PAJ Issue 3 NA


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L et's get one thing straight up front: No good cop ever wants to pull his gun. No good cop wakes up in the morning hoping to shoot someone. Firing your service weapon in the line of duty means something has gone terribly wrong. We know, though, that a moment's hesitation or a second's distraction for a police officer can equal death -- for the cop or for other citizens that we have sworn to protect. From the start of any police academy, we are taught as cops to be ever vigilant—to apply laser-like attention to our surroundings at all times. Then once out of the academy, our time on the street too often teaches them to expect the worst of too many. Last December's terrible tragedy in Brooklyn, in which NYPD took down an unarmed civilian, which resulted in his choking death, should remind us all, that even the most mundane moments of a street cop can turn deadly in a heartbeat. In the wake of the recent protest in cities across the U.S., in the wake of the police-involved deaths, and in the wake of the assassination of the two NYPD officers, I fear that we've lost sight of just how complicated the challenges are for cops on the streets of such a diversified country. Amid last fall's unrest—in duels between police and protestors on the streets of Ferguson and on the Brooklyn Bridge, and in duels online between Twitter hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter—we've lost sight of an important rule: Cops aren't the enemy. I know that cops aren't perfect. I've spent the last 40 years working as a military investigator, a police officer and then 23 years as an FBI agent and supervisor. I've worked with law enforcement in more than 50 countries around the world and know that the overwhelming majority of them are willing to give their life, to protect someone they have never known. I've also investigated some bad ones—and working with good cops, we've done our best to rid our system of their corruption and jail them. Yes, bad cops do exist—and they must be held accountable. They deserve the full weight of our criminal justice system brought down upon them. But I don't think that's what all the protests are really about. We're not talking about bad cops. We're debating bad policies and broken systems. And too many people are trying to indict the system itself by pretending that the cops are the enemy. In almost every instance, by the time a cop pulls his or her service weapon and fires, the system has failed. A police officer's use of lethal force, in almost every instance, isn't the disease. It's a symptom of broader challenges and bigger problems. Deadly force, most often, is the end result of a failure—and often many cascading failures— elsewhere in our society leading up to that fatal encounter. I'm not going to comment specifically on the three incidents that launched the debate in 2014; I have my personal and professional opinions on each of those and I'll be the first to agree mistakes were made by all. 2 w w w . p o l i c e a d v o c a t e s j o u r n a l . c o m They know the system's broken, too BY THOMAS C. KNOWLES

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