It has been a sad time for law enforcement. Recent events have turned the public’s attention toward our profession, and the public is not happy with what it sees. The actions of a few have put all of us under insurmountable scrutiny.
I’m always upset when I see or hear stories of police officers failing or doing wrong. Many people in my personal life have responded to these failings with feelings of intense anger, but I just feel extreme sadness. I am saddened when we don’t live up to our calling and potential, I am disappointed when we fail to do our duty.
I think it’s easier for people outside our profession to feel a deep level of anger toward police when we do something wrong. To the outside viewer, it is easy to see police officers as symbols, to see them less as people or more as the ideals we are supposed to represent.
But as a police officer, I am keenly aware of my humanity, including my human imperfections. As Christians, we know “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All police officers, whether we are believers or not, know the depravity of the human condition, including our human condition. And we all know how hard it is to maintain our own “goodness” when we are surrounded by pain, suffering, and crime. So I have a degree of sympathy for police officers who go astray.
This is not to excuse any impropriety by our fellow law enforcement officers. I may be sad to see a police officer fired, or a police officer charged with a crime, but my own feelings on the matter do not change the truth of the situation. I can still love my brothers and sisters even while acknowledging their guilt.
Sometimes I wonder how much of my sadness is self-serving. Am I really sad that my brother or sister failed? Or am I upset because the public will judge me as though I had committed the same sin? It is hard during these times to not think of ourselves. I was never lucky enough to work during a time when police were loved, but rarely in history have we been as hated as we are at this time. The very people we have sworn to protect are now, in greater and greater numbers, calling for the elimination of our profession.
I sense a lot of discouragement within our ranks. Across the country I hear reports of police officers quitting or retiring early in the face of the increased hostility. I talked with one officer who told me if he encountered a suspect armed with a knife tomorrow, he might choose to allow himself to be stabbed rather than to come under media scrutiny for defending himself through a use of force. I don’t know which is sadder, the sentiment the officer expressed or the fact that his position seems more reasonable with each passing day. Around the country, it appears that many of us are decreasing our level of activity, preferring to do as little as possible out of fear that any call might put us on the news or result in a personnel complaint. There is a pervasive feeling that doing our jobs may cost us our livelihood or freedom.
It is difficult to stand tall when the world turns its back on you. But brothers and sisters in Christ, as Jesus followers, we should not be surprised by this turn of events. Jesus told us that in following him we would experience persecution, that “a man’s enemies would be members of his household” (Matthew 10:34). As Christians, we know – through our own experience – that pursuing righteousness was never going to win us any popularity contests. Standing up for any set of ideals is by its very nature divisive. Law enforcement may have been lucky to have been loved (or just left alone) in the past, but it should come as no shock that those of us who still pursue righteousness – especially in our profession – would be alienated by people who seek to judge all of us, on the basis of a few of us.
As a police officer, I have always endeavored to be courageous, to be fearless. I want to push myself to embody the “ideal” police officer who would risk his life to save an innocent, the kind of officer who would confront any type of danger without hesitation. As any of us who have worked for awhile in this profession can attest, it is much easier to say you want to be courageous than to be courageous. In the gym at my agency there is a plaque hanging on the wall. It is the first thing you see when coming into the gym. The plague reads in part:
“I do not fear death, for I have been close enough to it on enough occasions that it no longer concerns me. But I do fear the loss of my honor and would rather die fighting than to have it said that I was without courage.”
I have read those words many times and have always wanted to embody that philosophy. I know the value of policework, as do you. The people in our communities need protection. Yes, there are still people who seek to harm others. It’s not about race, ethnicity or social status. It’s about the fallen nature of all of us. It’s about providing a fundamental service to our community so they can pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The work of a police officer is still good and necessary and God-honoring.
We may not be preachers or missionaries; we may not speak Jesus’ name on each call or discuss theology with each victim or suspect. But the pursuit of justice within our community, the upholding of the moral law defined by our Creator is an act of worship. And the way we live our life and conduct ourselves in our professional setting is a witness to those around us.'The pursuit of justice within our community, the upholding of the moral law defined by our Creator is an act of worship.' - Jimmy Wallace Click To Tweet
Police work inherently acknowledges the existence of a moral law which transcends us, and although we are fallen, sinful people, we can still try to uphold it to the best of our ability. The pursuit of justice and the protection of our communities is necessary and good. As I go to work each day, I am comfortable with the knowledge that I might not come home. I believe earnestly that the work is worthy of my life. I do not fear death. I believe and trust in God’s promise of eternal life. I know you do as well.
Despite the calls to disband, abolish, defund, and otherwise eliminate our profession, despite our increasing unpopularity, despite the scandalous things people say about us, the calling has not changed. Our mission and duty remain the same. We swore an oath to uphold the constitution and to protect our communities. We would dishonor ourselves and our God if we were to turn our back on that now.
This work is still worthy of our lives, even if it means we will be taken from our spouses, our children, our families and friends. The apostle Peter wrote, “Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled” (1 Peter 3:14). We must continue to be brave, even in the face of public condemnation. If the cause is just, we cannot allow anyone to persuade us otherwise.
Pray for one another. Pray for your communities. Pray for the protection of your brothers and sisters in uniform. Pray that we will always represent our Savior in a way that honors His words and teaching. Pray that God will give you his strength to do the job, despite the negativity. Pray that God opens the eyes of our communities to help them understand the value of what we do.
Keep your eyes on the mission. Keep your ears attuned to the voice of God. Remember that He is with us always.
Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner’s son) is a Police Officer, a Detective in Los Angeles County, a Christian Case Maker, and host of the Incarnate Investigation Podcast (featured at ColdCaseChristianity.com).