COLUMN: Why more respect is due to the police officers who protect us

By Tyler Friederich

Sometimes we have to take what life throws our way. For some, the unexpected occurs, which necessitates a life-changing decision. The unexpected has been occurring to my goddaughter’s father for years.

He is a hockey fanatic, a loving father of three and a devoted husband to an African-American woman who used to be my neighbor and baby sitter. His quiet demeanor and carefree attitude obscure the reality he faces every day living in the seemingly quiet town of Swansea, Ill. – a suburb located 15 miles from St. Louis.

He often feels uncomfortable going to parent-teacher conferences or socializing with other parents at his children’s school. Routine trips to the supermarket fill him with a sense of anxiety and powerlessness over whom he will run into. One day, his six-year-old son ran into the house after playing in the yard to tell him that a group of teenagers in a truck were harassing his wife. No, he did not expect that something like this would occur in the nice neighborhood where he and his family were residing.

His reaction reflected what any concerned husband would do in this precarious situation. After nervously getting into his car, he attempted to follow the group of teenagers. Perhaps this was not the greatest idea – his wife later lectured him on his abrupt response. At this point he had made up his mind: he and his family were going to move. But why didn’t he just call the police? Well, the answer is pretty simple – he would have ended up calling himself.

While interracial marriages are not common in Southern Illinois, the harassment and oftentimes unpleasant exchanges with fellow parents were not due to differences in race. The source of the conflict was the fact that this man is a police officer. Working the night shift, he has given citations to people whom he later comes into contact with, whether he welcomes it or not.

The band of teenagers was giving his family trouble because he had recently pulled over one of their friends and subsequently given him a ticket. He dreads school functions because he has personally pulled over many of the parents or their kids. He had never foreseen this type of problem, yet it was occurring on a much too regular basis. This was his reality.

Sometimes we are so concerned about what police officers encounter when they are on duty that we disregard what their lives must be like when they are off duty. Now imagine our campus police serving a population of over 40,000 college students and 10,000 staff.

I recently sat down with Jeff Christensen, assistant chief of the UI Police. Despite student comments that reflect disrespect towards the officers, Christensen maintains that “it doesn’t faze you” even though people are constantly “watching you and what you’re doing.” He said it is important to “have a sense of humor” in this job.

Christensen addressed the misleading notion that campus police do not confront hostile situations. Though there have been concerns among students that the campus police overstep their authority, it is essential to note the risks they take. Within the past year, one female officer dislocated her shoulder after stopping someone under the influence of alcohol. Other incidences include stopping vehicles with guns in them and arresting armed robbers, according to Christensen. The officers face threatening circumstances, all in the course of protecting the students.

While we roam the streets as if we own them, campus police drive the streets to protect them. And yet sometimes we can’t shake the feeling that they are just ruining our fun because they can. No, they are ruining our “fun” because they must. Christensen’s assertion that “all officers care about what they’re doing” highlights the sense of duty they maintain.

Reflecting on my conversation with Mr. Christensen, I have realized that our jobs as students are made possible by the efforts of our campus police. In a job where, as Christensen said, a routine “traffic stop is an unknown,” perhaps more respect is due to the people who serve to protect us – even if we don’t always agree with them.