Originally published by Jeff Lindsey in Knoxville News Sentinel on Jan. 9, 2018
Among the tasks that awaited me the first day of work after the holidays was sending a sympathy card to the Douglas County Sheriff in Colorado from our team at the University of Tennessee’s Law Enforcement Innovation Center. Douglas County Deputy Sheriff Zackari Parrish was shot and killed in the line of duty during the early morning hours of Dec. 31. Four of his fellow officers were wounded in the same incident, but thankfully escaped death.
Along with the other 124 law enforcement and corrections officers profiled at the Officer Down Memorial website who died in the line of duty in 2017, Parrish began his shift that day knowing that his death in the service of others was possible. As all law enforcement officers across the nation do around the clock, 365 days a year, he willingly placed himself in harm’s way as a buffer between chaos and the citizens he served. These law enforcement professionals come in all races, creeds and backgrounds. All of them voluntarily go into the line of fire. We are blessed to have many of these fine women and men serving in East Tennessee.
Typical of their counterparts across the nation who pin on a badge, the bulk of local officers are driven by the call to serve others. It is certainly not for the money. Tennessee ranks in the bottom fifth of the nation for average law enforcement pay. Many local agencies pay their officers well below the state’s average. Yet, these special men and women are still willing to log in every shift, understanding it could end with a condolence visit to their family.
East Tennessee has had its unfortunate share of law enforcement martyrs. The most recent was Maryville Police Officer Kenneth Moats, who lost his life on Aug. 25, 2016, during a domestic violence incident. So strong was his sense of duty, Moats responded to the volatile domestic violence call even though he was assigned to a narcotics unit.
The last few years have been difficult for the law enforcement profession. In addition to the myriad challenges that confront law enforcement agencies daily, several high-profile use-of-force incidents have unfortunately opened or widened rifts between the involved agencies and the communities they serve. In some of these incidents, a narrative that does not always prove to be factual has replaced constructive dialog.
As humans, law enforcement officers are not perfect. Indeed, every serious use-of-force incident, especially those wherein a death has occurred, requires very intense and transparent scrutiny. Where legal and ethical lines have been crossed, appropriate consequences should follow. Nonetheless, law enforcement officers also deserve the rights of due process and equal treatment under the law. While oversight and accountability are essential, the sweeping majority of law enforcement officers are conscientious, trustworthy and committed individuals who place service to their communities at the forefront of their efforts. The maxim is true that no one deplores a “bad cop” more than a “good cop” does.
Last October, I had the opportunity to attend a large conference of law enforcement leaders representing every level of government and the entire spectrum of law enforcement organizations in the United States. The presentations and candid conversations at the conference belied a popular narrative of policing agencies being out of touch or blind to the needs of their communities. It was overwhelmingly evident that the hearts of the law enforcement leaders present at the conference were committed to selfless service, community safety, justice and professionalism.
When you look beyond the headline of a law enforcement officer who dies in the line of duty, you will see a real person whose loss affects family, friends, their agency and the community they served. Noted author Meg Wheatley stated: “You can’t hate someone whose story you know.” Why wait until the always-untimely line-of-duty death of an officer to get to know more about them? Make an effort to get to know your local officers through your club, place of worship, school or neighborhood association by inviting them to meetings or special events. When you do, you will get to know their story. And, as importantly, they will get to know yours.
Jeff Lindsey is the program manager at the Law Enforcement Innovation Center, an agency of the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service.