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Citizen Down: The Loss of Trust in American Law Enforcement

Updated on November 28, 2014

To Protect and Serve

To protect and serve. This is the reason we have a police force. They are there to protect us, the general public, from the evil that walks among us. They exist to serve the public good. But what happens when the system that is supposed to defend us instead does us harm? What happens when the police fail or, even worse, turn out to be the bad guy? How do we as a society react?

It would be comforting to believe that there are no bad cops. But in reality, the police force is made up of humans, all of whom have human traits, characteristics and flaws and who are capable of acting all to human. It is certainly understandable that law enforcement officers are under a great deal of stress on a daily basis. And humans under stress unfortunately do not always rise to the occasion but can sometimes crash and burn under the pressure instead. Maybe with an intentional act or maybe by just losing control.

Control is something all peace officers are taught from the earliest stages of their training. Control the situation. Control the suspect. Control the crowd. Control yourself. Obviously this is a heavy burden for an officer to bear and the very fact that they take on this task daily is a tribute to their dedication and something for which we as members of society should be eternally grateful. The vast majority of law enforcement officers accept this challenge because they want to make the world a safer, better place for the fellow man.

But things do get out of control and, sadly, when an officer loses control, very bad things can happen. While we owe it the law enforcement community to generally give officers the benefit of the doubt, law enforcement owes it to society to hold officers who fail to uphold the public trust or those who simply go bad accountable. Whether the turn to the dark side is a result of an error in judgment, on-the-job stress, personal problems at home, or just a bad apple that found its way into the barrel, society must be able to fully trust those given the task of protecting us.

Video: Oscar Grant Shooting

A Question of Restraint

It is always painful to read a story in the news where the actions of police officers are brought into question, but this scrutiny is necessary to maintain our faith in the police force at large. Recent stories have been especially disturbing, particularly the events surrounding the shooting deaths of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones and 22-year-old Oscar Grant III in separate incidents. The loss of these two young lives show us how important showing proper restraint is when officers must interact with the public.

Oscar Grant III died after being shot in the back while lying on the ground on January 1, 2009. Officers with the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police in Oakland, CA, were attempting to restrain individuals they believed to have been involved in a reported fight. BART Officer Johannes Mehserle stepped back from Grant, pulled his firearm and shot Grant in the back once. Since the killing, Mehserle has stated his intention was to Taser Grant and pulled his handgun by mistake.

No one would claim that Oscar Grant had led a perfect life prior to the events leading to his death nor would they try to make him out to be a saint. He had been in prison twice for various felonies including a conviction for drug dealing. But despite errors in his past, he still deserved a chance to change those ways in the future. Oscar Grant was engaged to be married to the mother of his four-year-old daughter.

Aiyana Jones on the other hand never even had a chance to choose a path in life. At the age of seven, she was just a child sleeping with her grandmother on the living room sofa when a bullet fired during a police raid in Detroit took her young life. Police, believing a murder suspect might be in the house, first fired a flash grenade into the room where Aiyana and her grandmother were sleeping.

At some point which is still being disputed, Officer Joseph Weekley fired a single shot killing the young girl. Weekley claims Aiyana's grandmother was involved in an altercation with him once inside the home, but she has stated she never touched the officer, rushing to her injured granddaughter instead. Officer Weekley is also a target of a federal investigation that alleges he was involved in a 2007 raid where two dogs were shot unnecessarily and guns were pointed at children.

These are just two examples of instances where one has to wonder, did the police go too far? Were officers in the right frame of mind to deal with these situations? Did stress play a factor in these shootings. Had the constant pressure of walking around practically with a bulls-eye painted on their back finally become too much for these officers? Clearly something went wrong and it is hard to imagine that things could not have been prevented had the officers shown more restraint.

When Bad Men Wear a Badge

But as sad as both the story of Aiyana Jones and the tale of Oscar Grant III may be, it seems likely that in neither case was the police's intention to kill someone. In young Aiyana's case, it seems almost certain that her death was accidental and the question is did officers follow proper procedures and use adequate restraint in the incident. There are more questions in the case of Oscar Grant III, but there is still a strong chance that the officer never intended to kill him. But what about situations where those who are supposed to be dedicated to upholding the law clearly set out to break the law, even to the point of murder?

