There’s no debating that most people think law enforcement officers are obligated to do more for the “public” than just things that keep them safe and sound.
I think it’s safe to say many people also believe officers should be willing and able to react and respond to their every whim, and more or less be at their beck and call 24-7. In a way that’s true, but I’d say there “to an extent” should be added to that.
I would also say that the obligation factor should extend in the opposite direction as well – from the people to the law officers. I mean, to do their jobs to the utmost (and therefore benefit the people as much as possible), officers can’t be bound down by trivial things that don’t really require their attention.
That’s where a little old-fashioned common sense and discernment comes in. That’s where a person really needs to think twice before calling their local police or sheriff’s department.
In that situation, the question is: Is it really necessary for a law enforcement officer to come here? Keeping in mind the fact that officers are required to respond to each and every call for service received at their respective departments, I submit that a whole lot of people don’t ask themselves that question before picking up the phone.
Evidence of that can be seen in the pile of incident reports written by officers at the Houston Police Department and Texas County Sheriff’s Department. I can personally vouch for that because I see those reports on a weekly basis for job-related purposes (but they’re public record and are actually available to be read by anyone).
For real, I see so many examples of officers responding to inconsequential and even ridiculous calls.
Like, someone got mad because someone else ate the last Oreo again, or four men were in the basement shaking a floor joist in a house that doesn’t have a basement. Or like, a girl is reported missing who is actually at the next door neighbors’ house watching a movie with her best friend, or someone claims their outbuilding was broken into and an ATV stolen when the padlock on the outbuilding is secure and the ATV is parked under a carport.
Really? A cop had to come to your house for that?
Look at it this way: The TCSD has two road deputies on duty (covering the largest piece of county real estate in Missouri), and one is in Evening Shade responding to a call about a dog allegedly peeing on someone’s truck tires again and the other is in Arroll regarding a call about a “suspicious vehicle” parked on the road that actually belongs to a friend of the caller. Then a call comes in from Upton about a real emergency involving someone pointing a pistol at a neighbor’s head.
With both deputies already out on (frivolous) calls, they’re not able to tend as quickly and efficiently to the call involving the “real deal.”
If something goes badly wrong as a result, the blame, of course, is laid upon the law enforcement agency, even though its representatives were simply doing they’re jobs properly.
Trust me, this isn’t close to any form of exaggeration. In fact, the reality of what cops and deputies deal with is very often far sillier.
Another recurring outcome of officers’ responses to calls is for the person who called in the complaint to “decline to pursue charges.”
For example, a man calls the sheriff’s department because his girlfriend threw a DVD across the living room and it hit his ankle. A deputy shows up, and the alleged assailant has “already left” the scene.
After asking a few questions, the officer asks if the man wants to fill out a report and file a charge. The man says, “no.”
The officer is left with nothing to say but something like, “Thank you for participating, sir, have a fine evening.” Meanwhile (due in large part to “Murphy’s Law”), a call has come in from a community 29 miles away where a more actual form of trouble has fired up. Obviously, a less-than-ideal response time follows.
Anyway, keep in mind that if you’re taking up their time with a complaint about an argument over a game of tiddlywinks, officers might not be able to make it to a true emergency soon enough to make a positive difference. The bottom line is, law officers’ time is precious and potentially crucial to someone’s survival (or at least well being), and we (the public) should value it accordingly.
Maybe the best approach is to handle things ourselves whenever possible. Consider that the next time you reach for the phone because you’re sure you heard a voice on the porch say, “land shark,” or you can’t find your bottle opener and you think maybe your roommate took it.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.