Among the social protest chants and phrases that come around from time to time, "defund the police" has set a new high for nonsense.
An appropriate counter is "defend the police," and a great starting point goes back to 1970, when rising crime and city riots were challenging police and law enforcement policies and practices.
That's when broadcast legend Paul Harvey turned his microphone--featuring his familiar voice and cadence, signature pauses and inimitable intonations for emphasis--to the ordinary cop (Harvey's father was an Oklahoma police officer shot and killed while hunting off-duty by robbers).
In his "What is a Policeman?" commentary, he needed only three minutes to precisely distill the essence of the profession.
He began with universal humanity: like all of us, a policeman is "a mingling of saint and sinner, dust and deity"; and then confronted the outsized condemnations of bad cops.
"Culled statistics wave the fan over the stinkers, underscore instances of dishonesty and brutality because they are 'news,'" he said, quickly applying the logical extension. "What that really means is that they are exceptional, they are unusual, they are not commonplace."
He dug into the meat of the matter. "Buried under the froth is the fact," he said, "and the fact is, less than one-half of 1 percent of policemen misfit that uniform."
A moment's hesitation to bring context to the percentage: "And that is a better average than you'd find among clergymen."
As with any grouping of people, sensationalizing the misdeeds and crimes of a few to smear the whole is wrong. It's also something Black Lives Matter supporters should recognize--and repudiate--more than most, since lawful Blacks have long suffered stereotyping that stemmed from Black criminals in the news.
Harvey excelled in conciseness, and he rapidly coursed through the "no-win" scenarios that are part and parcel of police life in dealing with the fickle public masses.
"If the policeman is neat, he's conceited; if he's careless, he's a bum. If he's pleasant, he's a flirt; if he's not, he's a grouch.
"He must make instant decisions which would require months for a lawyer. But," he stopped, invoking an emphatic break, "if he hurries, he's careless; If he's deliberate, he's lazy."
Police interactions, then and now, sometimes escalate to physical altercations.
"He must be able to whip two men twice his size and half his age without damaging his uniform and without being 'brutal,'" Harvey said, waiting a beat. "If you hit him, he's a coward; if he hits you, he's a bully."
Next, he adroitly condensed dual dynamics unique to law enforcement officers into two succinct statements.
"A policeman must know everything,"--dramatic pause--"and not tell."
"He must know where all the sin is,"--even longer pause--"and not partake."
The science of forensics was in its infancy 50 years ago, but even then it elevated expectations.
"The policeman--from a single human hair!--must be able to describe the crime, the weapon, the criminal and tell you where the criminal is hiding. But," Harvey let the radio silence speak for a moment, "if he catches the criminal, he's lucky; if he doesn't, he is a dunce. If he gets promoted, he has political pull; if he doesn't, he's a dullard."
Paperwork was a pain for police all those generations ago, too, as Harvey noted, and plea-bargaining as a revolving-door practice was taking off to keep up with the increase in crimes and arrests.
"He runs files and writes reports until his eyes ache to build a case against some felon who'll get dealed out by a shameless shamus or an 'honorable' who isn't honorable."
Concluding his commentary, Harvey listed the "must be" roles of a police officer as "a minister, a social worker, a diplomat, a tough guy, and a gentleman," sounding out the final word as gen-tle-man.
"And of course he'll have to be a genius," Harvey finished, "because he'll have to feed a family"--one last, lasting pause--"on a policeman's salary."
The average cop earns somewhere between $18 an hour (North Carolina) and $26 an hour (New York).
Arkansas is 43rd in police officer payscale at $20.51 per hour on average, which is within one penny of the 2020 Arkansas Occupational Employment and Wage Survey's mean hourly wage for all occupations ($20.52).
But the danger risk for sworn law enforcement officers is a large multiple of comparable paying jobs. Employees working in education training and library occupations, for example, earn a mean average wage of $22.40 per hour but rarely are threatened by work-related life-and-death scenarios.
In decades of business, I've never once worried about a client meeting devolving to the point that someone pulls out a gun and starts shooting. But that's a constant risk for police in metro areas, because they deal with volatile criminals daily and I almost never do.
To be clear, the circumstances of their job are never an excuse for any police wrongdoing. But we owe the overwhelming ranks of honest, underpaid, put-their-life-on-the-line-first police officers far better than the past few months has given them.
Paul Harvey, as usual, was spot on.
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.