Perhaps the most notorious case of murder involving a police officer is the death of Derwin Brown, at the time, the sheriff-elect of DeKalb County, Georgia. Derwin Brown was gunned down in front of his home on December 15, 2000. The mastermind of the murder? Defeated incumbent DeKalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey. Sheriff Dorsey conspired with his deputies to kill sheriff-elect Brown to prevent corruption during his tenure from being exposed.

Then there was the case of Abner Louima who was beaten with fists, nightsticks and police radios after being arrested then strip searched and sexually molested by arresting officers from the 70th Precinct in Brooklyn, New York. The 30-year-old married father of one had no criminal record at the time and had become involved in an altercation at a nightclub when he along with others tried to intervene in a fight between two women.

But these are not isolated cases with intentional incidents happening almost everyday. Recently, Jon Burge, a decorated former Chicago police commander was found guilty of torturing suspects to get confessions. Long Island, New York, corrections officer Kim Wolfe was accused of killing three people including her lover. And the number of officer's charged with domestic abuse can be somewhat staggering.

An Ounce of Prevention

An ounce of prevention, they say, is worth a pound of cure. In other words, it would be better to prevent an officer from ever ending up in a situation where he cannot cope rather than to try to do something about it after the fact. But what can be done in a case like this?

Most law enforcement agencies, in fact most likely all agencies, have programs to offer counseling to officers either in house or through local mental health organizations. But usually an officer enters these programs either after an incident occurs or at the officer's own discretion. What can be done for those peace keepers who maybe do not see the dangerous path they are on?

The officer's co-workers, friends and family must play a primary role. If signs of stress are seen, the officer should be encouraged to seek counseling. In extreme cases, the officer's superiors might need to be contacted. There is more at stake than the safety of the public as an officer under duress can be a danger to those close to him and even to himself as well.

Of course, ultimately, the best person to encourage an officer to seek counseling would be the officer himself. An officer should not wait until things are pressing down upon him to act. There is no reason to not seek counseling even when stress seems to be at a manageable level. The days when mental health care was taboo are gone. For the most part, people understand the need to care for our psychological health in this day and age.

Together, everyone working toward the same goal, we can make a difference. Can we prevent every accidental shooting or incident of excessive force? Of course not. But hiding from the facts and pretending members of the police force can do no wrong solves nothing and in fact encourages the problem. We must face the reality if we want to make any progress toward changing it.

How do you feel about excessive force being used by law enforcement?

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am both a cop and an attorney. As many have stated, there are god and bad cops. Unfortunately, you hear about the bad far more than the good. No one (almost no one) has a web page dedicated to the cop who saved their life, arrested the person that injured them or even just stopped to help change a tire. Every police shooting is questioned and scrutinized. Reviewed in detail with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. What is missed is the hundreds of times a day that officers all around the country legally could have shot someone and showed restraint. I have been in numerous situations in the last 20 years where I could have justified the use of deadly force. I have been lucky and chose correctly in those situations - I avoided taking a life and things worked out. I will never blindly support officers, but I do give them the benefit of the doubt. It is a difficult job with life or death decisions made regularly. Most blatant cop bashers would wet their pants within hours on the job. Police shotings have increased, just as the incidence of officers being shot has increased. Here's hoping they both go down.

    • profile image

      Tyler Frey 

      7 years ago

      i was recently arrested. i asked the officer what other citizen i was hurting and he told me he was just doing his job. i replied that his job was to "protect and serve" and asked which this was, he said "no, that is what you see in the movies"

      i now have 0 respect for my local law enforcement.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      American police since Darryl Gates have been little more than thugs and theives. I would never call the cops in the US. They're as likely to kill you as to help you

    • somethgblue profile image


      7 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

      Consider first what a persons motives for joining the police are . . . to protect and serve or to have a job. Here is a truly thankless job that involves quite a bit of stress on a daily basis. Imagine having to shoot a fellow citizen and possible killing this person simple by going to work that day.

      I personally couldn't do it, but am also the first person to call the police if I feel my life is threatened, WOW!

      I had the Police come to my door in the middle of the night and try to force their way in simple because one of my neighbors was angry with me for spraying grass on one of their junked cars parked in their yard while mowing my yard.

