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Editorial: Police just did their job

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, 3:33 p.m.

They did what they are there to do.

When two Westmoreland County residents seemingly disappeared on Thursday, Greensburg police didn’t brush it off. They didn’t say “come back in a week and let us know if they show up.” They didn’t raise an eyebrow and throw the report on a pile of files about stolen bikes and lost dogs.

Two families and co-workers said they were afraid something was wrong, and the police said they would help.

Because that is their job.

Police don’t get to pass judgment on emergencies when someone’s life could be in danger. First responders of all kinds have to put human safety first.

Sometimes that means that they turn up to an emergency that was less than emergent. Maybe that prowler in the bushes is a raccoon. Maybe that guy trying to break in the side door is a kid who broke curfew and lost his key.

But maybe it isn’t. Or maybe next time, it won’t be.

“It was the result we all were hoping for … everybody was safe. Given the exact same set of circumstances, we’d investigate it the same way again,” Greensburg police Capt. Robert Stafford said. “We’re police. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Yes, it is. And for every one or two or ten calls where something turns out to be nothing, there is the one, the horrible one, where what could easily have been nothing is actually exactly what everyone feared.

Too many police officers have gone back to families with the crippling message no one wants to deliver or hear.

Others are haunted by the cases that were never solved, where parents or spouses or children continue for years to hold out the hope that someday someone will give them an answer to where this person they loved went and what happened to them.

So while social media may have been dubious about the seriousness with which police undertook a search for two adults whose weeknight date ended up evolving into an impromptu interstate road trip, the investigators don’t have the luxury of looking at the million ways things could have gone right.

Their focus, just like when they direct traffic or respond to a domestic disturbance or even approach the window of a car they have pulled over for a broken taillight, has to be on the handful of ways it could have gone wrong.

“Can you imagine if we didn’t do anything and something bad occurred?” Stafford said.

Yes, we can, and we would have been among the first taking the department to task for it. We are happy, instead, to defend them for doing their job.

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