Well, it seems the times they are a changin' after all. The bizarre "War on Cops" seems to be diminishing somewhat, perhaps thanks in part to the rise in murder rates in major cities. Recent polls reveal that America does not, in fact, think that law enforcement officers are oppressors or the cause of crime, any more than doctors are the cause of disease.
Actually, the results of a nationwide poll showed that the American people respect our profession at the highest levels since the 1960s. Maybe now the drive to nationalize our training and force everyone to pay into the kitty of certain handpicked private companies will begin to subside. It is certainly possible that the Justice Department will again spend their time looking at public corruption and criminality, rather than second-guessing local police agencies in their decisions, policies, and issues.
We have reason to hope that the bully pulpit of the presidency will again speak well of the "Thin Blue Line," rather than snipe and cajole whenever a high-profile incident occurs. Many of you on the street today have never known a Justice Department, Executive Branch, or even a local news channel that was on your side. It was a rare luminary, such as Sheriff David Clarke from Milwaukee County, WI, who cried out for us in a wilderness of unrelenting negative press and junk science that condemned local officers' and deputies' every move.
Our profession, which has led the way in outreach to all communities since the early 1970s, was branded as "racist" and "oppressive," and those of you who tried to speak out were told that you just didn't understand, or that your perceptions were controlled by an invisible hand of bias guiding your every action. Those of us who tried to use facts, data, and contradictory science were scorned or, worse, ostracized.
Sadly, the very organizations we hoped would speak out against the falsehoods often failed to speak up or even acted as enablers of the falsehoods. The image of a police chief standing with Black Lives Matter activists, and a sign supporting them, didn't get ridiculed; he instead got hired by a much larger agency. Training agendas became filled with sensitivity sessions and self flagellation, while officer safety seemed to take a back seat.
Meanwhile, officers died in ambushes and assaults without the media showing real outrage…but the people knew. The most free society since the beginning of civilization still has citizens who do not want to "escape from freedom," and who actually remember and revere the warrior class of individuals who sacrificed to buy that liberty. Kneel for the anthem…fine, NFL revenues go down 11%; take Black Lives Matter's side…fine, lose an election and become what is essentially a regional political entity. America has taken a side, and it is law enforcement's side.
Expect a major pro-law enforcement shift in the next year. Training and equipment will again be focused on winning the war on crime, drugs, and suffering; many of the chattering class will be silenced when they lose the bully pulpit support they so desperately need. Yes, it would appear a new day is dawning.
But now the bad news: While officer deaths by assault went up as national tensions rose, deaths by accident went up as well. As stoic warriors, we know the need to control the things we can control, and injuries due to accidents are very much within our control. The failure to wear seat belts is still a major killer among our ranks, and it just makes no sense. No officers were killed in the last few years by not being able to get out of their seat belt, but many spent their last seconds of life lamenting not taking that second to put one on. The single greatest act you can do to make sure you live through your shift is to wear your seat belt.
Other recent tragedies have involved accidental discharges, blue-on-blue shootings, drowning, being thrown from a horse, and even falling and suffering head trauma. The officers killed in these accidents averaged 13 years on the job so, just as in deaths by assaults, the veterans seem to be less safe than the rookies.
So here is the simple truth: Things are getting dramatically better; America never lost faith in you; training priorities are probably going to get back on the right track. But make sure you live to see it. Wear your armor and your seat belt, slow down, check your six, and take care of your brothers and sisters. We will recheck the data next year, and I want to see that the times they are a changin' in officer safety.
Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.