The tragic shooting deaths of eight law enforcement officers in the past two weeks has generated a dramatic sense of foreboding within some of our first responders.
Hardin County Sheriff’s deputies are actively talking about how they can stay cautious enough to avoid being hurt in inter-actions with the public and avoid ambush. And on the topic of living in a post-Baton Rouge, post-Dallas world, Hardin County Sheriff Ed Cain says the whole thing is a terrible tragedy.
And Lumberton Police Chief Danny Sullins says his officers are deeply impacted by the attacks.
“We’re more cautious… ya know, you get into this concept of ambush. That is not something that enters their (officers) mind usually. But when something like these ambushes do occur, they are more aware of their surroundings. So there’s a conversation about it. We’re talking about it. But more than anything what’s going on is – this is just heavy on their hearts,” said Sullins.
Sheriff Cain told the Ledger, “I don’t know what’s going through their head, somebody (the attackers of police) who does that,” said Cain.
“It’s sad that people feel like they need to turn against the police for whatever reason. And if you feel like they (law enforcement) are not doing their job, there is an avenue to take - to take care of that situation. But it’s not going out to retaliate against the police or any authority at all.”
Chief Sullins told the Ledger, “If someone points a gun at a police officer and threatens deadly force, they can expect to be met with deadly force.”
Sheriff Cain has been in law enforcement for almost 30 years and laments the notion that America has gone through such a societal shift.
“I don’t have any objections to people protesting but I think they should be law abiding and civil… and not forcing officers to have to work even more and causing tensions to rise between citizens and law enforcement. That’s not helping anything. The people that are against the police and feel the police have done something wrong, there’s ways to take care of that without causing more riots and more trouble. That’s not the answer to it,” said Cain.
In the case of Hardin County, complaints can be lodged with the Sheriff’s Office that can result in further investigation.
When the Lumberton Ledger asked Cain for insight on the videotaped officer-involved shootings that have generated such ill will in some quarters of America, the sheriff defended most law enforcement officers and maintained that in his experience there is very little heavy-handed treatment by officers.
“These men and women go out on a daily basis to help people. No one gets up in the morning with an intent to hurt somebody… In that 30 years, I’ve never had to use deadly force. I’ve had to use some minor force, and… I’ve never been around anyone that talked about hurting anyone – regardless of their color - just because they thought they could,” Cain explained.
The Ledger asked Cain for strict sincerity on any abusive policing ever seen in his experience and the sheriff responded with what sounded like remarkable candor.
“I’ve seen an officer go too far, yes. A last punch, a last kick. Because of the anger of the situation… I can think of one or two situations (in 30 years) that I felt like were out of line… Someone has taken a last slap or punch. And that was out of anger and out of emotion. We in law enforcement are supposed to control that.”
But Cain said the notion that racial views have ever come into play would be inaccurate, “I have never personally seen that… I am not going to sit here and say that some people are not biased in certain areas or something like that. But I have never seen an officer or anyone I’ve worked around in my 30 years, do something because of race – because of color.”
Cain says the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office is actively involved in updating body armor with newer technology but has no plans for immediate changes in policy or in asking deputies to ride in 2-officer “teams” as a response to the apparent new dangers. And he says deputies are training extensively in verbal de-escalation tactics to prevent violence of any kind.
With the preface of that questioning, the Ledger then drilled down on the Baton Rouge shooting specifically involving Alton Sterling. We asked about the video of the shooting that touched off days of angry protest and the arrest of at least four persons on charges related to threats of injuring officers. It may have fomented the deadly shooting deaths of three law enforcement officers and the wounding of three others. Cain said emphatically that he could not possibly determine the guilt or innocence of the officers based on that video.
“I’ve learned in my 30 years you don’t judge too quickly because there’s a lot more to the story than what’s on the surface. There is a whole lot more to it I’m sure that what you see on the surface.”
And Cain implied there was a rush to judgment both on the part of some in the public and by the U.S. news media.
“I think there’s too much of that (rush to judgment.) I realize the public has a right to know. But let’s get the facts before we put it out there… we have many, many examples. But… angles have a lot to do with it. When did the tape actually start? A lot of what we’re seeing is on cell phones. But when did the thing start? Did it start a couple minutes or even 30 seconds after the first of the incident? Nobody gets to see that part. They just get to see the officer reaction. It’s kind of like a fight on the football field. The referee doesn’t see the first action. He sees the second action…”
The sheriff argued that a video, with all its potential to clarify, could also put forth a misleading impression. Cain said it’s difficult to know all the facts even with video.
“It’s almost impossible to get all (the facts) of that. It (the video) would have to almost be staged like a movie. Until you get all of that you can’t possibly make a determination as to what exactly happened and why it happened. Just don’t be quick to judge. Look at all the facts. Human nature is for all of us to take a side, and dig in… And that is not going to accomplish a thing in the world. Let’s look into these things. And if there is wrongdoing let’s let it be investigated and tried,” said Cain.
Sullins said the data proves there is not a policing crisis in the country. He says there were a relatively small number of deaths (roughly 900) over a period in which there were about 300 million encounters with police.
“One is too many, but that’s pretty low. More people die of medical malpractice - die on the operating table or in surgery than in deadly police encounters,” said Sullins.
The chief told the Ledger, “We are just more vigilant and we are sad and hurting right now for our loss of brothers who have been killed. But we are still going to do our job, we’re still going to enforce the law and protect the public.”
Sheriff Cain closed his points by expressing tremendous gratitude for the public support galvanized by anger against law enforcement officers.
“We really appreciate it. I just hope people would do it on a daily basis. Just like we support our military in protecting our country. Protect your law enforcement that’s protecting your specific city or county. That should be a daily action.”