Recently the Sheriff’s Office began requiring mandatory overtime from its officers. Mandatory overtime … that’s a pretty ugly term for someone who’s normal work time is already stressful and demanding.
The announcement caused me to reflect on a recent encounter with law enforcement officers. I was on a bike tour to listen to concerns of students and other residents of Isla Vista and ran into a team from Isla Vista’s Foot Patrol. It was an iconic moment, one unique to our area, a police officer from the University of California and a deputy sheriff from the County of Santa Barbara, patrolling together and, of course, on foot.
It was a quiet morning, at least up until that point, and the officers had a few minutes to chat. Small talk gave way to some of the issues sweeping our society nationally and locally — shootings of black youngsters (and others) by police, ambushes of police officers, recent murders and other crimes in Isla Vista, the Deltopia riot and Halloween mayhem from past years, problems with recruiting and retention of officers in local law enforcement organizations.
While their views on national issues and the events in Ferguson and Dallas were insightful and thoughtful, it was the officers’ passion for our community that most impressed me. They care about the people of Isla Vista and surrounding communities, a lot.
They were in many ways like parents, since much of their beat consists of students, so proud of the success and accomplishments of the young people in I.V. But they were also deeply worried about the levels of abuse of alcohol and increasingly dangerous drugs, violence against women, violation of person through property thefts and petty crime, formation of groups by would-be gang bangers, domestic violence, and issues of mental health and suicide. The conversation with the officers was striking in that, though separated by very few years of age, the officers spoke of the students as if they were their own kids; maybe more like their younger siblings. Again, they cared. A lot.
We also talked about their own lives. Similar to many others on the Central Coast, they are challenged with long commutes, the cost of living, and balancing personal, family, and professional lives. But for a law enforcement officer, challenges are magnified: mandatory overtime, the background threat of random violence against police, and the uncertainty of whatever that “next call” might bring in the way of threat, danger, challenge, or heart-breaking sorrow.
Our conversation ended with a radio call that caused them to go sprinting down the street … into what peril, I certainly couldn’t guess, but it was obvious that it was urgent and in some way would impact someone’s life.
We have extraordinarily high expectations of our law enforcement officers, to know exactly how to analyze and respond to a chaotic situation, often when life is at risk; to know exactly the right amount of humor or reason, or the right amount of cajoling, or the right amount of threat, or the right amount of violence to safely resolve a problem and protect others.
And they should have high expectations of us … in terms of our willingness to fund the best possible training and equipment, and hire and retain the best possible people to be their partners, and to have their backs when they have labored mightily but not quite achieved the level of perfection that we demand.
We expect the best of our officers, and we in turn should give them ours.