On June 7, shortly before midnight, a woman allegedly driving under the influence lost control of her vehicle in South Salt Lake and drove into a pond. Responding police officers quickly realized that a baby was still inside the vehicle. They jumped into the water and swam into the submerged vehicle. Guided by feel in the murky water, they were able to remove the child from the car. We should all thank the police for saving a baby boy.
Now, suppose we had defunded the police so they were not available to respond in a timely manner. Who would have been available to rescue the baby?
The idea that there should be no police to protect the innocent is downright scary. On-duty police in major urban areas, such as along the Wasatch Front, often go from call to call. Most of those calls involve someone being harmed, needing protection, a crime in progress, reporting wrongdoing of some sort or responding to accidents. What would happen if there was no one to respond to those calls? Most of us know intuitively that anarchy would quickly overcome our peaceful communities.
As in any profession, there is an occasional person who does not have the skillset or temperament to properly do the job. However, defunding the police because of a few would be a classic example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Rather, we should support changes necessary to make what we have function as well as possible to maximize public safety. In saying so, I am reminded of a statement recently quoted in the press from Provo Police Chief Richard Ferguson, that “there’s nothing that makes good cops madder than bad cops.”
Tragic and totally unjustifiable incidents, such as the killing of George Floyd, remind us that reforms such as banning kneeholds and chokeholds and the universal adoption of body cams are needed. There is no room for racism in law enforcement. A transition to a community policing model which emphasizes public engagement in local organizations has proven to be a workable alternative in many cities. Also, unlike many other places in the world, in the United States we can rest assured that the police cannot make an arrest without due process of law.
Being a police officer is an honorable and respected profession. We need to show our deep appreciation for our police and their families who, with little thanks and generally modest pay, put their lives on the line on our behalf every day. Those of us who have spent any time with a police officer know that there is no tougher job in the community. They and their families endure restless nights so you and I can sleep peacefully. Indeed, since 1786 there have been 22,217 police officers killed in the line of duty in the United States. The recent killing of Ogden police officer Nathan Lyday will be a sad addition to that total. Can you imagine how his family felt when the chief of police showed up at their house with a chaplain to bring the bad news?
For their public service in fighting crime, we should give our men and women in blue the respect they so fully deserve. When we see a police officer in our community, we must recognize that he or she is there to protect and to serve, and we should go out of our way to thank them for their public service. We can all feel a little more comfortable in our daily lives knowing that they are there.
We have police, courts and jails for a reason. Without them, a small but lawless segment of our society would quickly turn our peaceful community into chaos. We should fix the limited portion of our policing system that has problems and keep the vast majority that is good and continue on with a police force that works for us all.
Richard Snelgrove has served as an at-large member of the Salt Lake County Council since 2010.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated Richard Snelgrove is a member of the Salt Lake City Council. He is a member of the Salt Lake County Council.