Mayors of Utah Valley: When public and police support one another, all benefit
Last week, I attended American Fork City’s annual Night Out Against Crime event. Perhaps many of you attended similar events in your towns. Night Out Against Crime is a national event held in towns and cities across America with the purpose of strengthening police-community relations. In American Fork, we had residents, businesses, food trucks and our police all together. There were craft stations, bicycle tracks, a dog show, fun games and lots of free stuff. We even had a dunk tank where people lined up for an hour to drop me in water. I loved every minute of it!
American Fork City’s Night Out Against Crime event was loads of fun. But it was also educational. Residents were able to meet our police officers and learn about the tremendous resources they provide to our community. They learned about the equipment police use to stay safe, the technology used to stay ahead of the curve and the training they undergo to keep everybody protected. It was a wonderful night of learning and bonding.
The Night Out Against Crime events are just one example of how police departments are an integral part of our communities. Our police are all residents of our cities and as such they are invested in keeping people safe, not just from crime but from accidents, health issues and even from loneliness. As officers are typically first on scene, they must be ready for anything. In addition to law enforcement, our police officers sometimes act as medics, counselors, therapists, financial advisors and friends. Our officers train to be proficient in many of these roles so they can better serve our community.
Our police department does more than just patrol the streets. American Fork City police have a social worker to help with mental health issues, a victim advocate for domestic violence, and resource officers and a Communities That Care coordinator to connect with and help our youth. Our officers understand that police work is no longer one dimensional. Instead, our police have adapted to be the resources that our citizens want and need.
With all that is expected of officers it’s no surprise to hear they are not always perfect. Even if they were, they would still face formidable challenges when making decisions based on imperfect or incomplete information. Many calls to which officers respond are rapidly unfolding where time is of the essence, and they don’t have the luxury to analyze every potential solution, outcome and subsequent repercussion. Officers are trained to think critically, take in as much of their environment as possible and make the best decision with the limited information they have.
We want and expect officers to learn from every mistake, big or small. But it’s easy to armchair quarterback people’s actions where hindsight is 20/20. It’s important for society to not just analyze the decisions an officer made, but also the conditions in which those decisions were made.
In addition to the immense pressure to keep people safe while not making any mistakes, our officers are also often subjected to the worst society has to offer. Like a sponge, they absorb all the bad so that our residents can feel safe and secure. With that sort of work environment, people can run the risk of becoming hardened. Yet American Fork’s officers are warm and engaging. That is because there are many times when officers also get to see the best in society — most often when citizens come together in a critical incident to save an individual’s life or to support an officer who is in danger. These moments give me and our officers hope and sustain them through the rougher times. I would also like to acknowledge our officer’s families, who themselves must sacrifice, not knowing on a daily basis where their family member in law enforcement is or what dangers they may be in.
One of the charges of a mayor is to ensure the health, safety and well-being of their community. I have reflected on that charge often since being elected as mayor. Our police department affects all three of those categories; health, safety and well-being. That is why they are considered an essential public service. I support my police department and I appreciate everyone who does the same. I am grateful every time I see a resident pay for the meal or drink of an officer because I know that on more than one occasion that same officer has reached into his or her pocket to pay for the meal of another resident in need. We need to support our police departments because they do so much to support us.