‘Keep Politics Out of Policing’

On July 4, 2020, Toledo police officer Anthony Dia was shot and killed in the line of duty. During Dia’s final radio broadcast he asked the dispatcher to “tell my family I love them.” But those would not be his final words.

Officer Dia was a 26-year-old husband and father of two boys. Officer Dia, a Muslim, also penned a letter to his family during the month of Ramadan titled “My final words and will to my family.” The letter was read by his cousin at officer Dia’s funeral. I would encourage each of you to listen to the words of this remarkable human being; they are profound and beautiful (Link to the video: https://tinyurl.com/officerdialastwords).

Officer Dia is not the exception in the law enforcement profession but is a shining example of the extraordinary men and women who wake up every day to serve our communities. Yet most of you do not know anything about these people who answered a call to duty only a select few can imagine. And that is a shame.

As a former police officer, I can tell you there is one true core belief that every officer carries with them every day. No matter the situation, no matter the person, they would without hesitation surrender their life to protect a person in need of aid. In the words of officer Dia, a law enforcement officer puts on the uniform every day with “the intention to protect the weak and innocent” in their communities.

There were no national protests of outrage, no gatherings across our nation in support of officer Dia’s family, no national candlelight vigils, no T-shirts with the words “Tell My Family I Love Them.” Why would there be? Officer Dia was only a cop doing his job. What makes officer Dia or any one of the 17,000 men and women of law enforcement special? It is a shame many cannot answer that question.

As I watched the most recent protest in New Hampshire, I was struck by a few thoughts.

First, New Hampshire has the finest police learning institute in the country, with an outstanding curriculum and highly professional standards. Yet, I doubt very few of these protesters knew this. That incidents such as those that have occurred in poorly governed communities around our country do not happen in a New Hampshire is a testament to the high professional standards set by our state and our communities.

Second, for most protesters, this was the first time they had ever really gathered with their community. That is a shame. We have lost our sense of community and we barely know our neighbors, including the men and women who serve us, because they are our neighbors as well. As most of you have withdrawn from community stewardship, more and more has fallen on police officers to correct.

We seem to have no problem unfairly blaming the police for their lack of communication skills (based on false assumptions), yet we ourselves are ill-prepared or unwilling to build relationships with those in our neighborhood. When a dog barks or a kid misbehaves, we call the police because we lack the simplest decency and communication skills to chat with those that live on our street. We complain about “over-policing,” yet we don’t hesitate to cry for the police for trivial matters.

We ask that not all people be judged for the negative actions by a few in our professions or community, yet that is exactly what we do with our police officers. Yes, police should be held to a high standard, but so should we as citizens, as should all professions that can have a life-altering effect on our lives.

Poor teachers, corrupt politicians, callous medical professionals, unethical mortgage lenders, dishonest contractors all are capable of inflicting incredible harm on us as individuals and on our community. Some of you reading that list feel offended because you or someone you know performs those jobs, and you believe they are dedicated servants in our community. Why should we judge a whole community based on one or two bad apples? My response, “exactly.”

Lastly, how many of you really know anything about your police department? We demand oversight, yet the final oversight is with us as citizens. Only now when something happens hundreds of miles away, in a different state, do we demand what we aren’t even aware may already exist.

Just as we have outsourced our community stewardship, we have abandoned our relationship with our police officers. Most of the answers we are seeking regarding police reform are already at our fingertips.

Is your police department nationally accredited by CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies), and why does that matter? The Minneapolis Police Department is not nationally accredited, and the politicians failed to support this extremely important step. There are only 16 CALEA nationally accredited police agencies in New Hampshire. Want meaningful reform? Start with CALEA accreditation.

Do you know if your police department offers a citizen’s police academy, and if so, why haven’t you attended? And if they do not offer this, why not? Citizen police academies are vital programs to building stronger ties between police officers and the communities they serve.

Have you hosted a neighborhood community event with police officers? If all we do is call police officers when there is a crisis, when tensions are high and emotions are out of control, why are we not surprised that communication between our police officers and our community is misaligned?

Officer Dia gave his life in the service of his community. Every day, officers are injured simply trying to make a difference on our behalf. Let us not judge this noble profession because of a few bad apples but let us also take notice of our own failings as a community. In the words of officer Dia’s father – “keep politics out of policing … and lend support to officers.”

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