Op-Ed by U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox
Sworn law enforcement officers in Montana adhere to a high code of ethics which states, “As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality and justice.”
Officers we know in Montana would be the first to say that there is no room on their force for those who violate this code. In recent weeks, peaceful Montanans have protested against the use of excessive force. Officers, protesters and all of us alike would agree that those who willfully violate the constitutional rights of another must be held accountable.
But we must not condemn all law enforcement for the misguided actions of a few.
In fact, our officers, deputies, troopers and agents in Montana, and their families, deserve our gratitude and support.
Our tribal, local, state and federal officers are members of our families, and are our friends and neighbors. They live, raise their children, and worship with us in our communities, the same communities where they serve.
And we ask a lot of them:
- to rescue and comfort abused and neglected children;
- to diffuse angry domestic arguments;
- to patrol the streets and highways every day during a pandemic;
- to stand between us and an active shooter;
- and more and more often we ask them to calm mental health issues and confront violent meth users and dealers.
We ask them to do this stressful work for us often with little rest, as many work busy shifts and overtime hours.
We also ask them to make split-second decisions in dark and unfamiliar places, in the presence of weapons and people they can’t readily see. In 2017, Broadwater County Deputy Mason Moore had no time to defend himself before he was shot and killed by two men on a dark highway.
Each year, in the United States, about 60,000 officers are assaulted. That’s a rate of 10.8 per 100 officers. In Montana, 130 officers have died in the line of duty, including Gallatin County Deputy Jake Allmendinger who died last year trying to rescue a stranded motorist.
In spite of these challenges and risks, our officers overwhelmingly do an outstanding job. They respond to tens of thousands of crimes each year with professionalism and good faith. Of course, they are human and will make mistakes from time to time like the rest of us, but they make remarkably few given the breadth and difficulty of what we ask them to do.
Criticizing all law enforcement for the misdeeds of a few is both dangerously counterproductive and unfair to the vast majority who do their best every day and, if necessary, risk their lives to protect us. Law enforcement already faces serious recruitment and retention challenges. If people lose respect for the law enforcement profession, even more officers will quit or retire early and even more good candidates will choose another profession.
We must quickly hold accountable those officers who deliberately violate their code of ethics, but we must not confuse them with the honorable men and women who strive daily to meet those high standards. Our officers deserve our thanks for keeping us safe from those who would harm us and for addressing numerous societal problems like mental health and substance abuse that, over time, have been laid in their laps. Law enforcement is a noble profession full of officers whom support us daily, and now – more than ever – we need to support them.