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Any traffic stop or arrest can be life or death for a police officer

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POSTED January 7, 2009 12:37 a.m.

I admit upfront that I have a deep bias when it comes to police.

During jury selections, I always respond that I think the police are probably right 90 percent of the time, 9 percent of the time there may be a gray area and the last percent they may have made a wrong call. Police officers are human just like everyone else.

But when it comes to the procedures they follow while making an arrest, I don’t question them one iota. I’m not talking about excessive force. That’s not a procedure. I’m talking about how they go through a vehicle stop and an arrest.

My bias — if that’s what you want to call it — goes back to when I was in the eighth grade. That’s when a young Lincoln Police officer named Les Schellbach that all the kids in town knew was gunned down by three bank robbers. A family friend responding in his own personal vehicle, Sgt. Bob Barroso, was gravely wounded.

The three killers happened to have pulled off an armed robbery on an early Sunday morning of another family friend — John Carnecessa — at a supermarket he owned. One would assume, right, that if they didn’t kill the store owners and clerks that they wouldn’t lie in wait on a rural country road at a sharp curve to open fire with semi-automatic weapons on an officer who was at least four minutes behind them, right? Wrong.

The point is an officer has no idea what someone is going to do. It doesn’t matter whether they’re clean cut, a young lady or an 11-year-old. Eleven-year-olds and women have killed police officers.

That officer has every right to go home after work to his family.  It is an unfortunate fact that a lot of men and women who are in police work don’t. All it takes is not following procedure and giving somebody a second to pull a weapon.

Yet a lot of us tend to get indignant when the police don’t jump when we snap our fingers or they react to as in a matter-of-fact tone. We often get upset if they happen to get a bit belligerent when we don’t do what we want them to do especially when they are trying to secure control of a situation during a traffic stop or an arrest.

Nobody wants to give police officers carte blanche, but let’s face it. When someone is breaking into your home, beating you up or taking you hostage you don’t call a civil rights lawyer. But that’s what we want cops to act like — civil rights lawyers.

But there is a big difference. Lawyers have all the time in the world to ponder the situation since it is after the fact.

Cops have mere seconds, if that much time. And what they do also must respect civil rights but not so to the point it makes public safety — and their safety – subservient to all other concerns.

It’s a fine line.

Police officers are not absolutely perfect or fault free. No one is. But there are life-threatening reasons why they follow certain procedures during an arrest or traffic stop.

And if a police officer can get killed in a sleepy Sacramento Valley town of 3,500 back in 1970 while doing his job, the same thing can happen to an officer doing their job in a city with 66,000 people in 2009.

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