Stand with PA Law Enforcement after Police Shooting

January 17, 2017

By District Attorney David Freed (Cumberland County)

As most of us were celebrating the New Year, our state law enforcement officers were recovering from a different sort of holiday weekend. One of their own, Pennsylvania State Trooper Landon Weaver, of Blair County – did not get the chance to see the New Year. He was gunned down in the line of duty late on December 30th; behind the trigger was an assailant known to have anti-police sentiments.

When Weaver became the 136th officer nationally to be killed in the line of duty in 2016, his death mirrored a chilling trend. The number of officers killed in the line of duty rose 10% last year, including a 56% increase in shooting deaths – from 41 to 64. We saw ambush-style attacks such as those in Baton Rouge and Houston and even closer to home with the attack on Philadelphia Officer Jesse Hartnett last January.

Responding to domestic violence calls, traffic stops and robberies in progress are dangerous enough. Direct threats against our police stand to erode the very safety of the people and communities that rely on them. It’s simple. When the police cannot safely do their jobs, communities suffer.

Many police departments have somewhere in their motto and mission “to protect and to serve.”  In the business of modern life, it is easy for most of us to lose sight of – or more likely not even think about — the service portion of the job.  Men and women, like Trooper Weaver, are responding to a call to serve when they first choose a career in law enforcement.   In doing so, they knowingly enter a profession in which they will be held to high standards and willingly accept that the simple act of reporting to work puts their life at risk.

Most citizens don’t have to think about the police unless they are in a situation where an officer is needed.  I say it is time for citizens to think about police, and what they do for us more often.

As prosecutors even in the busiest jurisdictions, our offices deal with small percentages of the population.  I often tell my staff, the law-abiding citizens are with us, even though we may not hear from them.  It is the same for police.  Despite news reports and social media posts, I still believe the vast majority of citizens support the police and what they do for us.  It is time for the silent majority to show them that support.

Rather than allowing the police to become a target of scorn and disrespect in social media, I’d like to see that majority take a moment to express an understanding that law enforcement officers have made a life choice to give a large part of themselves to others.  Rather than letting protests aimed at causing police psychological stress create a lasting memory, a simple “thank you” goes a long way to make up for all the times when duty calls and police willingly give up their own important personal and family events.  Rather than columnists and bloggers persuasively working to delegitimize the police and erode confidence in the criminal justice system, it would be great to see some positive energy on the Internet expounding on that something special that motivates a person to show up for his or her shift never knowing what danger they may encounter.

Democracy itself is dependent upon the rule of law.  We have rules, and as citizens, we agree to abide by them.  That is not to say there aren’t ways to improve or that we turn a blind eye when things aren’t working.  As a prosecutor, I have dedicated a good portion of my time in office not just making sure those who break the law are held accountable, but holding the system itself accountable to the people it serves. In doing so, I have had the privilege to work with police officers every day and see their great work and dedication to the communities they serve.  As citizens, we are all beneficiaries of their good work and service and now more than ever those of us who appreciate their service and sacrifice must be willing to lend our voices to show them the respect and appreciation they deserve.