This past Thursday, April 30, we gathered at the memorial in front of the police department to remember our fallen co-workers, just as we have done for the past nine years since the death of Officer Robert D. Targosz. Not only do we honor the memories and sacrifices of Rob and Lieutenant Eric Shuhandler, we also honor all those who have served, are serving, and who will serve to protect this great community. I feel blessed to serve in Gilbert alongside the men and women of this police department and with our brothers and sisters of Gilbert Fire and Rescue. I thank everyone who participated in the memorial service and the Pride and Honor Run/Ride.
Just inside the door to our Communications Center, there is a board where a “quote of the week” is posted for all to see as they enter to start their day. Recently, I saw a quote and the message resonated deeply with me. I feel that it not only reflects what Rob Targosz and Eric Shuhandler stood for, but that it was a very timely reminder in light of what has been happening in our profession lately. The quote is by Dave Willis and it says, “Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.” The importance of this message is immense; we will soon be posting it where you will be reminded of it each time you leave our building to carry out your difficult and demanding duties.
As I think about the continuing national debate on police / community relations, I often wonder why the discussion never ventures into trust and confidence within a community being a two-way street. The police must respect all members of the community and conversely, the community must respect the police and the rule of law. We have been given the responsibility to treat people with dignity and respect, even when we are not treated likewise. We can hold people accountable for their actions and maintain order in the community while treating them as we would want members of our own families treated. At the same time, there needs to be an understanding that we are tasked with enforcing the law and maintaining public order. To do that, we cannot always make people happy. At times, it is necessary for us to use reasonable force to not only protect us and others, but to maintain order in the community. As I have said before, the place to resist the police is in the courtroom or through the complaint process, not during an arrest or detention. We have an obligation to carry out our duties in a lawful and responsible way, with the mission of solving problems, maintaining public order, and protecting not only ourselves but the public we serve. This is what ‘policing with a purpose,’ is all about and it should guide our decision making and use of discretion.
We also have an obligation to hold officers accountable when there is evidence that they failed to follow the very laws they are sworn to uphold and if they fail to do so, we must enforce the policies of our department. Unfortunately, we have seen situations where officers have violated the law and their oath of office. There are those with agendas, both political and personal, who are trying to lead people toward believing that this behavior is widespread and systemic in American policing. The actions of a few do not reflect the majority; most officers and departments serve their communities with bravery, honor, and dignity every day. These officers have earned the respect of the law abiding citizens of their communities. Conversely, we must also remember that those who riot and commit acts of violence against the police are small factions within their communities; most people are law abiding and respectful. As I have often said before, I want people who break the law to fear being caught by the police, not to fear the police.
We are fortunate to live and serve in a community where the greater number of people support and trust our police department. We have earned respect by showing respect. I thank you for your efforts.
As always, thank you for what you do to serve our community. Selfless service is our business. Stay safe.