(This Op-Ed by yours truly, appeared in the May 26 issue of Florida Today)
Date: April 1, 1976. April Fool’s Day.
Three detectives, all friends, all under age 32, spotted a stolen car in a motel parking lot in Miami Beach. They asked the desk clerk about the car owner who was occupying a street-level room. Before the cops had a chance to knock on the suspect’s door, the clerk alerted the car thief by phone. One by one, these fine young men, with families, were ambushed as the shooter fired his 12 gauge through the window.
Funerals were drenched with tears. To this day, I know fellow cops who never got over it.
That year, over 200 police officers died in the line of duty in America. Sure, it’s a risk built into the job, but there’s something horribly sinister about cops dying in ambush, for no other reason than being a police officer.
Since records have been kept, starting in 1791, (according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial) 21,541 officers have been killed in the line of duty. That doesn’t include the multi thousands more seriously injured and/or crippled while serving as our protectorates. The majority of these cop killings occurred in rural settings as opposed to the bellies of major cities.
In our own state’s rural setting, it happened again on April 19, of this year. Two young officers were enjoying an afternoon meal break in a small-town diner in Trenton, Florida when a gunman approached the glass window and shot both officers to death, for no reason other than their chosen profession. The killer committed suicide. Sgt. Noel Ramirez, 29, and Deputy Taylor Lindsey, 25, are gone. Their families still grieve.
Approximately 900,000 law enforcement officers are employed in local, state and federal positions in the United States. These are honorable professions which provide a sense of dedication among the officers who are truly among the heroes of America. Police agencies earnestly do their best to weed out men and woman who are not suited for police work. It is rare when a mistake is made and someone becomes a cop who shouldn’t be a cop. Considering the thousands of officers who work to protect us all, it’s not surprising that a half of one-percent (my estimate) may be unsuited which can lead to misdeeds that generate headlines. Americans should know that law enforcement agencies do everything possible to make sure every cop hired has a history of honesty, integrity and competency.
In my 30 year career with Miami-Dade, I have personally known and worked with thousands of officers. While some criminals have targeted police for death and injury, I feel confident that no cop, anywhere, ever leaves for work with a premeditated intent to harm anyone. There simply is no evil cabal among police officers. It doesn’t exist. We may come across a rogue cop now and then, but in the overall numbers, they are very rare.
Then there is the branding of cops as racists, particularly by hate organizations fueled by some media outlets that thrive on discord. I have been a personal witness to the vast changes that have taken place in the police world, from 1960 to the present time. There was a time when racism was rampant in certain areas of the nation. Those days are over, gone, relegated to the history books. Throughout the past 50 years, police agencies have done a complete turnaround in procedures, training, hiring and promoting of police personnel to ensure the “racist” tags are no longer applicable.
It’s a new world from my early days on the job. We are all equals. We are all educated, over-trained, reasonably paid and proud of our professions. Management knows no color. Cops continue to face peril, on a daily basis, and some 150 to 200 will meet a violent end every year, leaving families grief-stricken.
Remember, the cop who is hated because of the uniform he wears, may one day be the cop who saves a kid’s life.