Being a cop can be tough, unpleasant and dangerous. For some people, the police uniform triggers an irrational loathing, a knee-jerk rejection of authority.
But being a cop can also be heady. Some police officers get an unhealthy rush when they put on the uniform and gun. They may overstep their authority, which can involve trampling on the rights of law-abiding citizens.
Two recent incidents in the East Valley involve police officers accused of taking their authority too far. In one case, a Gilbert police officer is accused of barging into two homes to look for his teenage daughter, who hadn't come home when she was supposed to. The other case involves at least one Tempe police officer accused of getting a bit heavy-handed with some peace demonstrators at a city park.
Let's all keep in mind that at this point these are still allegations. Nothing has been proven. Investigations are ongoing, with results yet to be forthcoming. Like everyone else in this country, police officers accused of wrongdoing are entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
But it's perfectly permissible to suggest — even demand — that these incidents be investigated vigorously and thoroughly. That is because the rights of citizens are sacred; and since police are entrusted to use force, they must be held to very high standards of conduct. Any hint of misconduct must be taken seriously.
Finding a runaway minor is serious business, and there are lawful ways a parent can and should proceed if they believe their child is secretly staying with a friend. Simply entering uninvited is neither necessary nor lawful — something a police officer is certainly expected to know.
Similarly, although individuals demonstrating lawfully in a public park ought to expect a law enforcement presence to ensure order, no one behaving lawfully should be bullied or intimidated by the authorities.
Keeping our society safe requires well-trained, well-equipped cops with a healthy measure of courage. Keeping our society free requires that they also have sound judgment.
Any officer found to have run roughshod over law abiding citizens' rights has no business in uniform and needs to be sent packing. Too much is at stake — including the potential for disaster in split-second, life-and-death decisions — to tolerate poor judgment or unsuitable temperament in the men and women entrusted with enforcing the law.