Rising controversy over the role of police in society has permeated even the smallest, most homogeneous towns in Connecticut. A local police officer, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from community members since she felt the circumstances surrounding her employment were easily identifiable, spoke with the News in an interview. Though she admitted there are “bad people” in the force “like in any career,” the Officer expressed that recent backlash against the police has her concerned for herself and the community.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement last May, shortly following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, sparked public outrage and protests in support of Black Lives Matter, even in the Officer’s small town in Connecticut. Despite popular debate on the role of police, the Officer felt that there tended to be a missing perspective: that of police officers themselves. 

“I want the public to look beyond their thoughts when they initially see us in a uniform, as the person we are, just as they would like us to do for them,” she said.

Although the Officer’s childhood dream was to become a veterinarian, she has been on the force for over twenty years. With her vast experience, the Officer has noticed a change in her job in recent years, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The job is more hands-off now to allow for social distancing. The police also play more of a caretaker role, with increased calls related to social issues like domestic violence and mental health, according to an April article by the Hartford Courant. During stay-at-home orders last year, police across Connecticut reported a rise in calls related to family violence.

The Officer also noted changes in her job due to shifting public perception of police and their role in society. 

“We’re working for the community, so we have to do what the community wants us to do,” she explained. That being said, the Officer spoke of the role the media plays in shaping public opinion and emphasized the importance of accurate reporting. 

When asked whether she believed media coverage of police-involved civilian deaths such as George Floyd’s had been biased, she responded, “Not necessarily … George Floyd’s death was horrible and tragic, and there are flaws in policing.” The Officer supported and recognized the importance of holding police accountable. But she did point out that the media sometimes reports to the public before knowing the whole story. 

The Officer noted the level of complexity added to her work by increased social media coverage, in particular in situations where physical force may be required. 

“You really only use force when you need to, but because it’s in such a huge light right now, you feel more apprehensive when you need to… which could put both the officer and the community at risk,” she said. “Now you’re concerned that force may look bad on social media, but that could really put people’s lives in danger if you are second guessing what needs to be done.” 

While she acknowledged that individual police wrongdoings contribute to the public’s mistrust and bad publicity, she noted that bad cops “pull the good ones down with them.” She has begun to feel like “a target,” even though she believed “most police officers join the force to help the community.” 

The Officer thinks change is necessary and that reforms need to be made from the top down, starting with laws. She emphasized that police do not create laws, and they have laws and protocols that must be followed. Change, she therefore expressed, must begin in the legislative branch. And, unequal sentencing must be rectified in the judicial system. 

Connecticut’s police accountability laws, enacted in October 2020, are a step towards helping to eliminate racial injustice and police brutality. Among the laws are a requirement for a police officer to intervene if they see another officer using excessive force, limitations on police ability to search vehicles, and mental health assessments for current officers every five years.

The new laws also create more stringent hiring criteria for those applying to the police force. Despite controversy, the Officer has not seen a decline in applications for new officer positions in her town. She believes younger generations will shape the role future police hold in their communities. With greater police accountability, changes in legislation, and more accurate media coverage, the Officer hopes a police force that better protects and serves the entire community can be created.