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Opinion

Law enforcement shows its softer side

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but politically speaking, there’s a big old mess out there.

I don’t really want to focus on sides. Pick a side, stand up for your side. Be aware that sometimes your side is very, very wrong. Stop pointing fingers. Vote.

But in the meantime, some people have been caught up in the middle. And none more so than the police.

Over the past few years, law enforcement in towns across the country have jumped in on a community engagement trend – reach out to the public by being more relatable on popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (the Morris police department has joined in on this trend, as you can read about on page 6 of this edition.)

Departments have begun to use their social media to reach out to the public in a unique way, with information peppered with humor.

Last week, I attended National Night Out in Minooka and Braidwood. Both events connected members of local law enforcement with the community, and the parks were packed.

In Minooka, Police Chief Justin Meyer braved the dunk tank while officers handed out snow cones and free gadgets and gizmos to families.

In Braidwood, Police Chief Todd Lyons engaged in some spirited smack talk with members of the Braidwood Fire Department as the two groups took each other on in a game of tug of war.

Whether it’s social media engagement or community events, the effort is to show the public the personal side of law enforcement. But that personal side is nothing new.

When I was a kid, my mother, who was not prone to driving too fast, managed to get pulled over for speeding. It was unusual, but she just hadn’t been paying attention.

When the officer approached her car, she was pulling her driver’s license out of her wallet. But under her license she had hidden her “emergency” money – a crisp $100 bill. As she pulled the ID from the holder, out popped the money, as if she were trying to bribe the officer.

“Oh my goodness, that’s not what it looks like!” she wailed.

The officer laughed. She was told to slow down and have a good day.

Every police officer I have ever interviewed has had a good sense of humor. I think it’s possible it’s a job requirement.

The truth is, police officers have a job that the average person thinks they understand, but they just don’t. People find the act of getting a speeding ticket to be an annoyance, without ever realizing that speeding is dangerous, and hey, maybe just slow down.

The things that police officers see on a regular basis, even those in small towns like Morris and Minooka and Braidwood, can be shattering. Overdoses. Terrible car wrecks. Domestic abuse. Talking to a police officer on the scene of a terrible incident can be heart-wrenching, knowing that they’re describing what they’ve seen with their own eyes. They carry that with them.

But because the truth of what law enforcement sees is often not made public, the negative can seem magnified, prompting departments to reach out to the public on a “relatable” level.

But it’s not an act. That humor is ingrained in your law enforcement.

It’s a difficult path to navigate, because for sure there actually are bad police officers. Just like there are bad teachers and mayors and house painters and supply chain managers and, yes, even bad journalists.

But it’s unfair to hold all officers accountable because of the behavior of those “bad apples,” just as I don’t want to be judged as a reporter and editor based on the performance of someone who is lazy, unethical or blatantly biased.

While some law enforcement officials are elected, for the most part, police work is nonpartisan. We all need the police.

The police don’t ask for your party affiliation when they answer a 911 call, they just show up. We should show up for them too.

• Marney Simon is the editor of the Morris Herald-News. She can be reached at msimon@shawmedia.com.

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