Now let's see: Scooter Libby, tireless public servant earning $161,000 a year with perks only common folks like me, and perhaps you, could only dream about, gets his sentence commuted by President Bush, yet two decorated Border Patrol agents, underpaid and overworked by most standards, sit in jail without the White House willing to acknowledge the case deserves a full review by the courts. Is there something wrong here, or is just me?
And don't even get me started on our toe-tapping, "I'm not gay and never have been gay" senator from Idaho, Larry Craig, recently inducted into Idaho's Hall of Fame. I viewed the Idaho Hall of Fame's web site and found it interesting that not a single member of public safety or for that matter, a deserving life-long volunteer, was being inducted this year along with the happy senator. What about the police officer from Moscow, Idaho, who was gunned down and killed earlier this year while protecting the public? Doesn't he deserve to be honored in some way by the state? While the Idaho Hall of Fame may not be the most appropriate place to honor a fallen police officer, given the choice, I think the giving of his life for others certainly outweighs the "sacrifices" made by a senator earning over $180,000 a year and treated like royalty by others.
It's time to redefine "public service" in America
The end effect of all of this high praise for folks in Washington and others in our state governments is that if we don't stop now and redefine what "public service" truly is and what it is to be a "public servant," we may wake up some day and have no public servants left to protect us. As I travel the nation working with hundreds of law enforcement agencies each year, I hear horror story after story of how short they are of qualified police officers and deputy sheriffs. Never in the history of our great nation has there been such a demand for new officers to backfill the slots of those who are leaving. While there has been no clear-cut study on the reasons why people don't want to be a police officer, you can't help but think that the messages our leaders in government are sending is affecting the decisions people make when looking at a career in law enforcement. A young officer is killed in the line of duty, yet aside from his mourning family, friends and members of law enforcement, the only person of significance from government to take time to attend his funeral is the state's attorney general, while the governor is already in the area. A friend and employee of the President of the United States is convicted by a jury of his peers, no arguments or allegations of a wrongful trial, etc., and he gets off free and will most likely be pardoned in 2008. Yet two decorated Border Patrol agents sit in jail for doing their job while the government admits to an improper trial and false evidence used against them. And let's not forget, the person they shot is alive and well, is a convicted drug dealer, and during the trial, was arrested again for drug dealing. But none of that evidence is allowed at trial.
So what does all of this have to do with volunteers in law enforcement?
The bottom line is that members of the community who volunteer their time to assist law enforcement, whether it be in an administrative role or as a fully sworn reserve officer, are not immune to what's happening in our nation. The reason why agencies are sending their personnel to workshops like mine, that deal with recruiting and retaining volunteers, is because just like the shortage and difficulty in getting qualified applicants for full time sworn positions exist, so does the need and challenge for qualified volunteers. It is incumbent upon all of us in the public safety profession to let our elected officials know enough is enough. We need to get back to basics and give sincere thanks to the people who truly serve the nation while putting the people they serve before themselves, versus the other way around. Perhaps, if every time a police officer was killed in the line of duty, an announcement was made on Capitol Hill and everyone in both the House of Representatives and the Senate buildings were required to stand at attention, with their hand over their heart and head bowed in honor of the fallen hero, it would start to kick in who the real public servants are in America.