Opinion

We rightly hold cops to a higher standard

Veteran state representative Pat Lantz, of Gig Harbor (she also represents South Kitsap) is getting a head start on next year’s legislative session according to Amy Crumley’s story in the Sept. 24 Independent.

Lantz said she intends to introduce a bill requiring all police agencies in the state of Washington to implement departmental policies to deal with domestic violence cases in which the offender is a police officer.

This is one of those moments which forces us to think about things we find distasteful. Things we wish we didn’t have to think about.

Most of us like to consider the cops on our local police forces our friends, the so-called Thin Blue Line out there risking their lives to protect us from the bad seeds — the drunk drivers, the gang bangers and faux gang bangers, and the straight-up sociopaths America’s dog-eat-dog society seems to grow nowadays like the French raise truffles.

This simplistic view of cops as our friends ignores some sad truths. When they aren’t working most police officers hang out with other cops. They are sort of a closed club.

If you ask them about this tendency they often claim that only another cop understands what they go through every day.

And there is no denying that the stress level for your average cop is quite a bit higher than that of say your average reporter, except maybe on deadline day.

Police officers do feel like they are the last line of defense keeping the streets safe for John and Susie Q. Citizen. And it is true that cops are very visible as they go about their daily chores. More visible than you or me most of the time.

This high visibility attracts all kinds of attention, not all of which is pleasant. But these facts don’t alter some other hard truths.

More than 80 percent of police officers will never fire their guns while on duty, even if that duty stretches over an entire 20-year career.

A lot of what cops deal with is mere possibility, not even likelihood.

And, unlike you and I, when trouble does rear its ugly head, cops are societally authorized to deal with whatever arises, using whatever force is required.

Even deadly force on occasion.

This is an incredible amount of power to hand out to normal boys and girls who grow up wanting to put on the uniform and strap on the sidearm, like other kids grow up wanting to swing a golf club, or suit up and work on Wall Street.

We’ve been learning lately around here that there are some inherent dangers in the system as it is now operated.

A Bremerton police officer and two Kitsap deputies have been charged with serious domestic violence offenses in the past few months.

And former Tacoma Police Chief David Brame’s case — he killed his estranged wife Crystal and then himself, in front of their two children — is probably the prime motivator behind Lantz’s early bird legislative proposal.

I haven’t always been a big Lantz booster in my six years and change covering the West Sound, but I’m in her corner on this one.

Police officers have a tendency to close ranks when one of their “brothers” steps afoul of the law he or she is pledged to uphold.

Combine this clannishness with a feeling of entitlement, and you have the potential for serious harm to the police officer’s victim, especially in a domestic violence situation.

No one who has read any in-depth stories about the Brame situation can doubt that he received special treatment over and over because he was first a cop and then the chief.

Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer sounds like he’s aboard Lantz’s legislative milk run too.

“To me, the most important thing is prevention,” Boyer told the Independent last week.

I would agree, but I would take it one step further. The next most important step, when prevention fails, is prosecution.

Police officers are, or should be, special.

If they don’t live up to the trust most law-abiding citizens place in them because of the uniform they wear, and what it stands for, they should be punished severely.

With extra rewards come extra responsibility.

Here’s hoping Lantz writes a tough bill which is implemented without a lot of watering from state police agencies.

The spouses and children of the officers deserve at least as much protection as the average citizen who dials 911. There should never be another Crystal Brame case in Washington State.

Dennis Wilken is a former Port Orchard Independent reporter.

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