Law enforcement is a career pathway that requires heart, dedication and pure sacrifice as it will test an individual in every manner possible on a daily basis, at each turn throughout the job. Law enforcers are always called upon by society at the most trying times and they are always expected to be up to the task of handling an escalating situation in a calm and lawful manner, not letting their perspectives or feelings dictate the situation. Law enforcers are tasked with the duty to serve and protect while putting their lives on the line each day. However, the portrayal of the police, the most common form of law enforcers, has been deteriorating rapidly in the media today. This may be due to the unjust cases in the news or other factors, although there are always two sides of a coin.
Carl Lafata, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government in the Law Enforcement Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, states that when one is a Law Enforcement Officer, enforcing the law is only one facet of the job.
“Although the job is inherently dangerous, Law Enforcers are trained and skilled to handle all the fatalities that may come about,” Lafata said. “Thus, the frightful part of the job comes from the idea that if there are people out there willing to harm those already skilled to defend themselves, it is unimaginable what they would do to the majority who lack that skill set.”
Lafata states that his job is to not only convey academic information to students, but also enrich the learning process by bringing in his valued experience in law enforcement, thus bringing to the university and students several different perspectives of the job.
“When one becomes a law enforcer, the main aim is to enforce peace and deadly force is only used as a last resort,” Lafata said.
Deadly force only comes into play when all other options prove to be ineffective and Law Enforcement trains officers to use the least amount of force possible.
“The individual actually dictates the amount of force used against them, as the situation at most times calls for a quick reaction and what they may be doing may be highly detrimental that the officer has no choice but to use deadly force,” Lafata said.
The officer must make a quick and rational decision on the spot, but also be able to justify in court of law why they choose to take that action.
Bias in the force can only be eradicated through gaining knowledge and understanding that every man is born equal no matter their skin color, race, religion or background. The Law Enforcement program at Minnesota State University strives to educate its students on diversity, use of force, and community relations amongst several other applied skills while studying to be a law enforcer.
“Majority of officers are drawn from the suburbs, thus the only form of knowledge they have on diversity is what they may have learned in school or seen in the media,” Lafata said. “Therefore, upon joining the force believing they have no bias, it openly shows through their actions and as they conduct themselves in different situations while on the job thus in reality is inconsistent with what being a true law enforcer is about.”
MNSU aims to educate its students on clearly understanding diversity as well as various demographics and why they choose to act in the manner they do towards police, which may be due to vicarious trauma or prior incidences with the law officers.
According to an article by the New York Times, the Department of Justice indicates that a black person is about four times as likely to die in custody or while being arrested than a white person is. Lafata shares that when he was a sergeant in the force it was his obligation to ensure that things were done correctly and followed the procedure to the letter.
“Even with all the training in the world, a person highly likely to revert to their natural state of being without supervision or someone to keep them in check,” Lafata said.
Law enforcement is taking steps to ensure that the force is not only kept in check, but also learns from mistakes made by officers by opening dialogue with community and thus moving forward to guarantee these errors are eliminated.
“The force is doing a good job, but more effort has to be put in to open up lines of communication within it and prevent these blunders happening in the first place,” Lafata said. “The public should also understand that police officers are human, but this should not deter them from questioning authority. The only way to move forward as a nation is to open up productive dialogue between the public and the police.”
Law enforcement is a profession that requires substantial understanding of human nature as well as the extent to which power can and should be used. Law enforcement is a without a doubt a truly noble profession that one needs to be of sound mind and act accordingly no matter what the situation at hand presents. Lafata puts it best that the public should not generalize law enforcers just as they would not like to be generalized, as there are a great number of officers that take their oath very seriously and become law enforcers to truly serve the public.