      These cops tried repeatedly to enter my house with no warrant and when I refused to allow them to enter even threatened me, but I stood my ground and eventually they gave up. There were four of them, in the middle of the night with no witnesses, who knows what would've happened had I let them in?

      They have difficult jobs no doubt about it, but our government has made it easy for them to abuse their privileges. I once got pulled over and after searching the trunk of my car the officer left the trunk partially open while I sat in the car handcuffed. When he got in the car I told him if he didn't go back and close the trunk so that my valuables wouldn't get stolen that I would report him first thing when we got to the station, at first he denied it but I convinced him that stealing my stuff wouldn't be worth the hassle it would be to explain why he left my trunk open, he finally agreed and got out and closed it.

      There are good cops and bad cops but most of them are human and if they can get away with something they will just like anyone else.

      Just like all humans they will lie, cheat and steal if they think they can get away with it, so it is up to us to keep them on their toes and doing the right thing.

      For the most part I respect them, but if they give me a reason not too, then the cooperation ends.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      If you are arrested your rights don't need to be read to you. If you know the law that well then go be a cop. Its not a job that everyone wants. It takes dedicated people to do the job. My grandfather was a police officer. The best there was. He was shot in the line of duty. Thankfully he did not die tho. Have you ever ran towards a gun fight? Have you ever had someone tell you they wanted to kill you? Do you sleep with a gun by your bed because someone you arrested might find out where you live? Do you go to work everyday hoping you get to see your wife and kids in 8 10 or 12 hours? Police Officers do. Who do you call when your stuff gets stolen? When you get threatened? Or when the neighbors dog is barking at night? You don't call your parents or your minister or your friend. You call the Police. You want to be shown respect? Then respect them. You only hate the Police when your breaking the law. What would happen if all the Police decided to quit one day? Or if they decided not to go to your house when you called them saying someone with a gun was breaking into your house? Think before you bash the Police. You wont have any bad contacts with the Police if you always obey the law.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Last March, LASD served a warrant at my home (never saw the warrant)for narcotics. A tenant was suspected of selling drugs.Didn't follow procedure at all. LASD was out of control. They continually called me filthy nasmes, could be heard by neighbors "high fiving" each other as they destroyed things in my house.Lied on police report and on witness stand.Their word is taken is taken as law and no one will even listen to anything else.

      Brought 3 SEAACA trucks(animal control) with them. A narcotics informer told them that I had wildlife. They were to remove the wildlife I was caring for. Have a permit for songbirds and crows, ravens. But I also had a couple squirrels and raccoon babies. In Lakewood where I live, those are supposed to be turned over to SEAACA and euthanized.

      LASD officer ordered me to sign papers authorizing SEAACA to remove the wildlife. I refused, but was threatened with numerous things by LASD. Papers were "Authorization to Euthanize". Better yet, they were blank. I was told that SEAACA would fill them out later. Wasn't happy, but signed.

      I was arrested along with my tenant, (wasn't read my rights).Later that night when I could make a call, I called my home. I was informed that SEAACA had removed my parrots (My pets of over 20 years), my 2 iguanas, rabbit, and elderly dog. My 35 yr old daughter was on scene. Ignoring her protests, they removed my animals. After argueing with them. the LASD officer let her have the dog, but refused to let her have anything else.

      They took some of my small cages to transport the birds. They actually dumped clothes out of a plastic hamper and used it for my elderly cockatoo.

      The best part is that about 45 minutes later SEAACA came back pulling a horse trailer. They just walked in, with LASD approval, ignoring my daughter's protests, went upstairs to my closed in balcony,(bird room). They stole 3 large wrought iron cages, 1 smaller wrought iron cage on a stand, and a couple large wire cages I had made. In doing so, they destroyed my vertical blinds and put some good sized dings in my walls.

      Police report says nothing about my pets. Capt. Miller of SEAACA says I signed them over to him, that they were all adopted within 2 days. He refuses to let me see the papers

      I signed". I sent a bill for the cages. They were ignored.

      One of my birds was given to a lady the day after they stole them. She brought him back to me. She won't give me any information, fearing trouble from someone.

      I've learned that some of them went to the mayor of Pico Rivera and other council members. Just so happened PR had a fundraiser event a couple months before this. Proceeds went to SEAACA. A thank you from Capt. Miller?

