By H. Stephen Walker
State President / National Trustee
For over 80 years, the West Virginia Fraternal Order of Police (WVFOP) has worked to increase the efficiency of the law enforcement profession, and thus “more firmly establish the confidence of the public in the service dedicated to the protection of life and property.”
Today, the WVFOP represents a diverse group of over 2900 police officers throughout your state. These officers go to work every day, their spouses praying they return safe, so they can provide for their family. They are members of your community; their children attend school with your children, they are coaches of Little League teams, church members, and neighbors. They are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts.
As advocates for police officers, the WVFOP has seen many trends in public perception of law enforcement throughout the decades. However, never have we seen the kind of vitriol and anger as our men and women have encountered in recent months. Nationwide, we have witnessed in many recent news publications, side-by-side, stories of protests next to stories of police officers being assaulted while doing their assigned duties. In recent weeks we have seen officers being attacked with rocks, bricks, frozen water bottles and fireworks. We have even seen reports of restaurant employees spitting in and soiling food and drinks being served to officers. It is hard to imagine any other profession, where treatment of public servants would be so casually accepted.
We fully understand the tragic death of George Floyd in Minnesota and other incidents outside West Virginia which have severely undermined the mission of Law Enforcement. The WVFOP is firm in establishing and maintaining the public trust in Law Enforcement. We further recognize the protests that followed began as peaceful endeavors to exercise First Amendment rights. However, as they have progressed, there has been a sharp increase in radical actors whose goals center more on destroying property and injuring innocent citizens and police than they do on enacting social change. It is important that we condemn, in the sharpest possible terms, not only any individual who takes action to harm innocent civilians and peace officers, but any entity that justifies and praises senseless acts of violence against the police or our community.
Law Enforcement is much more than just front-line police; it is a system with multiple parts and players. Police have a job to do, failure to hold bad actors accountable (both law enforcement and criminals) will only ensure more danger for police officers and peaceful protestors alike.
Clearly, with what we have seen in the past few months, the broad institutional reform taking place across the nation is something we may need to address in certain areas of West Virginia. Fortunately, most communities in West Virginia embrace Law Enforcement, but there are always areas in which Law Enforcement Administrators, Legislators, Activists, Community Leaders and the WVFOP can come together to sit down and discuss issues, before we become like some other cities in this great nation.
One incident may have provided the spark, but underneath it lay decades of kindling. Economic stagnation, social stratification, the pandemic, along with numerous other issues, have all helped lay the foundation for unrest. Not one of these issues or the political decisions made due to them, was created or made, by the front-line law enforcement officer. Yet it falls to them to protect their cities when the political failures mount too high to contain the public outrage.
As law enforcement leaders, the WVFOP has engaged in multiple negotiations around a variety of police reforms through the years, including but not limited to, banning excessive chokeholds, instituting body cameras, de-escalation training and expanded tactical training. We look forward to being active participants and advocates for our officers and to assist the conversation by providing first-hand insight and knowledge that only experience in the field can bring.
We stand ready to work with any elected leaders who share our goal of improving all aspects of law enforcement and we ask all our partners in law enforcement and the lawmaking process to stand with us in our shared goal of ensuring that those working men and women who police our streets are able to return home safely each night.