I had a conversation this week with a policeman about the state of law enforcement.
We talked openly about racial profiling, questionable shootings by police officers involving minorities, and football players kneeling during the National Anthem.
We also discussed what the public usually never sees but what police officers can't forget. The times they respond to domestic violence calls where a woman has been severely beaten. The instances when they arrive at a scene to remove a child from a home who has been sexually and/or physically abused. The occasions where their lives were almost lost due to a suspect pulling a weapon on them, or even shooting them or at them.
We are an extremely divided country when it comes to law enforcement. Some support them no matter the cause, and some believe they're out to get us and hide behind their badges.
At times, I've fallen on both sides of the equation. I've been outraged when viewing the clips of unarmed minorities shot or beaten by the people who are supposed to protect us. I've also spent enough time in a newsroom, listening to the scanner, to know that most of us don't deal with as much stress in our entire lives as some police officers endure during any given shift.
My experiences with police are likely different than yours, and I trust you'll form your own, educated opinion about the men and women in law enforcement. But one particular assertion this policeman made stuck with me, and I feel it is absolutely true.
If we don't stop persecuting every officer for the mistakes of a few, a time will be coming when no one wants to be a cop.
That statement might not bother you initially. There was a time when I believed we'd be just as safe with fewer police officers, and that the taxpayers' money would be better spent in fields like education and outreach for low-income communities.
But as I get older each day, I realize the error in my previous perception. Thinning our blue line, both in number and in spirit, is a mistake.
There were 127 drug overdose calls in Barren County last year according to a story in the Daily Times on Wednesday. Undoubtedly that's not the real number, as some calls are classified as something different than an overdose, and some people don't even bother calling 911.
We have a major drug problem in southcentral Kentucky, and we don't have enough police officers to keep dangerous drugs like methamphetamine off the streets. It's no wonder why many police officers will tell you they feel like they're fighting a losing battle. They get called to the same houses, make the same arrests, and see the same people released to commit the same crimes. I don't have the answer to that problem, but there's no denying it's an issue.
Kentucky as a whole, like most of the country, suffers from illegal drug abuse. Though as a society we should be more advanced, we also continue to grapple with property crimes, violence and people who prey sexually on children. There aren't enough police officers to solve these problems.
And if we make our police officers feel like they're the criminals, then our problems will only get worse.
Don't get me wrong, cops who break the law should be held accountable. If we're not committing a crime, we should never feel threatened in the presence of a police officer because of misguided stereotypes. We also need better background checks to ensure those with racist tendencies aren't given a badge and a gun. Those who believe racial profiling and police violence against minorities aren't problems are just flat out wrong.
Ideally, we need to pay cops more and instill higher standards. If you offer low pay and few benefits, you're going to get less-qualified employees. That's the same in any line of work. How do you think you got stuck with me as the editor of this newspaper? I'm kidding. I'm paid more than I should be, but you get the drift.
We have to realize, as trite as the saying has become, that it's an "all of the above" answer. Police need to perform their jobs within the guidelines of the law. People need to use their brains and surrender their racism.
We also need to do a better job in our own communities. One reason I wasn't too sad to move away from the Louisville area is because it has become a dangerous city in many regards. There are dozens upon dozens of unsolved murders in Jefferson County — crimes where witnesses have often refused to cooperate with police. But yet some in our society go ballistic if a police officer takes a life. If one of those situations makes you mad but the other does not, you're being a hypocrite.
I'm not telling you to go kiss the ground police officers walk on, as I've also worked in a newsroom long enough to know some abuse their positions and have no business being in law enforcement. But I am suggesting that you take each case individually and not assume every cop is a bad apple.
If we punish and disrespect all police officers for what a tiny percentage have done, aren't we just as guilty as the bad cops were for allowing their prejudices to affect how they viewed the victims of their violence?
Suddeath is the editor of the Glasgow Daily Times. His column appears in the Thursday edition and at various times during the week. Reach him at 270-678-5171, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DsuddeathGDT.