We didn't have adult crossing guards when I was growing up. Instead, responsible eighth grade students were chosen by the Principal as Safety Patrol Officers, who were issued white bandoliers and whose job it was to arrive at school early and leave class before dismissal in the afternoon to control student's crossings of streets and intersections near the school.
The Fort Wayne Police Department, conscious of the responsibility this system placed on students not only to obey their Safety Patrol peers but to exercise caution in situations where there was no Safety Patrol present, initiated a program of going into the schools and emphasizing to the students the importance of alertness and caution in all traffic situations. Officer Custer Donovan was the man chosen to fulfill that mission.
It's impossible to know how many lives Custer Donovan saved and how many injuries he prevented during his long career with the Fort Wayne Police Department, but there was another important contribution Officer Donovan made to the community. Whenever a kid in Fort Wayne thought of a cop, he thought of Custer Donovan, a big fatherly man in a police uniform who liked kids and gave us good advice and had a dog that did tricks.
And we carried that image of the police officer into our adulthood. We knew that cops are not interested in busting the kid for jay walking – they're interested in not having to pick up the kid's lifeless body from the middle of the street, and not having to knock on their parents' door with the news that their son or daughter is dead. And we knew that the cop was our friend who protected our lives and our property, and that he was our enemy only if we broke the law.
President Obama's current soapbox tirade is on the need for a "national dialogue" on the alleged problem of relations between law enforcement and the communities (particularly communities of color) they serve. Maybe a good place to start would be to stop calling them "law enforcement." I would suggest we substitute Wyatt Earp's description of his job: "peace officers."
Most policemen are honest, hard-working, conscientious people like Custer Donovan who only want to do their job – and their job is to keep the peace. Only when that peace is threatened by lawlessness are they called upon to "enforce the law." A policeman is no more anxious to risk his life in a confrontation with a lawbreaker than you or I. But sometimes it's part of the job of keeping the peace.
A Darren Wilson doesn't want to kill a Michael Brown, and a Dan Pantaleo doesn't want to kill an Eric Garner. But when a Michael Brown or an Eric Garner is disrupting the peace of the community and refuses to desist, it becomes the responsibility of the peace officer to apply force – not against the Michael Brown or the Eric Garner – but in the fulfillment of his sworn duty to preserve the peace.
Cops have been called many things over the past fifty years, from pigs by the 1960's Fondafreaks to racists by the 2010's Sharptonzombies. But I always remember what my Daddy used to say, "You can call a cop anything you want, but you'll always call him when you're in trouble."
The current buzzword employed by racial unrest instigators from the White House to the Ghettos of Los Angeles is "police brutality." Police brutality is, indeed, a major problem in America today. But the solution is obvious. Stop brutalizing the police!
If you want to stop drivers from killing kids, teach the kids to not jaywalk; and if you want to stop peace officers from killing lawbreakers, teach the lawbreakers to stop breaking the law.