This past week, Maryland — and the nation — were shocked by the horrific killing of 29-year-old Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio in Perry Hall. Caprio was brutally run over while investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle. Four teenagers have been charged in her murder. All are being held without bail.
Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence Sheridan said, in part, “This is a bad time in the United States for law enforcement.” He is right. According to the Officer Down Memorial website, 135 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2017. Sixty have been killed so far this year. It is a tragedy that should remind us to be grateful.
My great-grandfather, Thomas Carroll, was a New York City police officer. He was a moral, courageous and compassionate man who also consistently sought to expand his intellectual understanding. In his later years, he attended John Jay College where he sought a master’s degree in public administration, for which he submitted a thesis entitled “Profile of the Policeman” in August 1973.
“Profile” studied positive and negative qualities hoped for or expected in police officers; and if such profiles could be beneficial “in recruiting and screening applicants for police work.” The results would not surprise anyone then or today. Desired positive qualities included common sense, dedication, knowledge of the police job, training, intelligence, honesty and alertness.
“Police officers,” my great-grandfather writes, “as a result of experience and success on the job, know what qualities are actually required to render police services to their communities.” Police know what they need to do, and how to do it. But today, we hear a politically charged, second-guessing profile narrative of negative phrases: “Police are trigger-happy.” “They should shoot to injure, not to kill.” “They should not shoot at all.” “Police are terrorists.”
As my great-grandfather also keenly noted back in 1973, “Pressure on the police chief to modify departmental procedures and consequently police behavior is more apt to come from the community’s leadership than from the public at large.” It is leadership in certain American communities today, whether through mass demonstrations and movements, politicians, commentators, or social and cultural leaders, that are fomenting an unjust, hostile atmosphere toward law enforcement.
One can only think about the Baltimore riots, for example, when residents were begging for help and the then-mayor ordered the police to hold back to give the rioters “room.” As a result, the police were unable to do their job, and attempts to restore peace were made far more dangerous.
By contrast, Taneytown, and Carroll County, are largely supportive of our law enforcement, from our local police to the sheriff to the state. To use Taneytown as an example, National Night Out (which occurs throughout the entire nation in August) is always well-attended by people who are grateful to those who wear a uniform.
In part, Taneytown hosts our annual Christmas tree lighting at our police station because it helps ensure a sense of community between residents and those who protect us in the spirit of the season. This previous Thanksgiving, a resident in town opened up her home to feed officers who had to work that day. This is coupled with countless acts of kindness from residents for our officers, ranging from bringing them cookies and candy to simply wanting the honor of being in photographs with them.
Taneytown’s police, in response, are themselves heavily community-oriented. They participate in outreach programs, shovel sidewalks in the snow, hand out free glowsticks at Halloween, rescue animals, help fundraise for and participate in Relay for Life, even simply provide a sympathetic ear for those in need — and more. The same is true for law enforcement throughout our country.
Why? Because they are not only police officers, but human beings.
Those who condemn or berate the police forget this. They forget that an officer who pulls them over for speeding is a parent, a grandparent, someone’s child, someone’s friend. They forget that the officer may be a military veteran, or maybe recently engaged or married, or may be pursuing a college degree. They forget the officer who cites them for running a stop sign may have just come back from a quick weekend family vacation because that is all there was time or money to do, or had to skip church in order to be on shift. They forget the officer has his or her own hopes, dreams, loves and interests.
They also forget just how seriously the officer takes his or her job. They forget just how much training and retraining and specialization has gone into police work. They forget just how much courage and conviction must be had. They forget that officers on the scene do not have the luxury of second-guessing. They forget that the officer is simply trying to preserve the peace, to ensure a safe community. They forget that the officer is truly dedicated to that same community. And they forget that the next call for service may be the last.
Taneytown’s chief, our officers — these are honorable, professional, good-hearted, brave human beings without whom we as a community could not exist. Not only do they keep us safe, but they enrich us and make our town a better place to live simply by virtue of who they are. We — all of us — have to do right by such human beings, whether they serve in our local, county or state law enforcement agencies.