Any time a peace officer is killed in the line of duty, it is an occasion for reflection, and last week was no exception.
I never met officer Scott Patrick, and I’m not sure I could reliably point out the City of Mendota Heights on a map, and yet I took his senseless death personally.
From what I have gathered from news reports, Patrick was a good man who died too young in service to his community.
Since I did not know him, the reason his death touched me, and, I believe many others, is because of what he represented.
Peace officers are human, and I’m not about to suggest they are perfect.
Nor will I suggest that the system within which they operate is without flaws.
I do, however, believe that most officers do an excellent job most of the time under conditions that may be far from ideal.
When most of us leave the comfort of our homes each morning, we have a reasonable expectation we will return unscathed at the end of the day. We probably don’t even think about other possibilities.
When law enforcement officers don their uniforms at the start of a shift, they must face the small, but real chance that they may not be coming back at the end of the day.
It makes no difference if they work in a town of 2,000 people, or a city of 200,000. The nature of their jobs puts peace officers at risk on a regular basis.
They might be engaged in something as routine as a traffic stop, as in the case of officer Patrick last week, or they might be responding to a domestic disturbance or any other type of call for service. They never know when things might turn ugly.
Peace officers understand this, and they are willing to take the risk.
Their families understand it, too, and they live with this understanding every day.
It is easy to sit back in our comfortable chairs and judge the performance of police officers.
Some, who may be among the worst offenders, are quick to allege police brutality or claim that their rights have been violated.
The reality is, law enforcement officers must frequently make quick decisions that could potentially have life-or-death consequences, and the lives involved may be those of suspects, members of the public, or the officers themselves.
It is my good fortune to interact with a variety of people in law enforcement through my job. The overwhelming majority of these men and women chose their occupation because they genuinely care about the people and communities they serve.
Perhaps the reason we take it personally when a peace officer is injured or killed in the line of duty is because they represent something in which we believe the thin blue line between order and anarchy.
The system isn’t perfect, but without a system of laws and a dedicated group of men and women to enforce them, we would not enjoy the quality of life we have today.
It would be a cozy little fantasy to think if people were left to their own devices, they would always do the right thing, but history has shown that is not the case.
Sometimes people criticize the police and accuse them of harassment. Some get irritated when officers enforce speed limits or other rules with which certain people do not agree, or which they think should not apply to them.
The alternative, however, would be very bleak indeed.
Without peace officers who are willing to go out and take the abuse and accept the risks that go along with protecting and serving the public, there would be chaos.
Some people would feel compelled to help themselves to the belongings of others (even more than they do now).
Others would find countless opportunities to victimize those who are unable to defend themselves.
In some ways, peace officers protect us from ourselves.
They represent the noble concept of law and order. It may not always be convenient, but it is something we believe in. We may not know the individual officers, but we know what they stand for, so when some scofflaw guns down a cop in the line of duty, it is an assault against all of us.