To protect and serve: Police and their duty to citizens

In light of all the negativity surrounding police officers in the mainstream news, sometimes it can be helpful to look at how police personally affect you and your local area. People often forget the main purpose of police — to protect and serve.

A CNN article from 2015 agrees that people are not actually seeing more police shootings, just more news coverage about them. Writer Eliott C. McLaughlin adds, “Because humans are visual creatures, videos impact people more than might a written or spoken narrative, and many experts feel the images drive coverage of the incidents.”

I will not deny that some police officers abuse their position, but there are also those who want to do their job and not simply because they have to.

For instance, I’ve been stopped twice over the course of a couple of months. But I did nothing wrong. Yes, I promise!

A state patrol officer stopped me the first time a few months ago because I had been swerving all over the road as I entered Fairmont. He assumed I had been drinking, which is understandable, especially given the long class days last semester that often made my driving erratic as I came home tired.

I would wake up at 5 a.m. to prepare meals for the day and would set aside half an hour for extra room in case of traffic or having to wait for the bus. I had also had a night class that day that lasted until after 9 p.m. By the time I arrived home it was at least 10 p.m., and I found myself yawning pretty widely a few times. When I finally almost drove off the road, the state patrol officer pulled me over and asked the usual, “Do you know why I stopped you?”

I said no, which was honest because I had already taken a moment to steady myself, and he didn’t stop me until a few minutes later. He then asked if I had been drinking, to which I then explained that I commute to Minnesota State University in Mankato. He asked what I was going to school for, and I answered film and media studies, then showed him my Student ID.

He still appeared a bit suspicious and waved his flashlight toward the back of my jeep, most likely looking for alcohol. As a reporter going into a possible career, I understand that one cannot always accept things at face value, and one has to confirm that given facts align with evidence.

At the same time, I believe he responded with generosity. In a small town that’s hurting for money, he could have written me a ticket but decided not to. Instead, he issued me a verbal warning and suggested that maybe next time I feel so tired, I should take a brief rest before going on the road. He even offered to follow me home to ensure I would get there safely.

The second police encounter happened exactly a week ago. Ironically, it was the same state patrol officer. My boyfriend is a trucker, and I spent time on the road with him over winter break since we do not get much quality time together. His dad has also been dealing with cancer, so I had not been home for a month—in fact, due to this family emergency I hadn’t driven during that whole time.

So what’s the second reason the officer stopped me? My tabs had expired a month ago and I was oblivious to the fact.

The officer let me go on a verbal warning again, and I promised him I would take care of my tabs soon, thanking him for doing his job and being attentive to issues that sometimes go overlooked.

There’s another experience I had while I was reporting in a small town up the road where I had developed a professional yet friendly relationship with the police officer. The city council was deliberating on whether the city should keep him but was refusing to be honest about it. Meanwhile, since the city lacked maintenance workers, the police officer would do extra maintenance work around town outside of his police duties. During his rounds, he kept a careful eye on a playground that was commonly unsupervised, and once dealt with an incident involving a bully with a baseball bat. He took the time knocking on doors around town to investigate who was involved and how the problem could be resolved.

I learned over time that he was so good at his job that other cities were offering to double his current salary if he accepted their offers to relocate there. But both he and his wife’s family lived in the area, which is what meant the most to both of them. He also turned those offers down because of how much he enjoyed the opportunity to serve on more of a local level with the people he had grown up with or had grown to know.

Sometimes all we hear is the bad news about police. It’s no different in reporting and writing for media, speaking from my own work experience at a few newspapers. So many people have qualms about trusting us because they think we will twist what they say. Sometimes a person genuinely loves what they do and will take all kinds of abuse for the sake of their career because it involves so much more than just getting through another day. Sometimes they really do want to make a difference.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.