Both risk lives, one gets all the glory | Rich Elfers

Why are law enforcement officers currently under the gun of criticism while firefighters are viewed as heroes? Both police and firefighters’ jobs are to protect and save lives and property. Both risk their lives as part of their jobs. What’s the difference in the public’s perception between the two?

  • by
  • Thursday, June 4, 2015 12:59pm
  • Opinion

Why are law enforcement officers currently under the gun of criticism while firefighters are viewed as heroes? Both police and firefighters’ jobs are to protect and save lives and property. Both risk their lives as part of their jobs. What’s the difference in the public’s perception between the two?

For firefighters, the issue goes back to 9/11 and the bravery shown by those members of NYFD who risked their lives in the World Trade Center fires and who saw 341 of their peers die in the attempt. That residual respect and admiration is perhaps the biggest reason firefighters are esteemed so highly in the public eye today.

The issue with the police really hinges mainly on the Fourth Amendment. This amendment protects the public from unreasonable searches and seizures and deals with probable cause and search warrants.

All of these issues touch a sensitive chord because law enforcement officers are the ones who have to deal with the very difficult tension between protecting society and guaranteeing individual rights under the Constitution.  Police have to decide in a split second whether to shoot or not shoot. If they hesitate, even for a second, they put their own lives in jeopardy.

Police also have to have a level of flexibility where they are able and willing to kill someone and at the same time be courteous, thoughtful and caring. There are not many of us who can do both. It’s a stretch for all of us and requires a special kind of person.

The Supreme Court understands this desire of the police to protect society, even if it means breaking the law to apprehend a criminal. The court created what is called the exclusionary rule after a 1914 Supreme Court decision in the Weeks v. United States case.

This decision came as a result of police officers obtaining evidence from the defendant’s home without a warrant. In other words, officers had broken the law in order to obtain evidence to put someone involved in criminal activity behind bars.

To prevent this from happening, the Court told law enforcement officers that illegally-gained evidence could not be used in court (excluded). The courts have argued that this is the most effective way to prevent violations of individual rights during arrests, interrogations, searches and seizures.

The exclusionary rule was expanded after the 1961 Supreme Court ruling in the case called Mapp v. Ohio. Dollree Mapp was at home when police knocked on her door while searching for a fugitive they believed was hiding there. Mapp called her attorney and he told her not to allow them to enter.

The police came back several hours later waving a piece of paper they said was a search warrant. Police searched the house and while they didn’t find the fugitive, they did find pornography. Mapp was accused of having obscene material in her possession and was arrested, tried and convicted with a punishment of one to seven years in prison.

She appealed and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. She never served a day of her sentence. The court ruled 6-3 in favor of Mapp because no search warrant was ever offered as evidence. The police cried that their hands were being tied by the decision.

Other, later decisions have modified Mapp v. Ohio to make it easier for police to use evidence in a search. One example is that in a search of a house, if they discover evidence as a “routine matter,” that evidence is admissible in court.

This is an example of the difficult decisions law enforcement must make as part of their jobs. They are trying to serve and protect the public and yet they must exercise restraint so as not to violate the rights of the accused.

Having to make these tough decisions are what have helped the police become less popular than firefighters who don’t have to face the same life and death, freedom or imprisonment choices.

Some police I have talked to are frustrated that they are not as popular as firefighters, especially since their lives are put at risk at a far higher rate. That frustration is valid, but comes in part because enforcing the law is a much more difficult and demanding task due to the Fourth Amendment than putting out fires and saving lives.

 

More in Opinion

U.S., Russia agree on Middle East situation

Since Russia helped Syria’s Bashar al-Assad stay in power and helped to defeat ISIS, are Russia and the U.S. at odds in the Middle East? Is Russia threatening American dominance in the region? The answer to both is no.

Page-turners: Best books of 2017

Continuing an end-of-year tradition that dates back more than 15 years, the King County Library System has chosen its Best Books of 2017.

Anthem protests about equality, not disrespect

For all who write negative comments about the football players who took a knee and posted that “this is not the America we grew up in,” let me share a few of the personal events from my life growing up in Tacoma Washington as a white woman.

Trump supporters’ attitude still the same

“Support Trump? Sure,” she said. “I like him.” These words by Pam Shilling from Trump Country western Pennsylvania reflect what many Trump supporters are thinking a year after the 2016 election victory, according to an article excerpted from “Politico.com” by “The Week” (Dec. 1, 2017).

Readers note: Change in comments section

The Courier-Herald has switched to a different online reader-comments platform.

Former fan finished with disrespectful NFL players

I lived off the grid for 15 years and the one thing I missed the most was watching pro football.

Carrying firearms about to change at the state Capitol

If you come to the state Capitol and want to see lawmakers in action, there are a few rules to follow while sitting in the galleries overlooking the Senate and the House floors.

America’s monster

I’m not sure when it happened, but I recently realized I’ve stopped asking myself, “What are we going to do about mass shootings and gun violence in this country?” Instead, I now ask, “When is the carnage going to come to Enumclaw?”

Avoiding loss means more than gaining something else

Some studies have shown that losses are twice as psychologically powerful as gains. American history and our current political situation help reveal a great deal about the American/human psyche.

Congratulations, Jan Molinaro

In every election, one person must win and the other will lose. Now more than ever, it is important to show our children how to be gracious in victory and humble in defeat.

Don’t give into the pressure of driving drowsy

Eleven years ago, a drowsy-driving car wreck left me with injuries that still challenge me today.

Opening our minds can be a beautiful thing

As a leader of my church’s Sunday Adult Forum, I had a goal: to put a human face on Islam for the members of the congregation and community.