Friday, December 19, 2014

Guest Opinion - Appreciating 1st Responders

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Guest Post
By KELLY KIDDER

May 24, 2002 was the most frightening day of my life. I was having dinner with my parents in a restaurant when a fire broke out in the hotel across the street. Within minutes the small bit of smoke erupted into a massive inferno, engulfing the entire hotel.

The fire was distressing, but what terrified me was watching my dad get up from the table where we were eating dinner, cross the street and run into the burning building. He never hesitated; he didn't even pause long enough to say anything to my mom or me before leaving the restaurant. Mom and I just sat there staring after him. I remember her telling me the same thing over and over again, “Your dad is smart. He knows what he is doing.” I knew she was talking to herself as much as me.

But the only thought going through my mind, and the reason why I seriously doubted whether or not I would ever see my dad again, was I knew that if there was even the smallest chance that he could get someone out he would either do it or he would die trying. There was no third option. As long as there was anyone inside, he would not come out without them.

I don't know how many minutes went by, but thank God, he did come out, supporting an elderly gentleman who had been stuck on the top floor with his wife. That couple would have died had my dad and a few other brave men not intervened and got them out. All of this happened within minutes. Had my dad waited until the fire department arrived it would have been too late. The building was already completely engulfed by the time the first truck was on the scene. The reason I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my dad would have been willing to sacrifice himself for that old man was because that is who he is to his core. My dad got up and left his family sitting at the dinner table to go and risk his life for a man who he had never met...without hesitation. Now imagine if there was a whole group of people in our society who lived every day willing to risk their lives to protect complete strangers.         

Fortunately, there is. We call them police officers.

My dad was off duty that night. But ask any child, spouse, parent or friend of any police officer and they will tell you that police officers are never really off duty. Their job becomes a part of who they are on a very deep level. Being a police officer is unique from most other professions in that there is the expectation that they will do their job or they will die trying. Think back to 9/11. Do you remember the photos and videos showing masses of terrified people running away from the smoking towers? Did you notice in those same pictures, the police officers, firefighters and other first responders running towards the devastation and danger? As they ran up the stairwells and into the smoke, those men and women probably knew that there was a good chance they were not going to survive. Why then would they keep going? Why would they risk never seeing their families again? Why would they risk a painful and frightening death? Because they all swore an oath to serve and protect those strangers who were trapped inside.

In moments like 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombings, we applaud the actions of these brave men and women. And then time goes on, life returns to normal and their heroics are forgotten. Then we as a society go back to our default attitudes towards police officers. Now they go back to being those mean people who pull us over and give us tickets. The glorified hall-monitors looking to ruin our fun. And why do they have to be so grumpy all the time? I mean, did they have to be so harsh when they were talking to me? Why can't they just all be officer-friendly all the time? Have you ever thought that maybe it is because they never know if the next person they encounter is going to be Susy Sunshine or a dangerous criminal out to kill them?

There is so much more to being a cop than writing tickets and being a hard ass. I have been pulled over and I have gotten tickets. But you know what? It's because I was breaking the law and the officers were doing their job. Was it an inconvenience? Absolutely. But was it my fault? Absolutely. I have also been stuck in long sobriety checkpoint lines. Another annoyance, and this time I didn't even do anything wrong! I haven't been drinking. I'm just on my way home from work. Why are all these mean cops out to ruin my day? Again, they are doing their job, protecting us from drunk drivers. 

Accepting minor inconveniences like these, with the understanding that they serve the greater good, is part of what it means to be a participating member of society. We want to reap the benefits of police work only when it suits us. It is nice to know that when you want them there, all you have to do is call 911 and someone will come and help you. Your house gets broken into and they can't do their job fast enough. If the bank you are in gets robbed of course the police will show up! You see a suspicious person lurking in your neighborhood at night so you call 911 and wait safely inside while an officer goes out and investigates so that you don't have to. But heaven forbid they step into your life uninvited.

I would like to be able to say that you can't have it both ways. But unfortunately when I look around at society today I see a lot of people are doing just that. We like police officers when they are doing something that we see as directly benefiting us. But any other day of the week we roll our eyes at them in annoyance, we criticize them for just trying to do their job, and we crucify them when they do what is necessary to go home to their families at the end of their shift. Those are the people who we expect to die. I am deeply grieved to see that the default judgment on police officers is criticism and disdain. Appreciation is only given on rare and most often tragic occasions when we feel like their sacrifice has finally reached a level worthy of our acknowledgment. Shame on us as a society.

There absolutely are police officers who are in it for the power-trip. Police brutality is a real thing and should be punished harshly. However, I would strongly argue that these behaviors are the exception, not the rule. If any members of society have earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt, until proven otherwise, I think police officers have. I am challenging you, next time you catch yourself being angry with a cop, stop and ask yourself where you are directing your anger. Is it at a specific injustice, whether perceived or real, or are you directing your anger at the very people who have sworn an oath to serve and protect you?

Police officers don't get into their line of work because they want appreciation from the general population. Police officers aren't allowed to get discounts because of their work. They aren't even supposed to accept a free cup of coffee because it could be construed as a bribe. You know what they can accept? A handshake and a thank you from one of the people they are risking their lives for every day. Can you imagine thanking the cop who just gave you a speeding ticket? Try it next time. Because whether you like it or not, see it or not, appreciate it or not, every day police officers are working hard to protect you.

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