Person of the Year: The Police Officer
We are not accustomed to seeing police officers as victims. Or as villains. But the past year in the Puget Sound region has focused our attention on law enforcement personnel so relentlessly, so vividly, that no year in recent memory can compare.
Between October 31 and December 28, 2009, six officers—one from the Seattle Police Department, one from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and four from the Lakewood Police Department—died from hostile gunfire in three separate incidents. Two other officers were wounded. Last spring, two Seattle police officers were caught on camera as they physically attacked local citizens. In one incident, the officer stomped on the head of a suspect who was on the ground in restraints. In the other, the officer punched a girl who physically intervened while he was arresting her friend for jaywalking. Two trials of a King County sheriff’s deputy, whose beating of a 15-year-old girl was caught by a jailhouse security camera in 2008, ended in hung juries this year. In May, a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed his wife’s parents before taking his own life. Finally, between mid-August and mid-September, eight individuals were killed or wounded by law enforcement officers in the region.
What each of us takes away from these incidents may be vastly dissimilar, but common to the coping process is an understanding that police officers are inherently different from the rest of us. They will insist they like the same music as we do, eat the same food, dream of the same vacation spots. However, anyone who straps on a bulletproof vest before heading out the door each day must manage levels of stress that make our “bad days” in the civilian world laughably trite. Cops know to expect that the monotonous can quickly become momentous. And they know, sadly, that the consequences can be unfortunate, even tragic.
We have had more than our fair share of police officers in the news for reasons unfortunate and tragic. But if it causes citizens to appreciate the police more—and the police to respect the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve—then the news isn’t all bad.
Published November 2010
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