In 2014, some high profile incidents took place leading to an era of controversy surrounding police interactions with the community. Since then, various police agencies have spent a great deal of time leading the headlines. Unfortunately, in keeping with the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy of major news outlets, the only time these stories remain in the public consciousness is when there is some sort of negative connotation, real or imagined, directly relating to the actions of the police.
That being the case, it’s easy for us to forget that out of 900,000 police officers in the country, and millions of police contacts a year, only a handful make the news. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that only about one percent of police contacts result in some sort of use of force, and it’s a fractional percentage of that that proves unlawful.
This list is to remind ourselves that there are many great police officers out there that serve their communities in many ways, both quiet and loud. Here are ten examples, starting recently and working backward, of the police fulfilling their obligation to protect and serve.
10. Service to their community, August 2015
Los Angeles Police Department Officers Jonathan Maldonado and Albert Ledesma are used to being flagged down by the general public, but 14 year old Christopher Cazares, and his mother, had a unique request. Christopher was on his way to orientation for his freshman year of high school, and wanted to look his best for the school ID photo he would be taking. Unfortunately, he was having trouble tying his tie, and the YouTube videos weren’t helping. Without hesitation Maldonado and Ledesma jumped out of their car, and assisted the young man, in the process making a statement about the humanity that lies beneath the badge and the gun.
9. Racing the train, August 2015
In Sunnyvale, California, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Deputies Lance Whitted and Erik Rueppel heard a car crash. When they looked for the source of the commotion, they found a car that had collided with the crossing guard pole at some train tracks. Without hesitation, and with the oncoming train plowing toward them, the deputies pulled the driver from the vehicle, dragging him to safety. The dramatic incident was captured on camera, and later went viral.
8. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, June 2015
In Brighton, Colorado, an SUV with six passengers inside veered off the road, ejecting all six occupants from the vehicle. Officer Nick Struck was among the first to arrive, and had a two year old girl handed to him by a paramedic. As the medical professionals attended to the more severely injured, Officer Struck did his best to comfort the relatively uninjured girl. Three of the other occupants were driven to local hospitals, two were airlifted, and the girl’s father was killed, but Officer Struck used the tactic he employed at home with his own two year old daughter to bring her a measure of peace. He sang a lullaby to her as he carried her away from the ensuing chaos.
7. Two for one, June 2015
Holly Springs (Georgia) Police Sergeant Nathan Ernst reported for what he thought would be a normal day. He didn’t know that, by the end of his shift, two people would owe him their lives. Early in the shift, he responded to a medical emergency, where he found the man unresponsive. His years on the job allowed him to recognize, from the totality of circumstances, that the man had overdosed on heroin. He quickly administered a Narcan shot, waking the man up. The recreational heroin user was then transported to a hospital where he was expected to recover. At least, until next time. Later the same shift, a fire engulfed the home of Shirley Pruitt, who is bedridden and has cerebral palsy. Alongside Sergeant Derrick Voss, of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s office, Ernst rushed into the home and helped carry Pruitt out, undoubtedly saving her life in the process.
6. Outgunned, not outclassed, May 2015
Two Islamic extremists objected to Pamela Gellar’s controversial free speech event, in Garland, Texas, that featured cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. Instead of writing their congressman or taking to the airwaves with local and national media outlets, the two men armed themselves with a total of six guns between them. They then drove into an entrance, blocked by the car of an unnamed Garland Police officer. The two men got out of their car, and opened fire with semiautomatic rifles. Despite being severely outgunned, the officer engaged the men, taking them both down and saving countless lives.
5. Don’t you die on me, April 2015
John Depue was driving his big rig when he found himself in medical distress. He passed out, and his rig plowed through a guardrail and down an embankment. Ohio State Highway Patrol Officer Eric Devers was the first on the scene, and quickly rushed down the slope. Devers found Depue hardly breathing, and immediately started CPR. As he administered chest compressions, Devers constantly verbalized to Depue, shouting, and pleading with him, “Keep breathing. Don’t you die on me. Come on.” He kept this up for the twelve minutes it took paramedics to arrive. Depue was transported to a hospital, and made a full recovery.
