In the last two weeks we have witnessed terrible tragedy in our country. The ambush killing of police officers in Dallas, TX and Baton Rouge, LA has highlighted and underscored what those of us in law enforcement already recognize. Simply wearing a police uniform can make you a target for assassination.
Perhaps aided by the advent and proliferation of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, the rush to quickly judge police officers for their actions without the benefit of knowing all of the facts has become the new normal.
Some in the media jump to conclusions and make statements about the performance and actions of officers without having all the facts. That quick judgement can ruin an officer’s reputation and career and further the held belief of some that this is a police vs. us equation. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that to judge a police officer’s conduct when force is used, it should be judged from a 20/20 perspective, but ONLY by what the officers knew at the time of the event. The Supreme Court has afforded the officer’s perspective to be considered when force is used, but it has become quite apparent the media has not considered the officer’s perspective in their evaluation.
Hindsight bias or “creeping determinism” is a phenomenon that results in knowing the ending of a story or event that was totally ambiguous when it began. Have you ever noticed that a scary movie is never as scary or exciting the second time you watch it … it’s because you know the ending. The thing that makes a scary movie so imposing is the unexpected. The recent police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana highlight the use of hindsight bias. The quick judgment of the officer’s actions ignores the dynamic nature of the real world, particularly involving human interaction. My limited knowledge of the facts surrounding the recent police shootings makes it difficult to determine whether or not the shootings are excusable and legal. Those who do not know the facts should refrain from judgement as well.
Officers are human and we should all judge their actions fairly with all known facts. To evaluate officers without having all of the information serves as an injustice to the community, to the individual officer and to the law enforcement profession.
In Oakdale, we have witnessed many examples of a grateful community that supports their police department. The department has received food, notes and cards by residents who wanted to express their gratitude and appreciation for what we do. On one particular day a grandmother brought her granddaughter to the police station so she could thank a police officer in person and all she wanted was a hug from a police officer.
Thank you Oakdale! We are committed to keeping our community safe and we are devoted to working in a partnership with everyone to do so. Together we can achieve great things and continue to make Oakdale a great place to live, work and play.
Michael Harden is currently the Interim Police Chief for the Oakdale Police Department. A veteran of over 30 years of law enforcement experience, Chief Harden served as Chief of Police for the City of Modesto from 2009 to 2012 before his retirement.