Families of Seattle Police Officers held a rally Tuesday (March 22) outside the West Precinct at Eighth and Virginia to show support for their loved ones. The idea came about because several officers’ wives felt that their husbands were being painted by a negative broad brush of public perception that was not deserved.
The perception of police officers in major metropolitan cities tends to turn on specific events and tragedies. When an officer dies in the line of duty, the community rallies around his or her family and grieves together for the loss of a dedicated public servant. Conversely, when an officer makes a mistake or is involved in a shooting where a member of the community dies, the media and public opinion tend to define a department as out of control with officers in need of more training and restraint.
The challenge for elected officials charged with civilian oversight of the department is to show support for officers and their families for their many sacrifices while holding individual officers accountable. Officials must also make sure that practices and procedures are in place to protect officers and the community.
When an officer dies in the line of duty, his or her memorial is well attended by any number of elected officials, officers, command staff, and community members. I have been to more of these than I care to count. Watching the loved ones of the deceased officers break down during the ceremony is almost unbearable.
So, I went to the rally at SPD West Precinct on Tuesday night to express understanding to officers and their families of their sacrifices and the constant worry that accompanies being married to someone performing this dangerous job. As I stood there, I could not help but picture the wives and children at so many sad events that are etched on my memory — the services for fallen officers Joselito Barber, Jackson Lone, and Timothy Brenton.
We honor fine officers in death, can’t we also honor them in life?
The last few years have been very hard on the department and the families who support its work. It has also been hard on the family of John T. Williams. His death is a tragedy that should not have happened. But it should also not turn us against each other as we work to continually improve the department.
I still have major concerns about sending young officers out on patrol by themselves. Had there been an experienced officer in the car with Officer Ian Birk that fateful day, the Williams tragedy may have been averted. This is a question that elected leaders and the SPD command staff need to address.
And then there are the stories that are rarely told. How about the undercover officer who was at Tuesday’s event with his family members? He works undercover to bust pimps who traffic in young girls for prostitution. A judge will soon decide on sentencing for a pimp who sold a 14-year-old girl into prostitution. The pimp is likely to get 20 to 25 years in prison.
The officer (we’ll call him Officer Smith) has put in long hours, spent many nights away from home, and has had family vacations canceled in order to bust this guy and others like him. He loves taking these creeps off the street. We should be grateful and supportive of his enthusiasm and commitment to the job. There are hundreds like him.
There was not one elected official at the rally last night. The families will probably hold four more at the North, Southwest, Southeast, and East precincts. It would be a good idea for our elected leaders to at least tell the families "thank you". They are not asking for much more than that. And we ask so much from them.