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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Relentless Action in Response to School Shootings

Every time there is a tragedy of great magnitude such as that of Newtown, Connecticut, there is a societal uprising demanding to know why it happened and how it could have been prevented. The special interest groups stand on their opposing platforms to make their cases for more guns or less guns while the rest of us try and sort through the rhetoric to find a logical and practical way to keep lunatics from killing our children.

As a mother, I want the peace of mind that comes from knowing my kids are safe when I drop them off at a learning institution. We no longer take that for granted and we certainly cannot afford to live in the mindset that “things like that only happen in other places.” We are Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, NIU, etc. When something like this happens to one of our neighboring communities, it happens to all of our communities and that means that we as a collective society must stop pointing fingers and take collective ownership.

In the days following the tragedy, I received many calls from concerned parents and heads of educational institutions who wanted to know how the police department intends to respond to this tragedy and what measures we have in place to ensure that this doesn’t occur in our community. I can assure you that the police response to any shooting – no matter what the venue – is to move towards the gunfire and eliminate the threat. You can rest assured that we will do what we must to preserve life and you are in good hands with our capable and skilled police officers.

But let’s be realistic. The police cannot be everywhere at all times. As you are well aware, the police are called as an event unfolds – not before. And that might mean there will be casualties before we arrive (even with the typical response time being under three minutes). Knowing this, we have to find a way to predict and prevent these incidents before they occur.

We don’t want to glorify the killer by giving him notoriety but at the same time, we have a burning need to understand why he did what he did. We desperately need to understand what goes through the mind of a human being as he enters a school and assassinates the most innocent of all creatures – children. We have to know the “why” so we can gain preventative insight.

As a police officer, I feel very strongly against arming our teachers with guns. I think it’s preposterous that we would attach that responsibility to our educators who already have enough of a challenge. Besides, firearms are only as good as the proficiency of their user. We want our teachers devoting their time to better educating our children and not shooting at targets on a firing range. Let’s leave that to the police.

Many parents scoff at the thought of metal detectors in our schools because they liken it to the resemblance of a prison. Personally, I think that there should be an armed security guard at every school and those coming in should be subjected to metal detectors and searches. We’ve become accustomed to the security measures in airports as a result of terrorism so it’s time we took the same measures in our schools where body counts continue to rise.

Ironically, we devote much funding to equipping our schools with construction that is aimed at fire prevention in the form of flame-resistant materials, fire alarms, sprinklers, etc. When is the last time you heard about a fire that killed 20 students at a school? Exactly. So why not provide the same preventative (and costly) measures to prevent killers from entering our schools?

We have learned that mental illness plays a role in all of these scenarios. And I think I can safely surmise that walking into a school with the premeditated intention of killing people you don’t even know is a clue that you aren’t right in the head. We know that mental illness can strike in the most unpredictable of places. In other words, mental illness and instability does not discriminate and even families that provide a stable and loving environment may have this cross to bear.

It’s not guns that are the problem; it’s putting them in the hands of unstable people that are the problem. The Chicago Police Department touts that it takes over 4,000 guns off the streets yearly. As of last week, 465 people were killed in Chicago as a result of gunfire. So, if guns are being confiscated under stricter gun control laws, how are people still dying? Heroine is illegal as well, but if you want it bad enough, you will find a way to get it. In other words, criminals will find a way to get their hands on what they desire even if it is illegal. Period.

With that, we need to take responsibility for our own homes and our own families. In every single school shooting, there were signs. After the massacres, people rose up and said of the shooter, “I knew there was something wrong…” but no one did anything about it. As police officers, we find it painful and frustrating to tell families that there is nothing we can do with a mentally unstable person unless they are a danger to themselves or someone else. It’s ludicrous because it’s often too late after they’ve exhibited violent tendencies towards others. It’s time that we as a society provide the resources to better address mental illness.

The conversation starts here. The problem-solving starts now. And it must be followed by relentless action.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Random Acts of Altruism

*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News on Sunday, December 16, 2012

You have probably seen the photo of the New York City Police Officer who gave a pair of boots to a homeless man who had no shoes. The photo went viral on the internet after a tourist happened to be in proximity and hear the conversation between the officer and the man.

Like many, I was extremely touched by the random act of kindness by the officer and was glad that it was captured in a photograph for the world to see. But unlike so many others, I was not surprised by what I saw.

I’m always disturbed by the negative perceptions that many people have of law enforcement officers that make a gesture of kindness seem so out of the ordinary.

A part of me wishes I could have a camera ready every day during an officer’s tour of duty so people could have snapshots of all the altruistic acts performed by the men and women in blue. However, the officers would never allow such a thing because they know that sincere altruism is acting with genuine kindness and not expecting recognition.

A police officer in Plano, Texas recently pulled a man over for expired registration. When the officer advised the man that his license plate sticker wasn’t valid, the man offered no excuse other than to say he simply could not afford a new sticker. In weighing the option to feed his kids or to break the law by driving with an expired registration, he opted to feed his children.

The officer wrote the man a citation for the expired sticker. However, he included a $100 bill with the ticket and told the man to use the money to update his vehicle registration.

This is one of the many times in life where we apply practical wisdom to a situation. There is no disputing that fact the driver broke the law and there are consequences for such (imposed fines in this case).

The officer opted to apply a completely different solution to his problem-solving. Discipline is derived from the Latin root “disciplus” which means pupil or student. The actual meaning of discipline is not to impose punishment but rather, to teach.

When discipline is applied, it should be done in a teachable moment with the outcome being to alter behavior. In this scenario, the officer applied humanity with a teaching moment. The consequences were still present but the solution was even greater. The officer gave out of his own pocket to ensure the man understood he needed to comply with the law and gave him the means to do so.

We don’t know the identity of that police officer because he insisted on remaining anonymous. We only know the story because the driver opted to tell it. I can guarantee you that there are countless stories that are very similar that have never been told because that’s exactly the way the officers wanted it.

There has been some criticism for the NYPD Officer’s actions after the same homeless man was later seen on the street with no shoes after receiving the boots. There is speculation that he sold the shoes for alcohol or drugs. The same can be inferred about the motorist who received the $100 bill. Might he have opted to use that money for something other than what it was intended? Perhaps.

We will never really know if the people on the receiving ends of acts of kindness will selfishly abuse the gesture, but that doesn’t mean we should stop being kind. There will always be those people who lie, manipulate and scam their ways through life. But there is just as many whose lives will be changed as results of these random acts like those of the police officers.

I’d rather be a person who gets taken advantage of now and then, than someone who distrusts mankind.