Op-Ed: The Thin Blue Line


Our lives are full of many symbols that are intended to remind us of important issues, events or people.

The Thin Blue Line is a symbol used by law enforcement.

The symbol originated in Europe but has widespread use in America, and is intended to commemorate fallen police officers as well as to show support for those police officers still living.

The Thin Blue Line also symbolizes the relationship that law enforcement has with the communities that are served, showing police as protectors of citizens against the criminal elements of our society.

Using three vertical stripes, the emblem represents this important relationship between the public and law enforcement.  Dividing two black stripes is a blue stripe in the middle, which visually depicts the role that our police play in society – separating law-abiding citizens from those that would commit crime.

Throughout the past year, the important relationship that law enforcement has had with people and communities has been questioned.

Some people believe that the police have too much power and have abused the sacred trust that we have given them to faithfully execute the laws, be people of integrity and honor, and to promote, not compromise, the public trust.

Others are concerned that our society has devalued the service that police officers provide us.  They argue that law enforcement is a dangerous occupation and we should not so easily overlook the bravery and contribution of police officers whose goal is to “protect and serve.”

As many know, there have been high-profile national incidents which have given rise to the current discussion about law enforcement in America.

Locally, we have seen incidents around Lancaster County.  Just a few weeks ago, two teenagers were charged with shooting at and trying to kill local police officers.

Lancaster County’s District Attorney described the acts as “senseless” and “chilling,” and he is right.  He also said that, “There’s absolutely no question, with incidents like this and incidents that we’ve seen in the recent past, the recent history, is that we – as a nation – are fighting for our soul:  the soul of our community, the soul of our country.”

I agree.

This is precisely why I recently sent out letters to local police departments across northern Lancaster County asking if I could “ride along” with one of their officers and learn more about the frontline challenges facing our law enforcement officers.  I also wanted to see how our police interact with those they are supposed to protect and serve.

I was pleased that nearly all the police departments that I contacted offered me an opportunity to ride along with one of their officers.  I most recently completed part of a late evening shift with an officer who serves the northeast part of Lancaster County.

My experiences have certainly been informative.

While I have personally been fortunate enough to never need the assistance of police, I had the valuable opportunity of seeing how important the services that our local police provide are to those that need them.  I also witnessed how law enforcement interacted with people, including some upset motorists who unfortunately caught the attention of the police officer I was riding with.

During my time on patrol, I spent a lot of time talking with officers about who they were, their families, why they decided to be law enforcement officers, and what they enjoy most about their jobs.  While the public generally knows police officers in a formal way, the greatness of our civilian law enforcement system is that those that serve us are our friends and neighbors who simply have chosen to serve the public through policing.

As I continue to ride-along with various police departments, my goal is to be engaged so that we make sure that the important work of policing is done well.

We know that there are members of the law enforcement community who do not respect the trust we’ve placed in them.  These police officers should absolutely be held accountable for their actions, just like any other citizen would be.

However, the vast majority of police officers take very seriously the responsibilities that they have to stand between us and criminals.  These fine men and women daily risk their own safety to protect ours.  They are the first to respond in times of crisis and need, many times without the benefit of knowing the actual risks that await them.

As we watch the national debate surrounding community policing, I encourage us to never forget what law enforcement does each and every day – keep us safe.

In the end, nothing prevents us from having a policing system that values all people and the rights we are afforded as citizens while at the same time making sure that those that seek to break our laws are held accountable.

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