Editorial: Roles changing, mission the same for today's police

  • Police officers attend a Mental Health First Aid class so they can be more helpful when they respond to individuals in mental crisis.

      Police officers attend a Mental Health First Aid class so they can be more helpful when they respond to individuals in mental crisis. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted10/12/2015 4:48 PM

A host of highly publicized circumstances over the past year have focused attention on the behavior of police. They've also emphasized the police's changing roles.

Daily Herald staff writer Marie Wilson examined this evolution in a two-day series of stories last weekend that showed the increasing demands on police to be not just enforcers of the law but also psychologists and sociologists -- while often finding themselves in need of the very services and techniques they employ in the course of their jobs.


As Wilson's stories were published describing the complex ways in which the job of a police officer is changing, a nightmarish drama in Lisle reminds us of how much of that job remains the same. Cops, in short, are finding that in the formula "to serve and protect," the "serve" variable is compounding while the "protect" variable remains constant -- and yet paramount.

From one vantage point, this is an ominous calculation both for police and the public. As Wilson's stories showed, the mounting pressures, demands and uncertainties of serving take a measurable toll on the psychology and job satisfaction of police officers, and undoubtedly such adversities are bound to translate into either mistakes in the field or, on a broader scale, a decline in the number of qualified, potentially valuable officers available for protection.

But viewed from another angle, both factors in the serve-and-protect equation also are benefiting. Officers who are embracing and advancing in the skills of crisis intervention teamwork assuredly are diverting individuals who once would have faced a perilous course through an ineffective criminal justice system toward resources where they can get help and treatment offering some promise.

Such outcomes clearly benefit both the troubled individuals and society at large. They also pose the opportunity for a greater sense of success and achievement -- and hence job satisfaction -- within the ranks of the police. Add to this the growing awareness both within police department leadership and within the ruggedly private culture of rank-and-file officers, and the opportunities grow to attract and retain the best officers to this new, uniquely skilled profession.

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From any perspective, the job of a police officer carries a peculiar burden. A lot of questions linger concerning the foiled Lisle break-in in which police fatally shot 35-year-old Anthony Aguilar, but the incident seems to encompass all the factors confronting modern-day police, in the suburbs as elsewhere -- mental instability, imminent physical dangers to both citizens and police officers and a troubled aftermath.

The homeowner had only praise for the Lisle police with whom she was in contact throughout the ordeal. "They were absolutely wonderful," she told staff writer Steve Zalusky.

Such an assessment must surely come as some consolation for any police department forced to confront such a crisis. Amid the very prominent backdrop of the crisis in Fox Lake, where an officer lost his life, it also breeds stark reflections on all the ingredients required to produce it.

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