What is a truly good job? It’s not always the easiest or highest-paying. There are many factors that need to be considered.
We are confident we can name the most difficult job in just about any community, and almost certainly here in North County. It should be obvious to everyone that being a police officer is serious, stressful work.
We can’t think of any other civilian occupation that involves putting on work clothes that include weapons, and going out into the community to face often heavily-armed sociopaths. The pay is decent, but probably not commensurate with the degree of personal risk a police officer faces, day in and day out.
That risk factor is part of a debate in the California Legislature, with competing use-of-force bills being considered. One attempts to limit officer-involved shooting fatalities, while the other would essentially maintain the status quo, the guidelines for which were developed more than a century ago.
Police-involved shootings are very much in public view these days, thanks to officers’ body cameras and bystanders with smart phones that record everything. Hardly a day goes by without a violent confrontation plastered all over newspapers, social media, cable and network news.
The element that usually is not on full display is what happens before and after such an event. And that often is where the real story can be found.
Throughout California in 2017, the latest period for which complete data is available, 172 people were killed by law enforcement, including 155 who died from gunshot wounds. Two officers died during that time.
Santa Barbara County agencies had eight serious use-of-force incidents, three of which resulted in civilians being killed. Santa Barbara County use-of-force incidents in 2017 ended in a civilian death 37.5 percent of the time, compared to the statewide average of 24 percent of law-enforcement incidents that resulted in civilian deaths.
Police officers aren’t always dealing with criminals, despite what you may see in TV cop dramas, but officers must be prepared at every stage of their patrol shift for a worst-case scenario.
Many officers now working in North County agencies received their training at Allan Hancock College’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy in Lompoc, where aspiring police officers and sheriff’s deputies undergo a rigorous, 21-week program that includes a minimum of 60 hours use-of-force incident training.
Many law enforcement officers will complete a long career, then retire, having fired their weapons only on the practice range. But as small as the chance of being involved in a use-of-force shooting event may be, every officer has to be prepared — mentally and emotionally ready to make a split-second decision.
Mitch McCann, associate dean of Hancock College’s officer academy, makes it very clear to aspiring officers that an officer must be prepared every time he or she arrives at a call, not knowing what’s going to happen when they step out of their cruiser. There is no script for these tense situations, which unfold of their own volition, and lightning-fast.
Unless a person has been in a combat situation, there is no way most of us can appreciate the stress level police officers face every time they approach an unknown situation. It’s not difficult to imagine that self-preservation is an important consideration.
Special-situation training at the outset is the key, something lawmakers should keep in mind as they consider police-related legislation. Unless you’ve walked in those shoes on dangerous streets, you do not know the whole story.