This has been a trying period for our nation's law enforcement and cities as violence has broken out directed at and in reaction to police.
The acquittal of and dropping of cases against Baltimore City police officers charged in the accidental death of Freddie Gray has led to a fresh round of discussions in Maryland that mirror what's happening nationally.
We are blessed in Carroll County to have an outstanding sheriff, elected by the citizens, and sheriff's department, most of whom are local men and women serving in our community. The same holds true for our towns. There is great respect here for law enforcement from residents and elected officials.
Having the support of elected leaders is a critical factor in law enforcement morale and legitimacy. Mealy-mouthed platitudes when police are under assault coupled with a coddling of over-the-top, anti-police agitators have made Baltimore an even more difficult place than it already was for police to do their jobs. At this point, they are having trouble filling the spots they need within the department. Who can blame a potential police recruit from steering clear? I certainly can't.
This is not to say that police departments have no responsibility in some of the problems we've seen, particularly in some cities with a checkered history. Certainly, there have been instances where police officers have made mistakes, training has been lacking, and there are some bad apples like any other profession.
With all that said, I believe there are a couple of things that could make a big difference. First, we should not neuter law enforcement's ability to do their job of stopping criminal activity. The media, especially nationally, should stop the rush to judgment on either side before there is a clearer picture of all the facts in a particular incident. Elected officials and community leaders should not act as though criminal activity is excusable because of past wrongs. It is possible to recognize legitimate trust issues that have arisen and discuss possible reforms without indicting police officers as a whole.
Second, most of us have very little understanding of what police officers go through every day. There is hatred for authority found in some protests — the ones that seek to disrupt the flow of business and traffic and impugn the motives of police officers as racist.
There is a lack of respect for what police officers have to do but also there is frustration from police that they are asked to not just protect people and enforce laws, but to be social workers, truant officers and psychiatrists — all with cellphone cameras watching their every move. While we are asking our police officers to do too much, honestly, in my observation, government is not giving the police a picture of what effective community policing looks like. So, we need to have a three-way conversation, with the community and the police and lawmakers working together to understand what different choices mean. For example, the goal of crime pre-emption in a densely populated, high-crime area may mean police have to maintain a level of presence and, yes, hyper-awareness, that wouldn't be necessary in other areas.
In closing, one of the heroes who emerged out of the awful, tragic police murders in Dallas was the chief of police there. One of the best things I heard from that chief was that he encourages young people who have a beef with the police to sign up to join the department. The best way to help make things better is to work from the inside.
I want to thank the thousands of police officers who put their lives on the line for us each day. Carroll County is particularly fortunate in the caliber of men and women we have serving us in our towns and the sheriff's department. We appreciate you all.