A few weeks back, a citizen told me he preferred the title “peace officer” instead of “police officer,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Recently, because of highly publicized, police-related incidents in Ferguson, New York City, and elsewhere, there has been a renewed national discussion about law enforcement professionals. During the holidays, we were thrust into the forefront of that discussion here in Mendocino County when two school basketball teams spoke out by putting messages on their jerseys.
When I think of the term police officer, I think of an officer who uses a law or ordinance to gain compliance. I prefer the term peace officer because it means more than an enforcer of the law.
I think peace officers are professionals who seek to understand and communicate as they work to keep the peace, using laws and ordinances to safeguard our families and our communities.
Peace officers are mediators and facilitators, de-escalating crisis situations to minimize or prevent violence. These peace officers make sure people can safely get to work and school. They keep our children safe from active shooters, sexual predators and school bullies. They help ensure that businesses can operate in spite of robbers, embezzlers, and shoplifters. They safeguard our homes and businesses from burglaries and vandalism when we are not there (and when we are). They protect the vulnerable against domestic violence. They make sure those who suffer from mental illness do not harm themselves or others, and they stop child and elderly abuse. And amongst their countless other daily duties, our peace officers are committed to protecting the individual rights and freedoms of every person they serve.
Many peace officers say that one of the most challenging and interesting parts of their job is how different each day—each call for service—can be. These simple and complex calls for service are problems that we as a community desire to be solved. Sometimes only an officer’s creativity limits the way he or she can approach and solve problems.
That doesn’t mean that peace officers’ jobs are always peaceful, far from it. They often face danger and violence, and our communities have suffered some terrible losses as a result. The passing of peace officers Ricky Del Fiorentino and Bob Davis were devastating, and the on-the-job injuries to officers like Marcus Young, that have resulted in their lives never being the same.
But despite these dangers, peace officers not only do their professional duties, many of our peace officers find additional ways to serve their communities through volunteering. We serve on school and non-profit boards. We volunteer to help at food banks and homeless shelters. We help with youth programs like boys and girls clubs, as well as police and sheriff activity league programs. We work with youth and high school athletes, and we find ways to mentor and educate kids to keep them away from the dangers of drugs and alcohol. I think peace officers volunteer because it helps them to better understand and communicate with those we serve. The peace officers I know do these activities because they care deeply about the communities they serve.
As the national discussion about law enforcement highlights the struggle to find a balance between safeguarding individuals and respecting individual rights, I continue to be proud of our local peace officers who work with integrity and professionalism. Law enforcement dispatchers and officers, who have chosen to commit their careers (despite criticism) to serving as the ambassadors of the peace that we all desire.
Every day in Mendocino County, we have a host of men and women in law enforcement who demonstrate the courage and dedication to serve our community as “peace officers.” I am truly grateful when people honor our law enforcement professionals with the title of “peace officer.” I can’t think of a better—or more accurate—description.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have suggestions on how we can improve please feel free to call me. If you would like to know more about crime in your neighborhood, you can sign up for telephone, cell phone and email notifications by clicking the Nixle button on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.