Are Police Officers Heroes or Villains?

Uvalde SWAT Team Posing with weapons
Uvalde SWAT Team – media

Horrific Incompetence by Police in Uvalde Massacre

(TX) – The nation is in shock now that the real details of the Uvalde massacre are starting to trickle out. School District police chief, Pete Arredondo, ordered the officers to wait. 19 police officers with tactical gear, stood around in the hallway for 47 minutes.  The decision left 10 and 11-year old’s at the mercy of a psycho with an AR-15 type weapon and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Police, even federal ones, waited while the children called 911 begging for help. A total of 21 people were killed and an additional 17 were wounded.

When news of the shooting first came out, the horror and anger was directed at the gunman. We were led to believe that officers immediately engaged him. Then the story began changing from one press conference to the next. The timelines relayed by police were not matching up with the dispatch calls. Reporters were pushing officials for answers rather than just accepting what they said. There is still a lot that needs to be cleared up, but one thing we now know, officers left those children and teachers to die.

A Police Uniform Does Not Turn Someone Into a Hero

The public anger has shifted to the officers. They are being called cowards and rightly so. I don’t know how they justify their lack of action in their own minds. But we, the public, need to take some responsibility too. We act like putting on a uniform magically turns someone into a hero. It does not, and I don’t care what uniform you’re talking about. Not police officers, not doctors, not soldiers, not firefighters, no one.

Heroes are defined by their actions in a critical situation, not by what they are wearing. Idolizing police officers has resulted in them believing they are heroes and warriors, both of which can be problematic. People desperate to be seen as a hero or a tough guy gravitate to law enforcement. Once there, it’s easy for them to pretend they’re that hero or warrior until a real life situation tests them. Uvalde is, by far, not the first time we’ve seen an officer fail when he was tested.

But they face danger every day. We’ve all heard that line. I would debate it, but for this discussion, let’s say they do. So why don’t we call process servers heroes? Or how about repo men?  How about the construction men dangling off the frame of the high rise building that’s being built? Or the electrician working through a storm to bring the power back on? All of those, and many more jobs, are extremely dangerous, yet we don’t automatically think of those employees as heroes.

Failing Up?

Uvalde School District police chief, Pete Arredondo, instructed officers not to engage shooter, leaving children to die
Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo – CNN

I don’t know very much about Uvalde School District police chief Pete Arredondo. I know he started his career as a 911 dispatcher. He has been in law enforcement a long time and was a police chief in Laredo. Arredondo accepted the position of School District police chief in Uvalde and had 3 – 4 men under him. And he had just won a spot on the city council that he’ll be sworn in for on Tuesday.

What I did notice is everyone was saying he’s a really nice guy. That was concerning for me. The reality is, when you’re in a position of authority you’re going to have to make decisions that will anger some people. There will be those who don’t like you. Everyone thinking you’re nice can be an indication you’re not doing your job.

I’ve seen it before. A man keeps getting promoted because he’s nice and everyone likes him, despite being mediocre at his job. His resume starts looking like he’s accomplished a lot when the truth is, his staff is carrying him. Now the resume is boosting his rise. Then a situation comes along that tests his capabilities. The results can be catastrophic. I don’t know if Chief Arredondo falls into the failing up category. I do know that the decision he made cost children their lives.

To Serve and Protect

Law enforcement training needs to get back to the serve and protect mentality. I can guarantee you that no one, not a single agency, pushes the aspect of service. ‘Worship me, I’m a hero‘, and ‘I’m your servant‘ just don’t go well together. And it’s hard to protect people when you view yourself as a warrior and everyone else as possible enemies.

The words hero and warrior are tossed around because they bring in applicants, but using them has warped the mentality that drives the law enforcement mission. We need to get back to the original mission.

It’s a job. A job that can sometimes be dangerous. A job that requires you to protect people. And sometimes that may end up in you doing something heroic. Words matter. Let’s stop encouraging the glory hounds and instead start encouraging those who care about people and want to protect them.

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