Back in May 2002, during my first year on this magazine, we ran a cover story titled “Who Wants this Job?” It essentially concluded there was a shortage of officers because people would rather do easier jobs, with less physical risk, for more money. That officer shortage continued throughout much of the first decade of this century. Then the crash hit in 2008, and people wanted to be cops, but no jobs were available.
Demand for police jobs was short-lived. The justified officer-involved death of Michael Brown in 2014 led to the rise of a wave of anti-police sentiment that crested last year—we hope—in the George Floyd riots. Now it seems nobody wants to be a cop.
So contemporary law enforcement agencies are coping with a persistent and deepening shortage of sworn personnel. Some can’t hire because of defunding; some can’t hire because of the losses in tax base that their jurisdictions suffered during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; and others can’t hire because the profession has been stigmatized by the anti-law enforcement movement.
An agency that is short of officers faces many concerns. And one of the most critical of these is not making bad hires just to fill the ranks. It’s difficult finding people with the right temperament and skills to police a democratic society under even the best circumstances; it’s nigh impossible in post George Floyd America. And making the wrong hire for a law enforcement agency can be disastrous.
Last month a man I believe should have never been an officer was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for the death of George Floyd. Derek Chauvin could have taken a variety of different actions that day rather than keeping Floyd face down on the pavement for more than 9 minutes. He showed disregard for Floyd’s well-being. Even if Floyd was experiencing a fentanyl overdose, which I believe he was, Chauvin’s actions lacked compassion. And that has been disastrous for both America and American law enforcement.
Derek Chauvin is now the most-well-known American to wear a badge in the 21st century. To some he is the symbol of American policing. Just writing that makes me want to grind my teeth and then scream. The stories of so many other officers should be told long before Chauvin’s infamous actions on May 25, 2020.
Here are the stories of two officers who died last month upholding the highest standards of American law enforcement. They should be more famous than Chauvin. Their statues should be built in American cities instead of George Floyd, who did not deserve to die in 2020 but was by no means a saint.
On June 4, 2021, Officer Enmanuel Familia of the Worcester (MA) Police Department died in the line of duty by drowning. Familia, known as “Manny” to friends and family, was on patrol about 1:35 p.m. when he was called to the city’s Green Hill Park. There is a massive pond in that park and three teenagers were in distress after deciding to take a swim in the pond, which was marked “No Swimming.”
Firefighters and police officers were on the scene when Familia arrived. Five officers, including Manny Familia, went into the water. Four officers came out after rescuing two of the teens. Familia and a 14-year-old he was trying to rescue deep in the pond did not make it.
We don’t know why Officer Familia died in that pond. The information has not been released. It’s possible that he suffered a medical emergency. It’s possible he got snagged on something under the water. It’s possible he overexerted himself searching for the drowning teen and could no longer swim. What we do know is that when someone else was in trouble, Officer Familia answered the call, and he made the ultimate sacrifice.
Familia was on duty when he died. Seattle officer Alexandra “Lexi” Harris was driving home from her shift after 1 a.m. on June 13, 2021, when she came across a multi-vehicle accident on I-5.
She got out of her personal vehicle to render aid to the injured motorists and the Washington State Patrol (WSP) troopers who were dealing with at least two accident scenes. She was struck by a vehicle and killed. Then to add insult to ultimate injury, one of the people she had stopped to help drove off in her vehicle. The driver who struck her remained at the scene.
The WSP issued a statement that summed up Officer Harris’ actions that early morning. “Although Officer Harris wasn’t wearing the SPD uniform, she was no doubt continuing to carry out her public safety responsibilities—something she was under no obligation whatsoever to do—but did so for one simple reason: That’s who she was.”
I understand the stress agencies are under in trying to fill their ranks. But I urge police leaders to hire the dedicated, the selfless, and the compassionate to wear your agency’s badge. Hire the Familias and the Harrises, not the Chauvins. Don’t lower your standards to just add officers. You will pay for that mistake in the long run.