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Yes, they are ‘law enforcement officers’

August 24, 2018

Re: “Training guardians, not warriors, a first step to better police forces” Opinion, Rudy Apodaca, Aug. 5:

Judge Apodaca’s thesis is that public support for law enforcement has declined because the recruitment and training of officers are inadequate. I have not seen any recent scientific reporting of public sentiment, but there has been pervasive media coverage of demonstrations against officers by special interest groups. I believe that an objective study would reveal that any decline in respect for law enforcement is caused more by opposition to the rule of law than by incompetence or misconduct of officers.

Having served as a prosecutor and trial judge, I have worked with and observed law enforcement officers for almost 50 years. During that time, officer training in Texas has become mandatory and has increased in quantity and quality. Recruitment criteria have become more stringent, and hiring practices have become more objective. As a result, law enforcement has evolved from a vocation to a profession. It is questionable, therefore, that public support for peace officers has diminished because of deficiencies in recruitment and training.

Assisting people in need has always been a component of police work. While a sheriff and I were investigating a murder case years ago, he interrupted the investigation to answer a call to kill a snake in an elderly lady’s yard. Describing the sheriff as a “guardian” does not make helping people a new element of law enforcement; it is only new terminology.

Use of force by officers to suppress violent behavior and neutralize threats of violence has always been, and must continue to be, an essential function of law enforcement. Describing officers who perform that function as “warriors” is social science jargon.

As long as ours is a government of laws — not of men — public officials will be needed to enforce the laws. I disagree that calling these officials “law enforcement officers” is a mischaracterization. They are in the trenches and on the front lines of preserving the rule of law by enforcing the law.

Even with the professionalization of law enforcement, there will be incidents of misconduct by officers because at times they succumb to the human emotions of anger, fear and pain, and make split-second decisions under stressful circumstances that may be flawed. When officers act unreasonably, they must be held legally accountable.

I believe, however, that an objective analysis of the reasons for any decline in public support for law enforcement officers will disclose that it is fueled principally by nihilistic and self-indulgent rejection of the rule of law.

Robert R. Barton is a senior district judge in Kerrville.

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