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Editorial: Police higher standard due to heroic example

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, 4:33 p.m.
Tactical police patrol the streets on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 in Squirrel Hill after a fatal shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Tactical police patrol the streets on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 in Squirrel Hill after a fatal shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Our police officers earn our trust with their actions in extraordinary situations.

It is the daily actions that have the ability to draw down on that credit.

The Pittsburgh police response to the Tree of Life shooting was nothing short of heroic and exemplary. Two officers were shot. Two others sustained injuries. There is no way to tell how many lives were saved by the regular uniformed officers and the SWAT responders Oct. 27. It is a debt without measure.

Days like that are why our law enforcement officers deserve to be viewed with absolute confidence that they will stand between us and danger. They purchase our faith in them with courage and blood.

But then there are the days like Oct. 12.

That is the day that four undercover officers were involved in an altercation with the Pagans motorcycle club at Kopy’s bar on the South Side. The four bikers were originally charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy and riot.

Those charges were dropped Wednesday, and the incident is being probed by the FBI, the Office of Municipal Investigations and the Citizens Police Review Board. The bar’s owner signed an affidavit claiming the officers were in his bar for four hours drinking alcohol before the Pagans walked through the door. He says the police picked a fight.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said in the aftermath that he had questions and concerns. He brought up a previous issue with an off-duty officer kicking a man in the face.

There have been other issues that challenge that belief, locally and nationally. The most devastating always involve loss of life. Antwon Rose. Tamir Rice. Philando Castile. They become part of a tug-of-war between civil rights and self-protection, racism and public safety.

But with the Pagans case, there is no racial component. Just guys in a bar. Some had badges, albeit hidden. Some didn’t. There are still allegations of things going too far and too much force being used.

There was also acknowledgement, though, that the officers in uniform who responded to Kopy’s bar did it with “a calm and professional manner despite being faced with a chaotic situation,” according to a statement from DA’s office spokesman Mike Manko.

Every moment in a police officer’s life can’t be the gold standard of those crisis moments. They are human beings, and they deal with incredible stress and unbelievable risk.

But if there is anything that could make a police officer’s job easier and safer, it is a citizenry that has an unfailing belief that the men and women in uniform — the people they trust to intercede with deadly force when necessary — are that calm, level- headed presence in a moment of need.

It is precisely because of the immense confidence we have in our police from those times they have proven their valor that we hold them to the higher standard that we do. It isn’t a deficit of faith. It’s a surplus.

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