Amid nationwide outrage over a police officer's killing an unarmed, fleeing suspect in South Carolina, John Blackmon, head of the local police union, lashed out at the “untruths” of critics and defended law enforcement. Amid a rising tide of anger and resentment directed at the police and vivid video documentation debunking or calling into question the accounts of officers, police union officials are rethinking how best to get their message out. The instinct of many is to hold the line against what they see as efforts to undermine the police by focusing on relatively rare failings of officers. Others are considering whether a new, more inward-looking approach is warranted. “It is important for unions to become honestly self-critical about police conduct and to not blindly defend each and every egregious incident by officers,” said criminologist Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “But to get there, officers within departments must step forward and take control of the unions and point them in the right direction.”
Police officers not only need to maintain the respect and good will of citizens to do their job effectively, they also depend on that good will in political battles over salary, pensions and benefits, in which they have been far more successful than other public employees. So, many officers and officials say, it is essential to put out an effective message and not just a reactive one. South Carolina’s Blackmon says, “We felt that the criminal justice system was doing what it was supposed to do. Then, they were bashing law enforcement as a whole. To say every police officer is racist is ludicrous, and we felt we had to put a stop to it.” Also in play is resentment many officers feel that police successes in reducing crime or individual acts of bravery are overlooked in the focus on high-profile shootings or abuse claims.