Spirituality for Today – Fall 2016 – Volume 21, Issue 2

Wearing the Badge

Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

An photo of a police badge.

An organized, government sponsored police force is a relatively new phenomenon in human history. In recent times, the "thin blue line" separating an ordered society from a chaotic mass has been taken for granted and undervalued. Policemen, like churchmen, are entrusted to witness to the very high ideals of moral character concomitant with the trust and power bestowed upon them. Understandably, society is critical of any "bad apples" present among either vocation. Albeit predictable, failure to uphold the sacred trust granted them by society casts a shadow of skepticism and disdain upon all of them. Regarding the many law enforcement entities in our country, the portrait of a society without them would be terrifying. During the social tumult and anti-government sentiment exhibited by many in the late 1960s, I remember being impressed (and amused) by a slogan on a bumper sticker in support of the beleaguered police force: The next time you are in trouble, call a hippie. Transport the scene to today and the slogan, although historically nuanced, still has application and potency.

Accusations of police bias, brutality, and unprofessionalism too often has merit. Additionally, comprehensive surveillance by the police is matched by comprehensive surveillance of the police. How pathetically droll it is to see the public foregoing being a Good Samaritan in favor being a good cameraman. Rather than assist and support the police officers doing their job protecting and serving others, bystanders appear indifferent to the plight of victims in hopes of recording a misstep by law enforcement. Thankfully, often reason and honesty does prevail in occurrences involving police and the citizenry. This is illustrated in the narrative of a hit–and–run incident that overturned a car trapping the driver referenced in the Time magazine article, What It is Like Being a Cop Now, by Karl Vick:

A woman named Vanessa Brown walks up and down the line of bystanders, urging them to click off. 'They are not doing anything wrong,' she says. She introduces herself as a state representative and flips her phone to her Facebook page, where she posts videos purporting police abuse. But that's not what's going on here, she emphasizes. 'They were on the scene immediately, she says. 'When they say Philadelphia's Finest, this is Philadelphia's Finest.' …The crowd is silent to the point of reverence as the driver is pulled out, and after an ambulance carries her away, people linger. A man points to a security camera on a nearby store, which may have caught the miscreant. Another man approaches McDonnell [police officer]. 'You the officer who was in there?' he asks extending his hand. 'Thank you, sir.' McDonnell nods. 'Anytime' he says.

One of the main tasks ahead is for law enforcement to be keenly attuned to promoting within the community their motto, To Serve and Protect. And those living in high crime areas need to "take to the streets" protesting criminal acts and also they must affirm and support organizations in their community that exemplify what is needed to enhance the quality of life in their area. The churches in the community are the bastions of hope for a better life; the schools are the foundation for making a good living, self-help organizations provide the opportunities for a successful life and growing as responsible citizens. All of these entities – especially the churches – must not be left in the background as the influence makers among the people, but must become the "main attraction" for all who live in the community. Solid moral values will lead to strong families, good personal choices, and a respectful attitude toward all. In reference to our topic, law enforcement's relationship with the members of a community can be essential in a common cause of identifying the hurdles to be overcome and in creating a strategy to address them. This is easier said than done and the degree of success is variable, but the fallen nature of humanity always has been engaged in the struggle for good over evil. Until the Day of Judgement, we must be found battling for righteousness.

I pray that the recognition that faith in God's love, mercy, and grace is the source of all human dignity and worth that will transform persons and a community into a fortress of justice, growth, and mutual respect. This energy for establishing a virtuous life belongs to all communities as well. Let us also pray for those who wear the badge of law enforcement and that the image of the badge may represent those who safeguard and aid all that strengthens and vivifies the well-being of people.