I abhor police brutality. The people I know in law enforcement do, too. Federal law prohibits police officers from depriving people of their civil rights by using excessive force. That is why my colleagues at the Department of Justice are working with their Minnesota state counterparts to hold a former Minneapolis police officer accountable for George Floyd Jr.’s death.

The law allows police officers to use only reasonable force to accomplish lawful goals. When a police officer willfully uses excessive force, he breaks the law, and he should be held accountable. Punished to make it clear that we condemn his actions. Punished in an effort to right the wrong that he did, and to give some satisfaction to his victim, if possible. Punished in order to deter others from committing similar acts. Punished in the hope that he might rehabilitate himself.

Punishing a wrongdoer, however, requires law enforcement. The irony is that even those who oppose law enforcement want the law enforced against law enforcement.

I am not so naïve or inexperienced to believe that every police officer belongs on the job. I have prosecuted some who did not. However, the vast majority of law enforcement officers are decent, hardworking people trying to do a difficult, and at times dangerous, job. Most encounters between law enforcement officers and civilians are conducted without incident. Incidents like those in Minnesota are the exception, not the rule.

Every day, law enforcement officers risk their lives to keep the peace, maintain order and enforce laws that we make for ourselves but do not always follow. Every year, many of them lose their lives in the effort.

Maine law enforcement officers are some of the finest. They may not be perfect, but they are always trying to improve. They have been at the forefront of adopting progressive policies and procedures. For example, Maine law enforcement officers are not allowed to use chokeholds in the process of arresting a person. They use a dynamic, situational use-of-force model instead of a force continuum. They are under a duty to intervene if they observe another officer breaking the law.

The Portland Police employ a technique called “verbal judo” to de-escalate antagonistic encounters without the use of physical force. Since 2016, they have employed a substance use disorder liaison in their encounters with drug users. They go to great lengths to ensure that peaceful protesters can make their point safely, even when that point is to criticize the police.

Maine law enforcement officers have been injured and have died performing their duties. Earlier this year, Maine State Trooper Mickael Nunez was seriously injured while helping to apprehend a fleeing suspect. Last year, Trooper Ben Campbell was killed while helping a disabled motorist on the side of the road. The year before that, Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Eugene Cole was killed by a wanted suspect.

Justice is treating people the way they deserve to be treated because of their own behavior. Not because of the color of their skin or the badge they wear. Not because of the behavior of someone else, at some other time, in some other place. But that is not the way that law enforcement officers are being treated at the moment. And it’s wrong.


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