National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day is apparently a thing.
It’s January 9th, the same day as National Apricot Day and National Static Electricity Day.
I kid you not.
I had several people send me thoughtful messages on National Law Enforcement Day, and I loved every single one, even though I had no idea when it was.
It’s always nice to hear that you’re appreciated by people, especially when the appreciation is for the job you do.
I oftentimes go out of my way to make sure that my kids’ teachers and nurses and other people who do jobs that seem so thankless, yet are so important, know that they are appreciated.
I do it because I know that in my own life, just when I have myself convinced that I’ve wasted a good chunk of my life doing a job that many others find so appalling, somebody will say or do something so sweet, and I’m reminded that I matter.
That policing matters.
The people who sign up to do this job, no, it’s not really a job….this calling, matter.
It may be a simple “thank you for your service” from a stranger, or a meal comped by a restaurant owner, or a phone call from a victim or victim’s family member to tell you that they appreciate your help, even though that’s just doing the job.
It’s little things that add up and mean so much, and for me, these messages have always come at just the right time.
I remember being at my lowest about being a police officer during the unrest in Ferguson back in 2014.
Disdain for police officers and disregard for the law were at all time highs, particularly in our region. While the riots were going on to the north in Ferguson, stores here in St. Louis were being looted by mobs of people with total disregard for any consequences.
Drivers were racing up and down city streets and weren’t stopping at red lights as though they didn’t exist at all. Society, at least where I was in North St. Louis, seemed to literally be crumbling right before my eyes.
I hated that we seemed to be losing control of a semi-civilized society, and I seriously wondered if I could tolerate wearing my uniform much longer.
But, we persevered.
Officers worked hard and did the best we could to maintain law and order until the crisis blew over, at least for the time being.
At one point though, when I was at my lowest, an elderly black woman stopped me in the parking lot of a truck stop to ask if she could pray with me.
Not for me, but with me.
She had clearly been waiting by my parked police car for me to come outside.
She was adorned in a yellow dress and white gloves that went halfway up her forearms. She wore a circular, white hat, angled on her head. It had some sort of netting over her eyes and she carried a white purse that seemed too big for such a petite woman. It was not unusual attire for a Sunday morning in North City, as many of the best people in the worst part of our city are women such as this, a woman whose faith has probably carried her through a difficult life.
When old women talk, I listen.
I agreed to the prayer and put my iced tea on the hood of my Tahoe.
We held hands in the parking lot and she did the praying for both of us.
She prayed for my safety, and also the safety of the community and she prayed that God would give me the wisdom and courage to use good judgement and to treat people fairly.
I sensed the prayer was in no small part a message to me, but she was sincere in all that she asked God for and I felt blessed for the two or three minutes we spent together.
I left that encounter with renewed vigor for my job.
It’s people like this old woman and others like her, who need us to have their backs, just as they silently have ours.
The helpless and vulnerable appreciate us, even if they don’t always get to say it, every day of the year.
In the two days since January 9th, Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, two officers have been shot and killed.
They were both young females, new to the job, and they were both doing mundane and seemingly harmless activities.
Davis, California Police Officer Natalie Corona was shot and killed as she responded to a three car accident. There are fewer types of calls for a police officer less perfunctory than an accident call. I’m sure the officer figured she’d write a report for the parties involved to give to their insurance companies and be on to the next call in no time.
As a new cop, I bet she itched for a more exciting call next time, rather than this ridiculous accident call that ended her life.
In Shreveport, Louisiana, Officer Chateri Payne was getting dressed in her uniform when she was shot and killed. I’m not aware, at this point, whether her death has anything to do with her being a police officer, but still, she was a beautiful, young woman.
Her life mattered, regardless of why she was killed.
There was a time when the violent death of a woman was in many respects unusual, particularly when the suspect was a stranger.
There used to be some chivalry, even among gangsters and crooks, when it came to women and children.
They were off limits.
There are no longer boundaries it seems, and anybody, young or old, man or woman, is fair game for thievery and violence.
This includes police officers as well, of course.
Locally, a new class graduated from the St. Louis Police Academy last night, and I wonder what they’re thinking.
They’re excited to start a new job, I know that. I remember that excitement myself.
I hope they’re also fearful about the realities of the job they swore to do in front of their families and friends.
I hope they’ve read about Officer Payne and Officer Corona and appreciate how quickly things can take a turn for the worse in this job.
Complacency gets people hurt or killed on the streets, so finding the line between being on guard and being overly paranoid with everyone they meet is something that they’ll have to learn on their own.
It’s important for officers to trust their instincts, and not put themselves in obvious danger, but it’s just as important to understand that danger lurks even when one’s radar doesn’t sense it at all.
Five officers have died in the United States in the ten days since 2019 started, including the two most recent young ladies I’ve mentioned.
It’s demoralizing and frustrating for officers to deal with the deaths and assaults of other officers, even officers hundreds of miles away.
We all take the blame when an officer does wrong, and we accept that, so it’s only right that society understands that we all share the pain when one of us is killed senselessly.
We know that we can be next.
We’ll mourn in our own ways and we’ll learn, tactically, from their deaths.
While it’s important for officers to remain vigilant, it’s also important to remember that most people are not out to get us.
Most people appreciate us and the job we do, every single day, and not just on the day we share with National Apricot or Static Electricity Day.