Recently, I read two articles concerning punishment for people convicted of killing police officers. I have posted links to the articles so you can read them yourselves.
James Alan Fox on the effectiveness of the death penalty for cop killers.
Val Van Brocklin on the murder of two officers in Sitka Alaska.
James Alan Fox is a respected professor of criminology at Northeastern University and Val Van Brocklin is a former state and federal prosecutor in Alaska who is now a motivational speaker. Their articles have a completely different take on the subject of the death penalty for cop killers. Fox’s article is, as you would expect, very academic. It includes a graph and studies, which, according to Fox, show that the threat of the death penalty does not deter criminals from killing police officers. Van Brocklin’s article was more passionate. She spoke of her trip to the funeral of two Alaska police officers alongside an academy recruit class. At one point she told how she choked up explaining to the class what she believes the life of a cop is worth.
Both articles are, in their own way, factually correct. In the heat of passion, while a criminal is trying to escape, he will often do anything and everything to get away. The thought that getting arrested for a B&E is not as serious as killing someone attempting to bring them to justice, may not enter into a criminal’s mind. Then again, during vehicle pursuits and footchases with suspects they are far more likely to discard a weapon than use it on an officer. Unlike Professor Fox, I don’t have any studies to back that up, just my own experience. I wouldn’t guess as to whether they dump the weapon to avoid a more severe punishment or to hide any evidence of criminal activity at all.
Van Brocklin’s article was a more accurate representation of how I feel about the death penalty for cop killers. While no one innocent human life is worth more than another, when a police officer is killed in the line of duty it is more than a human life that is being attacked. It is the ability and willingness of society to protect the innocent, and if that is destroyed then American society itself will fail. If you don’t believe this just take a look at what is going on in Mexico.
Every innocent life is precious. The life of a police officer is no more precious than that of a logger, a fisherman, a farmer, or a construction worker- occupations that year in and year out are ranked as the most dangerous. The life of a police officer is also no more precious than that of a firefighter or teacher- occupations the public commonly compares to the police.
The life is no more important- the badge is.
The police officer’s badge represents his duty to uphold the law and justice in the area he serves. It is a representation of the power granted to him by the citizens of that municipality or government entity. The duty that a police officer’s badge represents is greater than any single human life. Much the same way the American flag is worth more than any single human life. It’s not the piece of tin pinned to an officer’s left breast, it’s not the nylon or cloth fabric of red, white, and blue that people are willing to die for, it is what these symbols represent that gives the officer the moral advantage on the street. It gives a police officer the unambiguous knowledge that his actions are undertaken with the noblest of intentions.
When a police officer is killed in the line of duty, he does not die for his paycheck, his kid’s tuition, her new car, or the family’s next vacation. A police officer dies in his attempt to preserve and protect the very essence of what it means to be an American- a citizen’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For without a police officer’s willingness to risk his own life so that others may experience those “unalienable rights”, society would be unable to sustain those same rights.
The badge is a representation of what compels and impels a police officer to perform his duty. While the job of a logger or fisherman may be dangerous work, members of those professions do not risk their lives each day out of a deeper sense of altruism. A fisherman does not fish so that you can eat. You eating the fish is a byproduct of the fisherman’s desire to improve his family’s lot in life, to obtain a larger paycheck, pay his kid’s tuition, buy a new car, or save for the family’s next vacation. And when a logger fells a tree, he doesn’t care whether it ends up as paper in your copy machine, a chair in your dining room, or a toothpick at the restaurant, as long as he gets his paycheck on Friday.
This isn’t to say that police officers would work for free, or that loggers and fishermen are selfish because their primary desire to work is for personal or familial gain. However, when a police officer races towards a “shots fired” call, a domestic violence call, or a baby not breathing call, he is not thinking of his paycheck, he is thinking of his duty. The duty he accepted when he pinned on his badge at academy graduation and that he continues to accept every day thereafter. That duty is what must be protected and defended when the life of a cop is taken. Society owes it to it’s self.
When police officers travel thousands of miles to a fallen officer’s funeral, they do so not because they know the fallen officer, but because they know what the fallen officer represents. What that officer represents has been minimized recently – to a sticker on a car window or a front license plate – but it’s meaning is still the essence of what police officers exist for: the thin blue line, the border between anarchy and lawlessness and civilized society. An attack on that line risks the safety and security of all American citizens. Respect for that line must be upheld with strict laws and strong punishment for those who would threaten that safety and security.
It is for these reasons that it is appropriate, if not necessary, to have a death penalty option for cop killers.