When it comes to law enforcement, what’s your default position?

ClarkCountyToday.com, Editor Ken Vance

Editor Ken Vance offers his perception of law enforcement officials and how that compares to the view of others

VANCOUVER — Some 30-plus years ago, I had a family member who found himself in an unpleasant situation with a police officer. The family member shared frustration with me that he had been treated unfairly by the officer.

I won’t go into details because it’s not my story to tell. But my family member felt he was mistreated by the officer, who took him into custody with physical force. I obviously was much younger then and my emotions took over. I was very upset. I immediately took the side of my family member.

I shared the story with other family members and we all shared essentially the same viewpoint. We believed the physical force was unnecessary and excessive. But, I will never forget an ensuing conversation I had with a single family member who didn’t share our popular opinion. His perspective was different. He asked me to look at it from the officer’s perspective and to focus on the fact that it was our family member’s actions (driving violation) that created the incident in the first place.

It was difficult for me to get past my emotions, but eventually, I did look at the incident from that other perspective and I came to the conclusion that the officer was just doing his job and the accountability lied at the feet of my family member. My transformation was also made easier because the officer later extended himself to my family member in a way that made me think he was aware it was a difficult situation all the way around.

I’m sure the actions of law enforcement officials have always been scrutinized in our society, but it seems that scrutiny has increased dramatically in recent years. And now, we’ve had two recent incidents here in Clark County where officer involved shootings have led to fatalities.

Please, hear me say this. I was obviously not present at either incident so I’m not going to profess to know exactly what happened. And, there are ongoing investigations being conducted into each incident. However, with all compassion to the families and friends of the two who lost their lives, early indications to me seem to suggest that the fatal decisions made by the involved officers were justified. That will anger some of you, I’m sure. As is always the case, I don’t expect everyone to agree with the opinions I share in this column space.

For me, it all comes down to a person’s individual default position when it comes to our perspective of law enforcement officials. Are we predisposed to assume an officer is acting in the best interest of the security and safety of the general public or are they renegades with an agenda, just looking for a confrontation?

I think that predisposition is likely greatly influenced by generational and environmental factors, so I respect others who have experienced things that I haven’t. I’m 55 years old. When I came home from school after getting in trouble, my parents immediately assumed a default position that the teacher or school administrator was right and that I had been at fault. Thankfully, I didn’t have much interaction with law enforcement officials during my youth, but I’m sure if I did, my parents would have taken the same stance in those incidents as well.

I also have white skin and live in an area where most of the residents do as well. So, do I know the first thing about how it feels for someone who doesn’t look like me to interact with police officers? Absolutely not. All I can say is in all my years as an adult, I’ve interacted many times with law enforcement officials both as a journalist and a citizen and I’ve never had anything but positive experiences. So that, coupled with how I was raised, has led to my default position being one that the officers deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there are bad cops out there and I’m sure there are officers who have made mistakes. However, I think those are the exceptions to the rule rather than the norm. So, the national narrative that has gained momentum in recent years that law enforcement officials often don’t have our best interests at heart troubles me greatly. And, it is my hope that these two recent incidents in Clark County don’t result in a growing uneasiness in the relationship between area residents and the officers who protect us.


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