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Police officers, public walk the fine, blue line

July 28, 2016
Editorial , Lake Placid News

In a letter to the editor we published this week, Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting urged people to sympathize and cooperate with police officers, who he said have grown more fearful for their lives due to recent cop killings.

"We are people, too; we have wives, husbands, children, even grandchildren who wait for our return every day," he wrote. He admits police officers "are not infallible" but said many of the mistakes are made by good officers who suffer from "years of accumulated stress."

Sheriff Cutting is not just a patrolman or a deputy. He was elected by the people to manage and, if necessary, discipline his force of deputies who run the jail and patrol the roads. It does not build public confidence for him to make excuses for them ahead of time, implying that it wouldn't be their fault if they overreact and abuse the people they're supposed to protect. So far, we have not heard of any such allegations about Essex County deputies, and that's good. The sheriff should make sure they are trained well so it will not happen.

The solution is not that we, the scary public, must adapt to officers' fear of us, as Sheriff Cutting suggests.

"If you have an encounter with a police officer, remain calm, do as asked, and tell the officer what you are doing," Cutting wrote. "Please do not take offense if we treat you differently when on duty; it is what we have to do in today's turbulent society to see our family and friends at the end of the day."

That line about police wanting to see their families at the end of their shift is deeply ingrained in officers' minds, but it's problematic for the same reason Black Lives Matter is a problematic choice of words for the movement to end police brutality. We all want to see our family and friends at the end of the day. All our lives matter. In trying to elicit pity, these phrases imply broad accusations, prompt unnecessary blowback and confuse the national conversation all the more.

People who do dangerous, illegal things must be held accountable, whether they wear a badge or not - no excuses. When criminals go unpunished, the sense of insecurity can cripple a community.

Likewise, when police are not penalized for obvious, deadly errors, as we have learned nationally, the lingering sense of injustice in the community can undermine the overwhelmingly good work officers do every day.

Although we felt the need to respond to Sheriff Cutting's letter, we trust that he and all our local police chiefs and supervisors will run tight ships and make serving the community their first priority. We have seen too much good work from them to think otherwise. Officers' patient handling of a distraught gunman in Saranac Lake, whose pistol turned out to be fake, is one such trust-building example.

Overall, we share the sheriff's hope - the main point of his letter - that people appreciate that the officers who serve and protect them are not some separate force but are part of their communities, too.



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