Order is an essential building block of a civilized society. From New Orleans to Shreveport this year, nine law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty.
That’s the highest death toll in years. It’s also a serious blow to the morale of officers across the state, who live with stress in their daily work and also feel a kinship with others in uniform.
“It’s an unfortunate time in our society when we have to issue a prayer for the safety of law enforcement,” said Grayson Police Chief Mitch Bratton, who serves as president of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police.
He spoke at a prayer rally on the steps of the State Capitol. Hundreds of officers attended and the families of some of the slain were also represented.
Gov. Bobby Jindal called for a day of prayer for law enforcement on Monday.
“It’s tempting to take their commitment and sacrifice for granted,” Gov. Bobby Jindal told the rally. “We ask for God’s protection and blessing.”
“We cannot thank our officers and their families enough,” he added.
That is so true.
An unfortunate reality of today’s situation is that the prevalence of guns makes even typical calls a potential danger.
One of the dead this year was only 29, Shreveport policeman Thomas LaValley, a native of the Baton Rouge area. He was answering a call about a suspicious person when he was shot multiple times.
Another unfortunate reality is that several high-profile incidents have tarnished the image of the badge, particularly in minority communities. While these incidents are rare, they also contribute to the pressure on officers.
Chris Cosgriff, a Virginia officer who tracks police deaths, told The Advocate this summer that attention on perceived tensions between police and the public — most notably in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri, riots — has made officers more cautious. “We are obviously looking over our shoulder a little more just to make sure no one is sneaking up on us,” Cosgriff said.
Even a single incident of police misconduct, or simply bad judgment in a challenging situation, can have repercussions in the critical relationship of support and encouragement that is needed to make law enforcement effective.
Law officers at all levels are probably more aware of the need to work with communities, especially in poor neighborhoods like Ferguson, where an incident has roiled the St. Louis region for more than a year.
We applaud Jindal’s call for a day of prayer but we also hope that officials — and voters — continue to be supportive of the more mundane issues, such as pay. Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the New Orleans City Council have recently boosted pay for officers, for example, to help narrow a recruiting gap for the NOPD. Louisiana State Police have also recently gained pay increases from the Legislature.
A living wage for officers is one way that the communities they serve can demonstrate practical support for their vital role.