Des Moines Public Safety Officer 911

Criminal Justice Reform

By David Brown, DMPD Retired

Criminal Justice Reform

There is a lot of talking going on today about “criminal justice reform.”  Unfortunately from what I am hearing it is all pretty much one sided labeling the police as villainous heathens who prey on the citizens of the communities that they took an oath to protect and serve.  Some people however –and I will say that group is not defined by any particular race, but rather by a certain generation who feel our laws are antiquated and simply do not apply to them.  Hence they feel they should be immune from arrest or prosecution for violating these laws.

Not wanting to admit that there are problems on the non-police side of this issue is a travesty in and of itself.  And until that happens there will never be any resolve to the issues at hand.

There is a big problem not just within our community but in our nation as a whole.  For years people who have had absolutely no positive role model in their lives and were most certainly not ready to become parents themselves have been making off spring of their own.  The only piece of advice a lot of those people have ever been given and have then passed on to their children is; “Don’t you let anybody tell you what to do.”  That piece of truly unfortunate advice applies toward teachers, other citizens they encounter in life, sometimes their own parents, business owners, bosses (should they find themselves being employed) and of course the police.

When a police officer starts their career one of the very first things that takes place is that they swear to an oath to enforce Federal Statues of The United States, the criminal codes of their states and the ordinances of their individual communities.  Contained in those books are items we commonly refer to as laws.  There are probably overall millions of pages in all of those law books.  Hundreds of thousands of laws, covering everything from where you can or cannot park, what color of lights you can display on your car and all the way up to making it against the law to kill someone.

So when the police get notified by a concerned citizen or actually see someone violating the one or more of these laws they are mandated by that oath they took at the beginning of their career to take action.  Now that action could be anything from just making a friendly advisal to cease and desist from their illegal behavior, issuing a summons –traffic or criminal, if it’s appropriate,  and sometimes having to take someone into custody and on to jail.

Probably the vast majority of people who are subject to the latter submit to arrest peacefully.  They go to jail and get arraigned in front of a judge.  There if it is applicable, they have a bond set, a bond is posted and they may go on with their lives until the charges against them are adjudicated in a court of law.  There’s that word again, LAW.

We hear about those who decide to go another route and resist the officer’s attempt just to arrest, but interfere with attempts to investigate and defuse suspected criminal activity.  Some are defending the actions of those people by contending that the officers are “profiling.” 

Practically everything a police officer does involves one form or another of profiling.  As a former police officer I can honestly say that if I had received information that a burglar working my area was supposed to be driving a yellow 1965 Ford F150, I will guarantee you that I would be giving a hard look at every yellow 1965 Ford F150 I encountered.

 In my career I never encountered a burglar, child molester, armed robber, rapist  etc., that had their criminal specialty tattooed in bold blazing letters across their foreheads.  You’ve seen the bumper stickers or window decals that read; MY KID’S AN HONOR STUDENT AT GOODRELL JR. HIGH.  Well I never saw a bumper sticker or decal that read; “I AM THE ONE WHO’S GOING BREAK INTO YOUR HOUSE WHILE YOU’RE AWAY”, either.  These people were ferreted out by nothing less than good old fashioned police work.  That is what that sign “TO PROTECT AND SERVE” on the side of police cars means.

Police officers are human beings.  They are not robots or computers generated in a laboratory.  They have families that expect …let me rephrase that.  They have families that hope and pray that they will return home safely every time they go to work.  Three families of men I worked with during my career prayers weren’t answered, unfortunately.  Things can go sideways in police work in a millisecond.  Offenders may have guns, knives or even just violent aggression to be aimed at the police.  And today when people do that, it seems like the police are chided for defending themselves from real and perceived threats.  Walking away from trouble or danger is not a luxury police work provides.  But, you, as citizens are free to criticize and arm chair quarter back the actions of the police having no idea of the potential dangers their job presents millisecond by millisecond.  These officers are the only thing between you and that danger.

There is an old saying that goes;” it takes two to tango”.  Well, it also takes two to tangle too.  Instead of being resentful be respectful to the police when they attempt to speak with you.  You will probably find that that respect demonstrated will be mutual.  If you do break the law, be prepared to face the consequences for your bad decision.  Keep in mind your social agenda does not figure in to the equation as to whether you go to jail or not.  Traffic tickets, criminal offenses are tried in a court of law, not out on the street in the court of public opinion.

David F. Brown

(retired Sergeant D.M.P.D.)

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