Have you ever heard of Trevor Casper? Is he a household name? Trevor Casper graduated from high school four years ago and graduated from his police academy in December of 2014. On March 24, 2015, Trooper Trevor Casper was shot and killed while attempting to apprehend a robbery and murder suspect in Wisconsin. Trevor Casper was a warrior, he was a hero, and he was a sheepdog. The sheepdog metaphor is nothing new, but perhaps we should reflect upon it.
Police officers have taken a black eye recently. Much like the sins of Adam cast upon all men, a video showing an excessive use of deadly force seemingly becomes the Scarlet Letter for every police officer.
One does not have to look hard to find recent stories of high ranking political leaders falling for their corruption, or judges indicted for taking bribes. The parallel examples could include prosecutors, defense lawyers, ministers, educators, journalists, or about any profession. Yet, I do not see these rabble rousing calls for reform of the political process, education system, or even demands for increased training for those who appear in a courtroom. I do not hear Washington D.C. constantly weighing in on these sins against the public trust. Perhaps these pundits realize that the sins of the very few are not in fact all too familiar. Perhaps they believe a public official caught violating his oath shows a system at work, not a failed system.
I have had the displeasure of investigating the criminal conduct of several police officers, mostly for self-destructive behavior, but sometimes for crimes predicated upon corruption. In those extremely rare cases, the faith in my brother officers was not damaged, but made stronger. The peace officer collective has no tolerance for such conduct and the focus and effort to expose and remove it far exceeds that expressed by the typical pop culture soundbite.
We live in an era of tranquility where civilized order is the norm. For this, we should be proud. However, these cocoons of order can result in a certain naivety. In fact, so many critics have no idea of the predators among us. The ugly truth is that there are a significant number of human beings who have absolutely no morality. There are, in every community, sexual predators who refrain from abducting, raping, and molesting women and children only because of the threat of being apprehended and punished. There are even more thieves who would break into any house (even the home of a criminal apologist) to steal firearms, money, or family heirlooms if the thief knew he would get away with it.
The absence of order is not always hypothetical. Immediately after a tornado hits an urban area, there is a temporary suspension of social order, and just as quickly, looters look to steal while good people seek to help those that are hurt. The same phenomenon takes place when order is lost during a riot.
Imagine just one weekend night where every person in America knew there would be no arrests for drunk driving. Most Americans would fear leaving their homes. But tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people would take to the road driving drunk. How many people would be killed on this one night? Yet, every weekend night, in every town, in every county, in every state, there is a peace officer working who very possibly could catch a person driving drunk and take them to jail. We all know this, we don’t live in such fear, and our families are safer for it.
When the police detractors go to sleep tonight, there will be a peace officer patrolling their community. This peace officer is not just working to catch the predator after he acts, but to actually prevent the predator from hurting the detractors’ families.
The most effective sheepdogs don’t just catch the wolf, but keep the wolf from ever attacking in the first place. But every now and then, a wolf will attack. It is the nature of a wolf. When he does, every nearby sheepdog will take chase to catch the wolf. They will be prepared, trained, and do everything they can to catch the wolf. Sometimes the wolf gets away before the sheepdog even knows of the attack.
And a wolf that attacks once will almost certainly do it again. Only now, the wolf has learned and become more cunning, sly, and emboldened. The sheepdog is no longer a sentry, but must hunt and capture the wolf before he attacks again.
I have had co-workers—I have had friends—shot, killed, spit upon, bitten, and even stuck with a needle used by an intravenous drug user. Beyond the risk, the life of a peace officer can be hard with difficult hours, strains on the family, stress, and baseless attacks in a courtroom. Missing time with your family to investigate a crime against someone you have never met? That may sound crazy to someone who works every day in a cubicle. But I guess peace officers are different—actually, I know they are.
Almost all humans have the instinct to run from a gun fight; Trevor Casper ran to it. Sheepdogs don’t run from danger. There will be peace tonight, thanks to the peace makers. Thank you, Trevor Casper. Thank you to every officer who has fallen. Let’s all give thanks for the sheepdog on duty today, tonight, and hereafter.
Brian Surber is the first assistant district attorney for District Twelve in Oklahoma. He is also a former special agent with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics where he also served as the deputy general counsel and general counsel.