Below is an op-ed submission from the US Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, Michael Dunavant.
Back the Blue
The recent news of law enforcement officers killed or injured in the line of duty over these past few weeks is sickening, alarming, and overwhelmingly frustrating. It is a stark and sober reminder that every day hundreds of thousands of men and women across this country – police officers, deputy sheriffs, state troopers, special agents – put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. With the recent dramatic rise in assaults, ambushes, attacks, and murders of police officers, there is good reason for them to feel threatened and become hyper-vigilant. And now more than ever, there is an urgent call for all Americans to respect and support law enforcement.
In 2018, 144 law enforcement officers made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty – a 12 percent increase compared to 2017. FBI data shows that firearms-related fatalities were the leading cause of officer deaths last year, and a significant number of those deaths were the result of premeditated or unprovoked attacks. This deadly trend seems to be getting worse. Preliminary data shows that officer deaths through the first month of 2019 are up 38 percent from the same period last year.
In February, 2017, just weeks after taking office, President Trump issued an executive order – the “Back the Blue” order – that directed the Department of Justice to enhance the protection and safety of our law enforcement. This is a high priority and critical mission for us. Law enforcement is a noble profession and one that demands respect. Police officers are the thin blue line that stands between law-abiding people and criminals, between order and lawlessness. They protect our communities, and by enforcing our laws, they enable those communities to flourish. I believe it is one of the highest callings of my job as United States Attorney to call attention to the successes of law enforcement and to encourage our fellow citizens to support police officers in their difficult and dangerous work.
The police officer is the very personification and embodiment of the Executive Branch of any government – federal, state, or local. Law enforcement officers have taken an oath to faithfully execute and enforce the laws of our cities, counties, states, and nation. They are literally the business end of where legislation meets the people.
But their actual day-to-day duties go way beyond these fundamental ones. After all, a high degree of professional conduct is expected of our law enforcement officers. We expect them to have the: Compassion of a pastor; Bravery of a soldier; Reflexes of a cat; Memory of an elephant; Accuracy of an accountant; Diplomacy of a congressman; Patience of a teacher; Articulation of a lawyer; Knowledge of a professor, and Impartiality of a Judge. As the Tennessee Supreme Court has so aptly observed, “Police officers are society’s problem-solvers when no other solution is apparent or available.”
Yes, we expect law enforcement officers to do all these things, all at once, and while earning a paycheck that is equal to only a fraction of their true worth as public servants. And, we also expect them not to die in the line of duty. But, tragically, they do. Police officers have extensive training, but they are human. They run to danger when everyone else is running away.
All too often critics of law enforcement talk about police officers like they are the problem, instead of the solution to crime. Those who feel sorry for criminals and seek to excuse or even celebrate their lawless, antisocial, and immoral behavior now engage in dangerous rhetoric to encourage people to “resist” all forms of authority, including law enforcement. In fact, there is a whole social movement which has co-opted the term to encourage persons to defy and ignore laws and policies that they don’t like, and to actively oppose any attempts by law enforcement to enforce those laws. The cognitive dissonance is staggering, and it’s dangerous. This is wrong, and it’s a slander of the honorable men and women in law enforcement. This slander must to stop—and it must stop right now. This rhetoric, unfortunately, has consequences. It discourages cooperation with law enforcement, making us less safe. And it can even encourage violence. It’s no surprise, then, that we see rising levels of violence against law enforcement.
Today we are facing troubling new challenges. Our law enforcement officers are being asked to do more with less, and it is putting their lives at risk. In addition to their conventional crime-fighting responsibilities, our officers are on the front lines facing an increase in violent crime, a rise in criminal gangs, the threat of terrorism, an unprecedented drug epidemic, and cultural trends that too often show a disturbing disrespect for the rule of law. Yet, there are fewer officers on the street, and other precious resources such as training and equipment dollars are also being cut as a result of smaller budgets. At the same time, we have seen law enforcement be constantly attacked, maliciously targeted, and unfairly maligned. And as recent events show us, there is now a more brazen criminal prowling the streets of America, and our law enforcement officers are uniformed targets for these criminals. These trends cannot be allowed to continue, and we must meet them with a firm resolve and effective measures.
Here in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we partner with our federal component law enforcement agencies to promote proven and effective best practices in policing, professionalism from all levels and ranks, and respect for law enforcement within the communities that they serve. And as federal prosecutors, we will not tolerate malicious acts of violence against law enforcement. We will aggressively prosecute any assault or murder of a police officer in violation of federal law, and bring the full weight and power of the government to bear to hold offenders accountable.
The most important thing that any government does is keep its citizens safe, and that means we must all support, respect, and honor those who protect us every day. A few practical suggestions: Call on your local and state elected leaders to adequately hire, fund, train, and equip police officers in our communities. Encourage victims and witnesses of crime to report, come forward and cooperate with police investigations. Teach your children to respect and comply with proper authority in our society, especially police officers. Reject and condemn hostile and divisive anti-police rhetoric. Go out of your way to give an encouraging word of thanks and appreciation to an officer for their service. And pray for the families and departments of officers killed in the line of duty.
It takes courage to wear a badge for even one day. It takes even more courage to respond to a robbery call, to engage a dangerous suspect, or to confront a terrorist. But for police—that’s just part of the job.
My office, the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration are proud to stand with law enforcement as they continue to do this honorable work. We will always have their back and they will always have our thanks.
D. Michael Dunavant is the United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.