Violent scenes of anarchy in cities like Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, and the nation’s capital are a reminder that police have dangerous and difficult jobs. Those jobs only become more stressful as the rule of law and ordered society breaks down. Furthermore, police are increasingly caught up in politics as mayors and governors are often quick to throw law enforcement under the bus or even prevent a response to looting, property destruction, or other urban unrest.
In Raleigh this year, business owners blasted the lack of response to mob destruction by the city government. At the highest level in North Carolina, political games with teachers continue unabated and too often takes precedence over a pandemic or even violent crime.
In a recently released budget proposal, Gov. Roy Cooper, who loves to use teachers as a political wedge issue, offered $360 million in bonuses for education employees — $230 million of which went to teachers and principals – but nothing for state employees like troopers or other first responders that could not work from home or receive summers off during Covid-19 shutdowns.
This is an important point, because like a lot of states, North Carolina has been touched by mob violence and an increase in the homicide rate in many urban areas. In fact, so much of the political focus over the last half-decade or more has been on education spending and teacher pay, overshadowing other pressing problems like urban crime and cultural decay.
According to Forbes.com, the average North Carolina police officer salary in 2019 was $47,340. The average public school teacher pay in North Carolina for 2018-2019 was $53,975 and $55,600 for 2019-2020. This is not to say teachers should be paid less or make the equivalent as police officers, but law enforcement compensation may have to be examined closer to improve policing in communities. Furthermore, police officers traditionally have a more dangerous –though not more important – job than teachers. The vast majority of law enforcement officers are not government employees who have the option of working from home to wait out a pandemic.
As a reminder of just how dangerous the work can be, several high-profile attacks and murders of police officers in North Carolina made headlines in the last few years. Trooper Kevin K. Connor, 38, and a father of two young children, was shot and killed during a traffic stop in late 2018. Mooresville officer Jordan H. Sheldon, 32, was shot dead during a traffic stop in 2019. Other officers across NC have been killed in recent years in the line of duty or paralyzed by violent injuries. Nationally, of course, there have been officers killed by looters for merely trying to restore order. A retired sheriff, David Dorn, 77, was shot to death in St. Louis for trying to stop theft. At the Republican National Convention his widow Ann said, “They shot and killed David in cold blood, and live-streamed his execution. His last moments on earth.”
One of the core functions of government is public safety and upholding the rule of law. When the government fails to accomplish that it’s an indictment on our elected leaders, who in an increasingly politicized society are more and more inclined to play political games to secure their power.
If governors and mayors are going to tackle comprehensive criminal justice reform, they might consider higher pay to attract an even stronger candidate pool. Many Americans watch the recent violence night after night with dismay. Yes, most agree that reforms are needed for police departments to help them better engage the populace and secure cities and neighborhoods. Yet, merely blaming officers or advancing divisive media narratives will only advance the kind of anarchy and mob rule that perpetuates more crime and dangerous vigilantism.
The article was originally published in the Daily Reflector.