Must The Police Protect And Serve?

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( Do police officers have to protect us? Recently Scot Peterson, the deputy and school resource officer at the school in Parkland, Florida was fired then arrested then charged with several counts of child neglect and perjury as well. In light of all the active shooter incidents around this country and this latest arrest, the families of the victim are blaming the school resource officer almost as much as they are blaming the shooter. But there are some major problems with the blame being thrown at Peterson. And the even bigger issue is what is the duty of a police officer to American citizens and the public. Most civilians who have never been in law enforcement do not have a clue, thus they simply blame the officer based on what they think he or she should have done.

In this article we are going to look at the issues of duty, oath, federal law, supreme court decisions, departmental requirements, training, departmental protocols, police officer mindsets, DHS and FBI active shooter training. In doing so, much more of the facts regarding the police officer’s responsibility to the public will become clear.

POLICE OFFICERS DO NOT HAVE PROTECT CITIZENS (per the Supreme Court thus far)! So regardless of whatever position you want to take regarding the duty of a police officer, let’s look at the facts from Supreme Court rulings and federal regulations to start. In June of 2005 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that police officers did NOT have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm. The opinion was issued by Justice Scalia. In 2018 the students of Parkland filed a lawsuit against 6 defendants including now former Deputy Peterson (school resource officer), the campus monitor, the Broward County Sheriff’s office and even the Broward school district. But a federal judge’s ruling determined that “government agencies had no constitutional duty to protect students who were not in custody”. Such a ruling reinforced and clearly supported the 2005 Supreme Court ruling.

In both the court case Deshaney vs. Winnebago and Town of Castle Rock vs. Gonzales, the Supreme Court held in their ruling that police officers are not obligated to protect private citizens. In Warren vs. District of Columbia (1981) the Court of Appeals found ruled that police officers did not owe a specific duty to provide police services to private citizens. Some would argue that the Public Duty Doctrine, a tort law idea, established that a party has a “a duty to rescue” a person in danger of injury or death. And that the party can be held liable if he does not “rescue” or protect. But unfortunately that tort idea does not overrule the decision of the Supreme Court.


So what about the “protect and serve” concept promoted by police departments all over the country. Sounds great but departmental ideologies and standards do not take priority over high court rulings. Therefore you could equate the police “protect and serve” concept with the medical doctor “do no harm” concept while medical doctors have done just that with deadly poison bio-toxins like chemotherapy and even doctor-assisted suicide. Wake up people.

Many of you would like to believe that a deputy or police officer charging in to engage an active shooter would instantly and automatically mean lives will be saved. But again you are looking from the outside in and that assumption is not necessarily true, though I wish it was always a fact. There are many variables such as the state of mind of the officer, his or her level of accuracy, his or her level of training and fitness, to name a few.

What about mental readiness? Since the requirement that all local law enforcement officers undergo psychological exams or screening annually is practically nonexistent, his or her state of mind can be an issue that could quite possible work against the officer charging in alone to engage a shooter. Not to mention the fact that far too many officers hardly ever practice firearm efficiency and competency until just before it is time to shoot to re-qualify. A very scary thought indeed.


You have no idea how many officers have charged into a hostile situation, made a bad call and made things worse instead of better. In those cases the actions of the officers caused the loss of life. You see many of you have the idea that most certainly the officer charging in will make everything better because you believe that is his or her job. You believe he or she is adequately trained and prepared. But all training is not equal and some officers are just not prepared. So do you blame the officer, his department or the city or county  which allocates funds for training? Do you blame the state regulatory agency which mandates the minimum training for all officers? This issue is not a simple one.

As for fitness, there are far too many officers who should be at home or on the treadmill rather than in the field. Some are too old and others are out of shape. And you should know that all officers do not receive the same amount of training. I know for a fact that one city’s police department trains its officers for 6+ months while the deputies in the county surrounding that same city are only trained 10 weeks. And college campus police in many cases may receive less training than 10 weeks. Even police officers in small towns hardly receive enough training (or screening). Thus errors, fears, nerves and egos can easily complicate proficiency. But you will never hear police departments admit this because such truths would cause a massive decrease in public trust. And because I don’t want that to happen, I won’t say much more on that – but just know that I could.

So maybe some of you want to label a law enforcement officer who does not charge in alone to engage an active shooter as a coward. What would you do? You may think you would charge in but what if self preservation took over your thoughts and actions? Charge in like Captain America? Easier said than done. I know people who have said they would charge in to a situation but when the time came, they unintentionally froze. They even surprised or shocked themselves. Therefore until you walk a mile in the shoes of a local law enforcement officer all alone and faced with an active shooter scenario, be careful in saying what he should have done –  and what you would do.

Every sound-minded local uniformed law enforcement officer in this country has the same goal every single day – to go home at the end of the shift, no matter what. And if you think you would be any different, maybe or maybe not. Some of those who charge in to attack an active shooter are actually not thinking. They are running on ego, testosterone, adrenaline. Others are specially trained and confident they can neutralize the target. Others are poorly trained and know that engaging an active shooter alone could cause their own deaths. And yes they have to think about their families and their children too. Would you protect somebody else’s child if it meant yours might not have a parent? Hmmm.

In order to understand why officers do what they do and when, you also need to understand there are departmental protocols. Just as there is training from both the Dept. of Homeland Security and the FBI for officers regarding these type incidents. Then there are orders issued by supervisors who may not even be on the scene. And in the case of school resource officers, there are board of education protocols as well. So it is not as simple as saying “he should have run in and killed the bad guy so children would still be alive”. This is not a Die Hard movie and the average officer is a person who needed a job with benefits – not Bruce Willis. Therefore I have to ask you if your expectation of our officers is based on facts?

WHO SHOULD BE BLAMED? Let’s talk more about blame and use the Parkland, Florida school resource officer as an example. Do we also blame the school district for its policies, not placing cameras where needed and not locking the doors of the school? Do we blame the principal for not making sure someone watches the cameras in order to catch active shooters when they first enter? Do we blame the mental health system and social media companies like Face book for failing to identify and report people who fit the profile of active shooters? Do we blame the school boards for their policies which regulate school resource officers? Do  we blame students who see something wrong with a peer but say nothing to anyone about it? Do we blame parents who suspect their children are dangerous and unstable?

Do we blame school boards for failing to arm teachers or do we blame the legislators for that? And when it comes to arming teachers, know that there is a way to selectively and strategically arm a small percentage of them and make the school a whole lot safer at the same time. What if an officer is ordered to wait for backup or to stand down as was once common in hostage situations until hostage negotiators arrived? What if there is more than one shooter and the officer enters the building alone, unprepared to engage multiple perpetrators? Who do we blame then?

What if the active shooter takes hostages and the presence of the officer causes the shooter to panic and do even more damage? Of course what if they officer takes out the shooter and saves a great many lives? Excellent. But unfortunately that is only one possibility out of many.

Unfortunately (and sometimes fortunately) prosecutors take action because of public outcry. And because the families of the victims want to see someone pay besides the actual shooter, Parkland officials will likely try to make an example out of Peterson as a warning to other officers that they need to rush in and engage the shooter. But what will also happen is the number of people wanting to become school resource officers will decrease, count on it. This is not a simple issue. Be safe.

Staff Writer; Trevo Craw