Officers of the law live by the motto, “To serve and protect.” However, today protection is stressed more than service.
Bell County Sheriff Dan Smith spoke at the College of Humanities lecture about the importance of law enforcement serving the community. He is in his 26th year with Bell County.
“My concern is that there are some agencies that have focused so much on the protection aspect, the law enforcement side if you will, that they have forsaken or forgotten the service responsibilities that a police agency has in dealing with its public,” Smith said.
The service the law enforcement agencies provide to the community affects their support. It is important because the authority police officers possess is derived from public support.
“You, the public, are our watch dogs …. You have a right to demand our very best,” he said.
Throughout the country, federal, state and local law enforcement is perhaps
facing more scrutiny than ever before. In many cases, police are losing the trust of the public.
“We can become an easy target, many times through our own fault,” Smith said.
The scope and magnitude of the authority given to an American police officer is “awesome,” as he described it.
The fundamental rights of a citizen are the right to life and the right to freedom. In our society an officer can take away those rights.
“Literally, you give us a set of handcuffs, and you say, ‘Here, American police officer. If you believe that I have committed a crime, you have the power, authority and discretion to take away my freedom,’” Smith said.
In the case that deadly force is required, a police officer’s authority is hauntingly great.
He said, “You hand us a weapon, and you say, ‘If you believe that I am a threat to your life or to the life of another person, you may take my life.’”
Many distrust law enforcement because of their authority, but questioning is essential to preventing its misuse.
“No police officer should ever feel intimidated by your demand for integrity, honesty and accountability for what we do,” Smith said.
To gain public trust, Smith stressed law enforcement should better serve people.
“I want them to feel satisfied that we cared about their problem, that we responded as quickly as we could, that we did everything that we could do, within our control, to solve their problem, and if we weren’t able to solve their problem, they understood why, and they felt good with their experience with the sheriff’s office,” he said.
One way to improve is through education, a key to crime prevention. Police can educate people about ways to reduce the likelihood of becoming the victims of crime.
Freshman criminal justice major Nathan Long feels simplicity of the motto is important.
“Service comes first. Protection is only a part of the motto …. It comes down to being a good role model for other officers and the community,” he said.
Junior criminal justice major Ty Humphries agrees with Smith’s push for more service, but the protection aspect is still important.
“Protecting people is not always about using force to make people do what you want them to. Police officers don’t use force unless it is used against them first. And once a threat is stopped, the officer has to stop too,” Humphries said.
At the lecture, Smith closed with how law enforcement officers must make choices in controversial situations.
“In a time of moral crisis, you cannot remain neutral. As an offi cer of the law, we must choose what is right.”