The damage of civic duty

      A couple of months ago, a newspaper reporter said something that I can't stop thinking about. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Crocker Stephenson addressed his readers in January referencing a trial he was covering for the newspaper. Another unimaginable, horrific abuse was committed against an infant resulting in death. Stephenson reported on the case for the paper and as a part of the story, had to sit in on the trial and read volumes of evidence and paperwork documenting the terrible circumstances that lead to the baby boy's death.

   When I read his commentary, I couldn't help but think of another civic duty and the folks who participate in these pre-trial events: law enforcement.

   Because there were reports, pictures and tomes of documents in the case file, it's safe to assume the police who came upon the death scene were the ones who collected and preserved that evidence.

   It was a grisly case that included photos that stuck with the reporter. But he did his job. And while reporters must face these crimes as a part of their civic duty, police are even more so confronted with these images.

   Just as Stephenson took a minute to shed light on the damage of reporting such cases, I would like to take a moment to draw attention to the costs to law enforcement personnel. Both reporters and police, though in different forms and to different ends, do as Stephenson says: Pay attention and tell the truth.

   In an ideal world, each faction performs his or her duty and moves on. But in an ideal world, people wouldn't suffer the horrors of homicide or death at the hands of abuse. As Stephenson noted, exposure to these sorts of repugnant acts damages people. It damages cops, jurors, legal staff, reporters and the list goes on. But the "willingness to confront such monstrosity, to weigh it and judge its meaning, civilizes us," Stephenson writes.

   We become instruments of civic duty in fact-finding for the most awful, inhumane crimes but we perform them to hold those accountable and work toward that ideal world.

   Another note: Most agencies have counseling and support available for officers. Be sure to utilize that resource.

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