Given the unrest that has erupted throughout our country in response to two Grand Jury decisions that failed to return True Bill’s of Indictment, we came across this letter from PBA President Patrick Colligan that offers an opinion from the perspective of a law enforcement officer. Given our audience is New Jersey Public Safety Officers, we felt this letter should be republished on this Blog.
BY PATRICK COLLIGAN
Our Nation is reeling from two unfortunate tragedies: the death of Michael Brown and the death of Eric Garner. The reaction to these incidents show that it will take a long time for our communities to heal and our profession will be impacted forever by these two events. The divide and passion in the debate over these deaths is deep and palpable and I certainly respect a person’s right to peaceful and lawful protests. The freedom of speech is the greatest part of our Democracy.
To offer some perspective, in 2011 approximately 34,000 persons were arrested by Officers every single day throughout our Country. In New Jersey, that was approximately 930 arrests per day. A majority of those arrests take place without any incident whatsoever. They are transported, processed, entered into our Criminal Justice System and given their day in court.
As sad and tragic as it is to admit, when 12.4 million people get arrested in one year, statistically there are cases that come to an unfortunate end. We are not infallible and we make mistakes. Our Officers must often make life or death decisions in split seconds. We have no time to resort to law books, case law, legal opinions, experts, attorneys, supervisors or clergy. Grand Juries, juries and the public are left to scrutinize that decision for months and years to come. Lives on both sides of the equation are changed forever.
That is not to suggest that law enforcement officers are always indifferent in the performance of their duties. Are there those among over 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers in this country that are racist or abuse their authority? Absolutely. Despite rigorous testing, interviews and psychological tests they still get into our profession. But the overwhelming fact remains that in 2014 we have the most professional, best educated, best trained and best equipped law enforcement professionals in our Nation’s history. Consider that when the millions of “calls for service” and non-arrest statistics are factored in, the number of times an officer removes his gun from his holster is so statistically insignificant that you probably have a better chance of being struck by lightning than stare down the barrel of an officer’s gun. That is because of great training, good people and good relationships between a community and its officers.
I was not an eye witness on August 9th in Ferguson. I was not on the Grand Jury nor was anybody I know. I was ready to accept whatever verdict was rendered in both St. Louis County and Staten Island. Our Grand Jury System is certainly not perfect, but it is the best system we have. Over my years as a Detective the Grand Jury system has surprised me, disappointed me and satisfied me. Whatever the results were in any of my cases I accepted them and moved on.
Deadly force is not an easy option. The public has to realize that there is a gun at every single call. It is our gun. Our badges do not make us super-human. We cannot effect an arrest on everyone we meet just because we wear a uniform. It should come as no shock that not everyone complies with an arrest.
In my 23 years as a police officer, I have never once witnessed a person that complied with a lawful order get even a single scratch. Not once. At the very core of this issue, both Eric Garner and Michael Brown were violating a law. When they were given a lawful order by an Officer neither of the men complied. When they were being placed under arrest or ordered to stop they resisted that order. When they resisted they were tragically killed. In the simplest of terms, if Michael Brown and Eric Garner had complied with the lawful commands of those police officers they would both be alive today.
Patrick Colligan is the President of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association. The NJSPBA represents almost 33,000 Local, County, State & Federal Law Enforcement Officers throughout New Jersey.