In the past few years we have seen several high profile incidents involving police officers and citizens that have come out badly. In the large majority of these cases, when all the facts finally come out, we see that the officers acted properly and the actions they took were in direct response to the actions of the citizen. 

Unfortunately, the way these incidents are often portrayed in the media is that the officer did something improper to the citizen simply because the officer “Hated” the citizen for any number of reasons.

While the officer, and police in general, are portrayed as racist bullies looking for someone to attack, the citizen is portrayed as an innocent person just minding their own business; maybe getting ready to go to college or trying to earn an honest living to support their sickly mother.

With that backdrop in place the facts of the incident are told from the point of view of witnesses who, very often didn’t actually see what caused the problem or confrontation or may have been involved in whatever started the incident in the first place. 

The police officer almost never comes out and makes a statement about why he/she came into contact with the citizen because the incident is often an active investigation and they cannot say anything.

Instead of reporting that a person was shot during an arrest and the facts surrounding the incident aren’t known, the press uses the comments of the witnesses to build their story:

“The cop shot him for no good reason, he wasn’t doing anything” is a common opening line in these stories followed by the reporters commentary about the family members of the citizen telling us that their son/daughter was not the kind of person that would do anything violent. This is a recipe for disaster. 

Since this type of media narrative is now a given during any type of confrontation between police and citizen is it any wonder that we see angry people flooding the streets demanding justice?

If historical fact made it clear that MOST of these police-citizen confrontations turn out to be the result of police hatred or lawlessness, then it would be understandable that people would be angry- I would be angry.

But historical fact does not reveal that the overwhelming majority of these confrontations are the fault of police officers overreacting or taking deadly action simply because they don’t like the citizen for any number of reasons. What is revealed to be the truth is that almost every one of these confrontations developed when the citizen did things that caused the confrontation; things like fighting with the officer, pulling a weapon on the officer, trying to run away from an officer or assault the officer.    

These truths don’t fit the popular narrative of bad cops going after innocent people, therefore they are ignored and the truth only comes out months later when the cases go to court; after the damage is done.

The result of this pattern of reporting leads us to the place we find ourselves at today: mistrust of our police officers and out right defiance of police authority, chaos, confusion, rioting, a breakdown of our society and much less safe world.

When we have a system like this it causes everyone involved to react in different ways. The citizens are embolden to further defy the police, the rule of law and the potential for increased crime and violence in our communities.

The police officers will also react; many of them will approach their work in a way that protects them from attack; both physical attack and legal attack. They will stand down to one degree or another.

To expect anything different is foolishness on our part.

Police officers are real people underneath the uniform and behind the badge. They have families, houses and obligations. If we continue to allow these inappropriate attacks on them to flourish then protecting themselves from attack is the only logical response.

Who suffers there?

And for those people who would yell bombastically -“They knew the risks when they took the job” and expect our officers to ignore the danger to their careers and lives and sacrifice themselves; you are not living in the real world.

The officers will still answer calls for service and investigate crimes, but will they do more than that? Will they go beyond taking a report? Will they take the chance of wrestling a suspect to the ground with the potential for legal consequences if the suspect doesn’t like getting arrested?

I can’t speak for all police officers, but I can tell you what I do know about police officers in general based on my 27 years on the job. Most of them will still go the extra mile, because that’s who they are. They are dedicated professionals that believe in what they are doing.

But, just as in Ferguson Missouri, when the citizens turn against the cops and the system uses them as a scape goat for bigger societal problems that the politicians don’t want to face and the public turns their back on them- they will protect themselves. 

If one of these incidents happens in your local town and the cops are attacked and scorned, especially when they are in the right, acting on our behalf; they will stand down. When that happens we are on our own and the rule of law will break down very quickly.

If you look around the country, in the large cities where many of these incidents take place, you already see the rise in crime. The criminals know what’s going on, they sense the weakness of society to fight back and they are taking advantage of it.

There is only two ways for this to go. Either we the people, want our cops to fight crime and keep our cities and towns safe and we support them or we can choose to have police departments made up of report takers.

The choice is ours; the police do not decide these things, they do what we tell them to do. Either way we will move forward, the difference is the world we move toward. What is it we want our cops to do?

Joseph Pangaro is a retired Police Lieutenant from the Township of Ocean, Monmouth County, NJ. During his 27 year career, Lieutenant Pangaro served in many capacities. After nine years as a patrol officer, he was transferred to the detective bureau where he served for 12 years. During that time, Lt. Pangaro prepared and executed hundreds of search warrants, testified in numerous high profile criminal court cases and excelled in the area of criminal investigations including; homicides, sexual assaults, drug crimes, fraud, burglary, juvenile investigations, economic crimes, vice crimes, quality of life crimes and other crimes of violence. He has acted in undercover capacities and worked with numerous local, county, state, and federal agencies. Joseph Pangaro served as a sergeant in the detective bureau, supervising a group of highly motivated and active officers in the unit as well as the “Quality of Life” unit.