Without a doubt, the courageous folks in law enforcement have lost the benefit of the doubt with regards to public opinion. Where officers once were presumed justified in their actions, it is now presumed in the mind of many that it is just another case of officers abusing their authority.
As much as it troubles me, I can somewhat understand how this happened. Events, some accurately portrayed, and others twisted, have been broadcast and rebroadcast ad nauseum. The public has been conditioned to question the action of officers no matter how justified they appear to be.
What troubles me even more, though, is the loss of the benefit of the doubt within our agencies. Sometimes it’s a wholesale loss and other times it’s officer specific.
Wholesale loss occurs when there are unrealistic expectations in place. For example, there are those that believe that any use of force is an indication that the involved officer(s) failed in their de-escalation activities. This default position robs those involved of their due process.
The officer-specific loss is just what the phrase states - some officers have lost the benefit of the doubt. Because of their history, their relationship with the powers that be, or any other myriad of reasons, certain officers are always presumed to be at-fault or guilty. They do not enjoy the same fair process that others in their agency are afforded.
Leaders - true leaders - recognize the need for thorough investigations when there is an issue. Our profession must be diligent with our self-policing activities. If we aren’t, then this really isn’t a profession. But the findings must speak for themselves. They must be seen through a lens that has not stripped our people of the benefit of the doubt.
The benefit of the doubt doesn’t give special favor or excuse wrongdoing. It isn’t soft and it doesn’t look the other way. It simply recognizes that our people deserve to be treated fairly. If we don’t treat our people in this manner, it is unrealistic to expect them to treat those they encounter any differently.