned to work cases with nearly every federal agency in the books. It takes a lot of weight in drugs to get a United States Attorney to assume federal jurisdiction on a drug case. There is not a person in federal lock-up who only had one arrest, for possessing a joint. It does not happen. 

2. Police officers are revenue generators
If police officers are truly revenue generators, agencies will be bankrupt and will need to lay off police officers. Do some police agencies generate funds from writing tickets? Yes. They are still not getting the entire amount from the paid fines though. In fact, by the time the court, prosecution, clerk of courts and victims' programs take a share, the police agencies do not have much revenue left from a ticket.

It is widely known that we do not write a bunch of tickets at our department. We do not make enough on ticket fines to pay half of the salary for one entry-level police officer. I believe if you are speeding and we stop you, the risk is over for the time being. We talk to you a little and usually let you go with a warning. If we stop you for speeding again, you are likely to get cited.

My point is that I have been working in law enforcement for about 20 years, and I have never known one police officer to start his shift by saying, let’s go generate some funds. The simple fix to this is to not speed, drive reckless or drive while impaired. Those are your choices, not the choices of police officers.

Policing is one of the best professions in the world. Not because of the gun, power or driving the car with the pretty lights and loud siren. For me, being a police officer means making a difference. The unfortunate thing about policing is that we are a catchall for malcontents.The large percentage of us just want to protect and serve the public. 

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