About the Author
We Appreciate the Offer, But Officers Will Ask For Help If Needed
Jeff Long, July 27, 2012 | Police Blog
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine was riding along with one of our officers. He is going into law enforcement and used this experience to see the profession up close and personal.
During his “ride along,” the squad was dispatched to a medical emergency. Once at the location of the call, my friend was asked to go get a piece of equipment from the ambulance. Unbeknownst to anyone, another officer had arrived and was already reaching into the ambulance to retrieve this piece of equipment.
Keep in mind that this was 2 a.m. and no one was around. My friend walked up behind the officer and said in a loud voice, “Can I help you?” The officer jumped and instinctively went into a guarded stance. When I heard this story, I understood our officer’s quick and defensive response.
People are unpredictable. Every day, we see violent acts splattered all over our newspapers and television — for the younger readers, splattered all over Twitter and Facebook. Just think of the horrific stories you have seen lately. I will not give those people any more attention than they already sought, but think back to the violent news you see each day.
In the year 2011, more than 170 law enforcement officers were killed. For the first time in 14 years, more officers died in shootings than in any other method. There was a 15 percent increase in officers killed by gunfire in 2011 over 2010. The most alarming statistic is that 73 percent of these shootings were by “ambush,” or surprise, attacks on the officer.
The USA Today issued a very interesting article on this alarming tactic used to assassinate police officers. If you are interested in reading it, you can find it online at http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2011-12-21/police-officer-ambush-deaths/52147034/1
I used the incident involving my friend to illustrate how much we all want to help, but sometimes with unintended consequences.
It is difficult, because just like you, I have been told since I was a very young child that the police are there to help us. So, when you hear there are times that officers just can’t help, it seems cold or harsh. Let me explain why we can’t always drop what we are doing to help.
When officers are conducting traffic stops, we have a very important task to complete. It is not uncommon for people to pull over behind an officer because they need directions. They see the officer and they just assume the officer can help them. The truth is, the officer does not know who you are or why you are there. Keep in mind, as I mentioned above, officers getting ambushed is a rising trend. The officer on the traffic stop is then forced to take their eyes off the car that has been stopped, which is a significant safety hazard. The officer also has his or her attention diverted to someone entering the traffic stop that may be friend or foe. The person who has stopped to speak to the officer has no idea what they are walking up to, either. The traffic stop could be simply that — a traffic stop — or it may be leading to an arrest.
Officers are also frequently approached on medical emergencies or during an arrest of some sort. Some people simply come up and ask “What’s going on?” as we are trying to arrest someone or ask “What’s wrong with that guy?” while we are on medical emergencies. These are all questions that are innocent enough, but come at the wrong time.
While on a medical emergency, we need to tend to the patient. Much of the medical information is private and we would not divulge it anyway. If the call was important enough to call 9-1-1, the staff working on the patient does not have time to fill in each passing person about “What’s wrong?” That is really unfair to the patient.
During an arrest, the last thing an officer can do is ask the bad guy to “be patient for a minute while we fill someone in on why we are arresting you.” It’s simply too dangerous for an officer to take his or her focus off the arrest to “chat” with someone who is curious about the arrest.
My point of this blog is that we understand the natural curiosity that people have. However, there are times when approaching an officer is just a bad idea. Sometimes, it’s just best to keep your curiosity at bay.
There is a building in downtown Minneapolis that has a conference room right on their main floor that faces the sidewalk. Every time I walk past, I am always curious what they are talking about. I have never made the choice to interrupt the meeting to ask them that question, but it does intrigue me. Just as I would not interrupt that meeting, we all need to be aware that when our officers are “in a meeting,” they have a job to complete, just like the meetings downtown.
These are real life examples. They happen frequently. We don’t want to seem rude or terse, but while doing our jobs, we need to stay focused. I hope you understand.