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Officers must be cautious
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The senseless killings of four Oakland police officers on Saturday, will, no doubt, cause police agencies nationwide to review officer safety procedures. In light of a continuing escalation of violence against police, the objective will be to keep similar tragedies from happening.

Police officers know their job is inherently dangerous, and that the environment in which they work can never be made absolutely safe - no matter how well-trained or equipped they may be. And, if the obvious threats like assaults, shootings and vehicle crashes do not end a police officer's life prematurely, there are less apparent killers awaiting them: police officers, on average, only live five to seven years after retirement. The years of adrenaline surges, hurried lunch periods, non-stop stress, public criticism, shift work, and other pressures increase their chances for heart attacks, cancer and other ailments. The price they pay for doing the job is very high. It is one of the reasons peace officers are able to retire at age 50.

Citizens need to recognize that there is a fine line between officers using "officer safety tactics" that truly give them the safety margin they need, and coming across as being intimidating and officious. Motorists stopped for traffic violations often feel like the officer treated them "like a criminal," and it is usually because of the cautious manner in which the officer approached the vehicle and inspected the interior. Many officers will approach a motorist with their hand on or close to their sidearm which may seem excessive to a person who has done nothing more than speed or run a stop sign.

Police never know who they are dealing with during the first critical seconds of a traffic stop or call for service. They must take precautions in all situations. Unfortunately for law-abiding citizens, everyone pays the price for what violent criminals do. In other words, the police must account for the lowest common denominator of society - the violent offenders who will do anything to effect an escape. And then, there are those simply looking for an opportunity to kill a police officer for whatever reason they may have.

Another way to look at this issue is to consider your neighborhood. Most likely, you have good neighbors who you trust implicitly. But you lock your door every time you leave home, because of the unknown person who might burglarize your home. It is the same for the police. We know that 99.9 percent of all the population wouldn't think of harming an officer, but it takes only 0.1 percent of the population to perpetrate harm. That 0.1 percent of the population sets the officer safety and tactics standards for all of society. It is sad, but true.

Law enforcement officers struggle with this issue daily. We know that we need the public's support and involvement to be effective. And every time a police-citizen contact ends with the citizen feeling bitter about the way they have been treated, then it is a losing situation for everyone.

As society becomes more violent (consider the Mexican drug cartel violence migrating into this country), police will have to adapt and overcome the threats they face. If the police cannot protect themselves, they will fail in their mission to protect the public. The unfortunate but predictable result could be more public resentment as the police exercise even more caution when making contact with members of the population.

Our goal is, at all times, to treat the public with courtesy and respect. At the same time, we realize that an officer's use of appropriate safety tactics may be mistaken for discourteous treatment, when in fact, those actions are intended solely for their self-protection and to protect you as a citizen.