Being a Sheepdog

A good friend of mine who’s a non-practicing paramedic and currently serves as a law enforcement officer out in the Texas Hill Country had a good post on Facebook about the current divide in this country and how it’s also manifesting itself in the divide between law enforcement and the public they serve.

I’d say the gap exists, not just between law enforcement and the community, but between public servants (police, fire, military, and EMS) and the community.  There’s a lot of reasons, I’m sure, but allow me to throw some thoughts out there.

For better or worse, and certainly without ill intentions, we have created a lot of those barriers.  We’ve hidden behind artificially created barriers between “us” and the public we serve.  We cite “homeland security,” “officer safety,” and “HIPAA” as reasons why we no longer engage with the public or create barriers to such engagement.

Several years ago, while on vacation in an unnamed large city known for legalized gambling, buffets, and neon signs, I stopped by their central fire station to get some photos and maybe meet some firefighters and/or medics.   The garage bay doors were closed and there wasn’t even a doorbell to ring.  I walked around to another door and there was a phone to pick up.  When I explained that I was a visiting medic from Texas, I was promptly told that their station wasn’t open to visitors or the public.

Combine that with some communities encrypting all public safety communications (granted, I have ZERO problem with encrypting sensitive channels like SWAT, narcotics, surveillance, etc.) and eliminating ride-alongs, and you’ve created an environment where a communications barrier exists — and where rumor and conspiracy theories can flourish.

Yes, those of us who are public servants are the sheepdogs who protect the sheep.  If anything, that means even MORE of an obligation to be amongst the sheep.

My advice: be approachable.  Let’s be the ones who remind the public that we’re here for them.  Otherwise, as we’ve seen this week near St. Louis, those who reflexively dislike us will have ample opportunity to spread their message.  For better or worse, we live in a constitutional republic and we are servants of the public.  It behooves us to gain and maintain the public’s trust.  One can practice “officer safety,” “scene safety,” or “situational awareness” without coming across as a member of an occupying army.  Take off the wrap-around shades, interact with the public, and show a kid (or even, gasp, an adult) your vehicle.  It’ll keep you safer in the long run.

Ok, rant over, y’all.


  1. The communication issue may exist for everyone. But there remains a key divider…when one encounters a fireman, soldier, or EMS professional, one can be reasonably well-assured that they do not intend, imminently or for that matter _ever_, to break into one’s home, shoot one’s pets, toss a grenade into one’s baby’s crib [et cetera], and then (being sure, of course, to utterly destroy every single valuable item one owns) haul oneself and one’s family away in chains to be repeatedly gang-raped by criminals while they and their buddies watch and laugh. And, if a group from one of those other “public safety” populations _were_ to turn that psychopathic, one can be extremely confident that the perpetrators would be punished for it, both by their employers and by the criminal justice system, and no mainstream spokesperson for their profession would _ever_ think to go out in public and argue that such behavior is appropriate or ought to be tolerated. (And by “punished”, I mean something significantly more serious than an unscheduled vacation.)

    Same can’t be said of cops. Maybe at one time it could have been. But not today.

    Surely some cops are good people. After all, they can’t _all_ be psychopathic sadists relishing absolute power and zero risk of serious accountability. But it’s WAY past time for whatever good ones remain to step forward and start policing their own. And anyone who yanks out the “thin blue line” rhetoric, regardless of what he _personally_ has or hasn’t done to America’s population of innocent civilians, has thereby forfeited any claim to the presumption of innocence on the part of the general public.

    Whatever problems EMS (and fire, and the military) may well have, they’ve got a long, LONG way to go before they lose our confidence the way the cops have.

  2. I also think emergency services (mostly police) are becoming proud of looking more and more like soldiers with all the new equipment grants coming through. It feels good to be a part of “the elite group” sure, but being that approachable and easy going public servant with a genuine caring smile will get you a lot farther than those black wrap around shades any day.