      I think taking my pets was planned ahead of time. Why else bring 3 trucks. I later learned that there were 5 parrots stolen by LASD and SEAACA in an arrest in Bellflower about 6 weeks before mine.

      The animals that Capt. Miller rescued didn't quite get "rescued" from me. He told me that the band tail pigeons got out of the cage and flew away. The one with the broken wing was dead on my patio, as was 1 of the crows, and a pigeon that lived with my tame pigeon on the balcony with my birds. He took the squirrels home with him. He didn't know they had to be syringe fed eery couple hours. Well, one died.

      His final comment to me was, "Your animals have all been adopted. There is nothing you can do about it. So, I suggest you just forget about them and move on with your life."

      I'm getting readfy to file grand theft charges against him. He refuses to let me see any paperwork authorizing him to take my animals or cages.

      If there is anyone that can help investigate and hold him responsible in a court case, I could use it. Please help! I kep hitting brick walls.

      I believe my birds were taken for personal profit. It has probably happened to other people and will continue to happen, unless someone steps up and does something.

      Sorry for the length, but I've been working on this for almost a year and time is running out.

    • profile image

      Deputy Dawg 

      8 years ago

      It was nice to see a mostly balanced article instead of just a blatant slamming of law enforcement. I was particularly grateful to see a link to the Officer down Memorial Page in your story. I know there are some bad cops out there but the good cops see the baddest ones as the worst of the bad guys. Thanks for the hub!

    • Katharella profile image


      8 years ago from Lost in America

      I'm Switzerland, I misspelled the Crips! The next time I graffiti, since I LOVE graffiti art, I will do them both right! *Put your guns away- it's a Chill Pill* -KClarke

    • Katharella profile image


      8 years ago from Lost in America

      Since I don't think you are from Waterford Michigan, you could ask someone who grew up there that they might not be the biggest police department, but are the most corrupt department of law enforcement that I have EVER encountered, and the LEASE helpful of all. If they are your "friend" you can do or get away with anything including open liquor drinking & driving, they delete things out of the system of their "friends." And when someone is arrested (someone I know not me) rather than tagging & bagging the persons items after release, they kept it and never has it been recovered. One of them in particular has been accused of many things in which were brushed under the carpet. I called them for "HELP" when my son put a pistol to his head, and THEY SIDED WITH HIM, and as he became friends with one through the Masons, and he's offered him narcotic pain medication,(FEDERAL OFFENSE but hearsay as my son only TOLD me this. My son doesn't LIKE pain medication nor does drugs, but apparently this officer likes to get "high" in his "non-working hours") also, has several "White Pride" tattoos and is also a member of a Biker gang called the Warthogs. And they expect RESPECT? I'm ashamed to say, it was a nice little town when my parents first moved there, but their decline in actual "protect and serve" means, they protect THEIR OWN (not the public) and SERVE their own agenda's. I'm glad to not be a part of that place, as they are NOTHING to respect. I told my friend who asked me if I would ask them to return one of his belongings, and my reply is, I would ask a member of California's Blood or Crypts a favor before I would ask that of the Waterford Michigan police department, as I hold more respect for a Blood or Crypt than I do any one of the WTPD. At least they don't use a badge as a FRONT, and are open to their lifesteyle. It's a sad world in which we live.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My dog was unlawfully shot and killed by LASD. As well trained as these police are supposed to be when they serve a search warrant, they should not immediately resort to murdering family pets simply because they forgot to prepare for the obstacle of a protecting pet in his own home..

      I imagine what she looked like right before she died)

      But dogs to most people are a part of the family not just an animal.

      This is happening too much. A dog can never bite and kill you. Absurd.

      The current tactic is an injustice. These cops love to flaunt their authority and do as they please.

      (Baby miller)

      Instead of being stuck in empty hate & bitterness towards the world and the sherrifs department for their foolish acts of murder, or mourning that she's gone...

      - but to be Thankful for Miller's life as an ABSOLUTE AMAZING GIFT FROM GOD that brought incrediable joy to my life, and demonstrated a love and companionship that I had never seen before.. and that I'll ALWAYS remember!..

      Silly Dingo!

      I see now that you were truly an angel sent from God. ..Thankyou for having my back ALWAYS! and keeping me laughing and happy throughout your life. Ill Never forget you BITCH!!


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