- - Thursday, February 4, 2021

Hundreds stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The rioters came from all walks of life and across the country but the media and anti-police activists have zeroed in on the small handful of law enforcement officers who were present to suggest that police agencies are rife with dangerous insurrectionists. 

That charge disparages — through false innuendo and generalizations — the brave, loyal and duty-bound men and women of American law enforcement. Worse, it distracts from real solutions to further professionalize the police and root out bad apples. 

Certainly, dozens of off-duty police officers attended the peaceful and legal exercise of their First Amendment rights as citizens alongside then-President Trump miles from the Capitol. That is and was their right as Americans. Police are under investigation by their departments, with many put on administrative leave. At this point, only three law enforcement officers have been charged out of the tens of thousands of rally attendees. And to date, those charges relate only to unlawful entry to the Capitol, not violence or destruction of property.

But of the hundreds that illegally breached the Capitol, only a tiny fraction are (or were) law enforcement. While their conduct was certainly unbecoming and wrong, none of those few have been accused of vandalism and violence – and each is still deserving of due process under the law. 

As a former frontline officer and police leader, I am deeply disappointed that they would engage in such behavior which tarnishes the badge worn by more than 800,000 law enforcement officers in the U.S. The mob they participated in even took the life of a fellow ‘brother in blue’ and injured dozens more. It is shameful.



The Capitol rioters included doctors, nurses, realtors, lawyers and business owners, but none of those professions is being similarly slandered as a hotbed for extremism. The hundreds of thousands of men and women who don their police uniforms each day do not deserve to be painted with the broad brush as threats to the American homeland or dangerous radicals. 

It is unfair and unwise to smear law enforcement officers due to the actions of a tiny minority. Indiscriminate attacks on the noble profession of policing are counterproductive to the shared goal of rooting out so-called “bad apples,” holding those who stray accountable, and further professionalizing American policing. 

Such unfounded criticisms make law enforcement officials defensive and demoralized when we need to empower and encourage police more than ever. Every good cop wants to put an end to misconduct, corruption, and abuses of power because they reflect poorly on their vocation and own honor. 

So, let’s give them the tools to do it instead of defaming them for the actions of the few. A good start would be to beef up background checks for law enforcement, not just as the hiring point, but at regular intervals throughout their career — just like federal security clearances.

Most departments do not have the manpower, tools, or time to conduct periodic reinvestigations of their officers until it is too late and alleged misconduct has already occurred. The current approach weeds out the unfit from joining but does not ensure those that have become unfit are disciplined or removed. 

Most officers who fail to uphold their duties did not join the force as “bad cops” but slipped (too often unnoticed) little by little until their conduct became egregious and obvious. As the axiom goes, “bad cops aren’t born, they are made.” 

By making continued service in law enforcement contingent on follow-up background investigations and interviews (by a third-party), we can identify and intervene where necessary to prevent future misconduct. 

And those “interventions” need not be dismissal — depending on the offense and circumstances. Just like everyone, cops can struggle with mental health, substance abuse, or other personal challenges that can be rectified before they lead to work-related problems. Instituting a systematized effort to review every law enforcement officer’s mental, physical, and financial health on an ongoing basis would move the needle in ways far more significant that any singular reform measure currently proposed.

If the public believed that law enforcement was being vetted and re-vetted, held accountable, and helped where possible, their faith in the police would grow. 

But our police agencies need the resources to achieve that. Congress should initiate grants and pilot programs to help departments to recruit and retain only the best officers including through periodic re-investigations and interventions. 

Police officers aren’t perfect — they are human like all of us. They should be held to a higher standard — not a double standard. It is plain wrong to lump in good cops with bad actors. Instead, let’s filter out those who tarnish the badge without diminishing the overwhelming majority of those who wear it with integrity and valor. 

• Jason Johnson is the president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and served as Baltimore Police Department’s deputy commissioner. 

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