For more than 50 years, the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police has worked to increase the efficiency of the law enforcement profession and more firmly establish public confidence in the service dedicated to the protection of life and property.
Today, the FOP represents a diverse group of over 35,000 police officers throughout our state. These officers go to work every day, their spouses praying they return safely, so they can provide for their families. They are members of your community; their children attend school with your children. They are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, Little League coaches, church members, school board members, neighbors and so much more.
As advocates for police officers, the FOP has seen many trends in public perception through the decades. But never have we seen the kind of vitriol and anger that our men and women have encountered in recent months.
In many recent news publications, we see, 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 such treatment of public servants would be so casually accepted.
We fully understand the tragic death of George Floyd in Minnesota has severely undermined the mission of the Illinois FOP in establishing and maintaining public trust in law enforcement. We further recognize the protests that followed began as peaceful endeavors to exercise First Amendment rights.
However, as these protests 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 elected leader or media outlet 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, as do prosecutors. When elected prosecutors chase political favor and refuse to prosecute criminals who viciously attack police, it sends a crystal-clear message that the system is no longer functioning.
Failure to hold bad actors accountable will only ensure that what has already been a long summer will be even longer and more dangerous for police officers and peaceful protesters alike.
Clearly, with what we have seen in the past few months, broad institutional reform is needed in Illinois and the nation. One incident may have provided the spark, but underneath it lay decades of kindling. Economic stagnation, social stratification, redlining, the pandemic, along with numerous other issues have all helped to lay the foundation for unrest.
Not one of these political decisions was made by a law enforcement officer. Yet it falls to the police to protect their cities when the political failures mount too high to contain public outrage.
As law enforcement leaders, the FOP has engaged in multiple negotiations on a variety of police reforms through the years, including but not limited to banning excessive chokeholds, instituting body cameras 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. We ask all our partners in law enforcement and the lawmaking process to stand with us in our shared goal of ensuring that citizens, as well as our law enforcement professionals, are able to safely return home to their families each night.
Chris Southwood is State Lodge President, Illinois Fraternal Order of Police.
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