The endless war

Published 9:40 am Wednesday, September 21, 2011

by Lt. Tim Whitt

Military conflicts abroad last for years and prove the age-old lesson that no one wins in war; however, wars eventually end, leaving behind carnage and shattered lives associated with the horrors of military combat.

Much is said about those who serve in our armed forces. They are the keepers of our freedom who selflessly give abroad and at home. Their sacrifice enables Americans to live free.

With that said, there are two certainties that apply — war as in a military sense will always at some time end, and inevitably another conflict will arise. What some Americans seem to have forgotten is the never-ending war against crime and the courageous, dedicated people in law enforcement who daily give their all to protect us from those who prey upon the weak and vulnerable.

Law enforcement as a profession is inherently dangerous. However, modern times reflect a much more aggressive, hostile and deadly trend toward law enforcement.

The reasons may be attributed to the economy, unemployment, substance abuse, a break-down in the moral fiber of society and the constant bombardment of violence on youth through media, movies, music and video games, which have desensitized our young to violence, killing and the resulting consequences of such actions. It could also be due to the inefficiency of our legal system, which gives defendants more rights than victims.

Officers today deal with a society our forefathers could never have imagined. An increase in mental health issues without a corresponding care and treatment program leaves these souls on the street where officers must deal with them. Violent felons are released into society so they may once again victimize others. A national substance abuse epidemic plagues our country and criminal street gangs have spread across this country like a cancer. Adding to this a proliferation of easily accessible weapons and an increase in domestic problems — the list goes on.

In years gone by, but still alive today is the rearing of children in a two-parent family. The instilling of respect was a given years ago, but not so much now it seems. A lack of respect for themselves has translated to a lack of respect and caring for anyone and seems to be the norm for particular segments of society.

This is readily apparent on a daily basis. This no doubt contributes greatly to what I describe as man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man.

Law enforcement is not a career for the meek or timid. Hours of repetition and boredom are punctuated by high stress critical incidents when an officer must make decisions in a split second that will affect their lives and others. Many are quick to criticize; there are those who without experience, training or knowledge of a situation will render a decision chastising an officer’s actions.

Many feel they know more than the officer because they saw it on television, and street corner lawyers abound with their vast knowledge and experience of law as well as police practices and procedures. What others will take months or even years to scrutinize from a comfortable office or on their couch, a law enforcement officer must determine in the blink of an eye, all while involved in chaotic, tumultuous events, in the dark, in crowds, in a fight.

A career in law enforcement is not unlike a tour in the military. Both require dedication and sacrifice. Many are the times you will miss family events and holidays, either through normal hours, emergency calls, special operations, or having to work extra jobs because your salary isn’t enough to cover your bills.

You patrol neighborhoods, and for your service, you get glares and scowls from people who hold you in the highest contempt because you interfere with their criminal lifestyle. Adult and child alike will verbally assault you on a daily basis.

You attempt to improve quality of life issues for people who refuse to work with you, take no responsibility and do not believe in civic duty. Iraq and Afghanistan vets I have talked to expressed the same issues when serving in those countries.

You are expected to be human and show compassion, yet you are not allowed to have human frailties. It is a little known fact that within three to five years of an officer’s career he will have witnessed the same amount of trauma as a combat soldier.

People question why officers become distant. It’s a defense mechanism to allow them to maintain their sanity to survive a 25-year career. Sometimes it does not work.

Homicide victims with internal organs protruding, sexually molested children, people burnt to death, suicide victims and car crash victims — any of this sound good to you? Your official job title may be law enforcement officer, but you are also expected to be a social worker, marriage counselor, mental health worker, psychologist, childcare provider, and solver of problems and society’s ills.

A law enforcement officer is empowered with the ability to take a person’s life in the performance of his duties. This is not all taken lightly. The decision to use deadly force is dictated by the actions of another.

A law officer will always react to the actions of another person. As a peace officer, we do not come to work looking to engage in a life or death encounter, but we do train for the event. Is this any different than a soldier preparing for combat?

It is extremely unfortunate that there is a segment within our society who place police in the position of having to use deadly force to protect their lives or the lives of another; there is no winner.

Whenever deadly force is used, you can rest assured there are people who will condemn the action as racist or excessive force, excuses will be made as to why the suspect with the gun or the knife refused to follow police orders, and people will say, “Why didn’t the police” do this or that. It never ceases to amaze me at the extreme risks civilians are willing to take with law enforcement officers’ lives.

In a profession filled with violence, criticism and stress, you have to wonder why anyone would want to sign up for this. I believe it is because the special few who can handle the job have a strong sense of self and have the dedication and desire to serve their fellow man and to provide a service that most would fear. Whether it be federal, state, local, major city, town, or rural county, every day in this country men and women don body armor, put on their uniforms, equip themselves and mark on ready for duty — ready for war.

LT. TIM WHITT works for the Franklin Police Department. He can be reached at