4. Running toward danger, December 2014
When Newark (California) Police officers Andrew Musantry and Steven Losier came across a burning building, just after midnight, they could have waited for the fire department to arrive. Instead, they rushed inside, crawling up the stairs when the smoke got too thick, where they found a disoriented 55 year old woman sitting on her bed. Waking to the flames engulfing her home, the woman seemed to still be trying to understand what was happening. Musantry and Losier weren’t certain if she would make it out of the building on her own, so the two of them carried her down the stairs to safety.
3. It’s cold out there, November 2014
That Jeffrey Hillman turned out to have resources available to him through the VA isn’t important to this story. What’s important is that New York Police Department Officer Lawrence DePrimo reacted to what he saw in front of him. To Officer DePrimo, Hillman was living rough, and barefoot, at the start of a New York winter. Concerned for Hillman’s ability to withstand the cold, DePrimo selflessly spent his own money to buy boots for him, giving them to Hillman in a now iconic photo that shows what police can be at their most caring.
2. Police station under attack, January 2011
Some people, for some reason, operate under the misconception that nobody really tries to hurt officers. That’s not true, and never has been. The truth is that nobody reasonable tries to hurt officers, but that the more unreasonable a person is, the more likely they are to come in contact with the police.
Lamar Moore, 38, was certainly unreasonable. He walked right in the front door of a Detroit police station with a shotgun, and opened fire. What ensued was a frantic, close-quarters, firefight that ended with Moore dead, and four officers wounded. Among the wounded was the station Commander, Brian Davis, who can be seen in the video muzzle to muzzle in a point blank confrontation with Moore.
Obviously this situation is more of a story of self-defense than it is a story of serving the community, but there are two things to consider about this one. First, I would submit that officers are an integral part of the community they serve. When an officer becomes a victim, the community loses at least as much as when a resident becomes a victim. Looking at it that way, these officers that fought back against this assailant were serving their community as they protected each other. Not only that, if this guy was willing to take on armed officers, there’s no telling how dangerous he could have been had he not been stopped. Secondly, this goes to show just how unreasonable some people can be. It takes an extraordinary level of commitment to harm officers, knowing they are trained, and will retaliate with force, up to and including lethal force. Yet he did it anyway. And he’s not the only one who does.
If anyone is curious about what could possibly lead someone to attempt such a thing, there were some big events happening in Mr. Moore’s life. Ten days prior to the shooting, Moore had kidnapped a 13 year old girl, assaulted her, and was keeping her locked in his basement handcuffed to a toilet. On the day of the shooting, he was at court for a relative of his who was on trial for a double murder. Moore’s relative was convicted, then, in worse news for Moore, he returned home and found his captive had escaped. Apparently nothing left to live for, and knowing the police would come for him anyway, he armed himself and headed for the station. Ironically, as the gunfight ensued, other officers had surrounded Moore’s empty home and were waiting for a warrant.
1. Fort Hood, November 2009
Nidal Malik Hasan, an extremist that describes himself as a “Soldier of Allah,” did his best to bring Jihad to American soil. Though he was a U.S. Army major, and a trained psychiatrist, Hasan was the subject of an investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force due to a series of emails between him and known terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki. Before the investigation could end in an arrest, Hasan made his move, single-handedly attacking Fort Hood with the full knowledge that soldiers on the grounds were unarmed. Hasan killed 13 people, and wounded 33, before being confronted by Sergeant Kimberly Munley. A member of the civilian SWAT team, Munley, and her partner, were responding to the shooting when she saw Hasan chasing a wounded soldier. She immediately jumped out of her car, running toward Hasan, and opened fire. Hasan was able to return fire, and both combatants went down. Thankfully, Munley survived, having been shot in her legs and her wrist. Hasan was paralyzed, and on August 28, 2013, was sentenced to death.
These are just a few examples of the hundreds of thousands of great officers currently operating in the United States. We don’t hear about most of them at all, and the handful of positive stories that do make the news, unfortunately, don’t last. It would behoove us all to remember that police officers willingly sign up to risk being murdered in the line of duty, on the behalf of complete and total strangers.
Omar Davis is a public servant and a self published author. His novel, When Powers Play, is currently available on Amazon.