For those of us who are in law enforcement, May is a time for reflection and gratitude. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy declared May 15 “Peace Officers Memorial Day” and the week in which May 15 falls “Police Week.” Throughout the week, ceremonies occur at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country.
Police Week this year is remarkably different. Many of the ceremonies and gatherings have been cancelled or re-envisioned as virtual events due to the ongoing pandemic. Tragically, policing during a pandemic also comes with tremendous and unique risk. By some estimates, nearly 100 law enforcement and corrections officers actively serving in the US have died from COVID-19. It remains to be seen how many more names will be added to the memorials next year due only to this virus.
At the Milton Police Department, we’ve been blessed that no one has caught the virus. It has been our fervent goal to keep it that way. This has caused us to make some changes that have really been a challenge. For years, it’s been our organizational philosophy to be active in the community, staying busy and having plenty face to face interactions with the public. We’ve needed to suppress these habits and alter the way we conduct business. Now, we are trying to minimize contacts with others, doing as much as possible over the phone. When work can’t be done over the phone, we try to stay 6 feet away and/or wear personal protective equipment in order to keep ourselves and our community safe. It’s a strategy that seems to have worked so far.
While policing in a pandemic has been a challenge, we know that it’s been a challenge for all of you as well. Emotions are certainly close to the surface. Those wearing masks are frustrated with those who don’t. Those not wearing masks are frustrated if they are turned away from a business that requires them. Workers deemed essential put their health at risk just to show up for work every day. Workers who’ve been laid off only wish they still had a job to support their families. The shouts of “You’re just scared!” countered by the shouts of “You’re just selfish!” The politicization, the polarization. How will we get through this?
For me, all of this tension and frustration played out in a call that we handled last week. Two neighbors were really not getting along, leading to one of them calling us to make a complaint. The type of complaint isn’t relevant, but there was not much we could do as a police agency to help. When the officer arrived, he explained our position as best he could to the caller. The other neighbor then came out and an argument ensued. Unfortunately, it escalated to the point that the officer was close to citing them both for disorderly conduct before things calmed down.
Were these neighbors the kind of folks who would never see eye to eye, pandemic or not? Perhaps. We certainly have our share of citizens who just can’t seem to get along no matter what. But in this case, something remarkable happened. A couple of days later, I learned that the two neighbors apologized to each other. One reached out to me to apologize to the police department as well. During this time of uncertainty and stress, it was wonderful to see two people at odds providing each other a bit of grace. Don’t we all deserve a little of that right now? And can’t we each do our part to take a breath and offer such grace as well? It could go a long way toward helping each other ride out this storm together.