Frederick Ryan, Chief of Police
112 Mystic St.
Arlington, MA 02474
For Immediate Release
Friday, Dec. 4, 2015
Contact: John Guilfoil
Email: [email protected]
ARLINGTON — Note to news editors: Feel free to publish or distribute this message to the Arlington community, submitted by Police Chief Frederick Ryan:
As I watched the horrific crimes unfold and the tremendous police response that followed this week in San Bernardino, Calif., I was transported back in time two years to the Boston Marathon bombing and the tense hours in Watertown that followed days later. It also reminded me how difficult it is to be a front line police officer today.
My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones of this most recent American tragedy, and I say that knowing full well that this country has now averaged more than one mass shooting per day in 2015, and that an entirely new set of victims and loved ones may now exist by the time anyone reads this.
By all accounts, the San Bernardino Police Department and their partners performed their work flawlessly in response to and during the investigation of these crimes, and for that I commend them. For that, I thank them.
There has, perhaps, never been a more difficult time in American history to be a police officer. This is both promising and challenging. It is good, because the standards have never been higher in our profession, and the public’s awareness of our work and duties is on the rise. Bad, because a relatively small list of police misconduct cases has painted every police officer in the country as a potentially violent predator when this is simply not the case.
Police officers, including those here in Arlington and throughout Massachusetts, are highly trained and work under an oath of office that they take very seriously. They embrace the concept that citizens, regardless of race, gender, gender identity, nationality, or economic status, should be treated with empathy, dignity and respect — even, and perhaps especially, when they are suspected of a committing a crime.
But the events of yesterday — and of two years ago — show very clearly that there are specific times and specific cases that necessitate specially trained officers, special use gear, and advanced weapons in order for law enforcement agencies to react to violence of such a high magnitude. Simply stated, in rare instances, the public expects and demands that their police shift from their community guardian role, and quickly step into the SWAT/specialized role in order to prevent further violence.
Day-to-day community policing operations should never include armored vehicles and high-caliber rifles, but the live news helicopter footage on Wednesday perfectly illustrated the need to occasionally deploy advanced training and equipment.
Such equipment is defensive in nature, not offensive. Police officers do not invade and occupy land. They respond to violent acts and work to minimize the loss of life. Even the armed vehicles — or Bearcats — are purely defensive in nature. They have no weapons mounted on them. They are merely designed to ensure the safety of those in and around it.
Police officers everywhere are feeling the effects of what has occurred nationally — abuses of power, corruption, misconduct, and even homicide in some cases. There is no doubting the horrific actions committed by a small group of people wearing badges, but we have all been painted with a wide brush by their actions. The truth is that, in the cases of nearly all police officers in this country, and certainly in Arlington, it is an unfair and inaccurate stigma.
I am not expecting every skeptic to suddenly embrace the police as flawless, because we are not, but let’s start with something in the spirit of the holidays. When you see a police officer going about their job, take a minute to stop, introduce yourself, and thank them for choosing to do the job they do.
Such support from law abiding citizens is invaluable to our morale, and I think some may be pleasantly surprised by the response they get. I wish you all a safe and joyous holiday season.
Frederick Ryan is Chief of the Arlington Police Department and Vice President of the Massachusetts Major City Police Chiefs Association.