My father served as a police officer in Birmingham for 22 years. He was physically attacked on more than one occasion and shot at multiple times. As a kid, I was often scared that my father wouldn’t make it home. Each time I heard dad’s patrol car pull up in the driveway, a palpable sense of relief washed over me.
Police work has always been dangerous, but today police departments face stiffer headwinds.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 46 officers have been shot to death in 2016, a 48-percent increase over 2015. While total police fatalities from all causes have been on a decline since the 1980s, that decrease is likely attributable to an overall decline in violent crime over the past few decades. It seems clear, however, that calculated, targeted shootings of police are on the rise.
What is causing this rise in police shootings? Mental illness, a copy-cat effect, and pure human evil are all to blame.
But irresponsible rhetoric has not helped. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has refused to stand for the national anthem and has argued that “police brutality” is something that has gone on “in this country for years and years.” Kaepernick has not advocated violence against police, but his and other groups’ hasty and imprecise rhetoric is not the responsible path forward for our country.
Increased media scrutiny of law enforcement have made a difficult job nearly impossible. FBI Director James Comey says police officers are increasingly apprehensive about stepping out of their patrol cars to conduct even routine traffic stops. A 10-second cell phone video, seen without benefit of real-world context, can quickly turn an honest, hard-working cop into a national villain.
Numerous police departments in Alabama are having difficulty recruiting and retaining officers.
The anti-police rhetoric must stop, and we must take steps to increase protection for law enforcement officers. The charge for assault with the intent to prevent an officer from carrying out his or her duty should be raised from a Class C to a Class B felony, while the murder of a law enforcement officer should qualify as an aggravating circumstance in which a capital murder charge is applicable. I will support proposals along these lines in the 2017 session of the Legislature, and I will also support a pay raise for state troopers in the field.
Growing up, I felt a deep sense of pride in my father’s work as a cop. I knew he put his life on the line, every day, for complete strangers. Now, as law enforcement officers face nearly unprecedented challenges, it is our duty to support the best among us with words and action.
Rep. Shay Shelnutt