EDITORIAL: Cherokee’s Thin Blue Line

by May 7, 2019OPINIONS




It is not difficult to get a negative perception of the police. After all, their job is to keep the peace and enforce the law. We are not always peaceful, and we do not always obey the law. In fact, we spend a lot of our time figuring out ways to skirt the law, as witnessed by the number of folks I see blow by me in downtown Cherokee as I cruise happily along at 20 m.p.h. (roughly).
We tend to look at laws we disagree with as suggestions intended to discourage happiness. Some take the activists route of protesting by voice and action to reverse the law. Some are compliant. Some will break or circumvent the law to suit their value structure.

We have all seen the videos, news stories, and water cooler gossip about police brutality and abuse of authority. And I do not doubt that there are those officers who, for whatever reason, overstep the boundaries of the law. I believe the clear majority of law enforcement do the job in the way that we ultimately intended, keeping the peace and enforcing the law.
Police officers are human. They will make mistakes. Overall, they are just like us, except they have a desire to serve in a way that we do not. Regardless of what you think of an officer’s motivation, there is no denying that, for example, patrol officers routinely, daily, literally put their lives on the line. No amount of prestige, glory, or celebrity it worth the price of your life, so, I don’t think that an officer does what he or she does for any of those reasons.

According to the last report accessible on https://www.ebci.com, in February 2019, which should have been a slow month (off tourist season), the Cherokee Indian Police Department (CIPD) responded to 1,327 calls for service, made 83 arrests, handled 28 accidents, and issued 134 citations. The CIPD seized $3,540 worth of methamphetamines and $8,600 worth of heroin with other drugs totaling a street value of $1,330,784.
During the Community Services meeting with Tribal Council in March, Police Chief Doug Pheasant indicated that staffing had become more challenging over the past few years as other municipalities were offering pay for their officers that make it appealing to leave Cherokee. He said that, in February, the Tribe lost three officers to other counties. Just like us, those who chose law enforcement as a profession typically have families that they must care for, so pay and benefits matter.

That being said, those in emergency services do not do what they do for big money. Salaries for emergency services receive meager pay in comparison to the product of their work. What is the value of bringing a family member back from a certain overdose death to a second chance at life; or the value of busting up a drug ring that is poisoning many of the youth of our community; or removing a reckless or impaired driver from the streets that you and I travel; or the value of stopping violence perpetrated on our elders, spouses, and children. I often wonder what it says about our society that a person throwing a football for our entertainment makes a salary of eight or nine figures per year while the person charged with protecting our lives struggles to take of a family on five figures per year.
Latest census information (federal census 2010) puts the resident population of Cherokee at just over 2,000. The tourist population inflates that number by thousands year-round since the casino. There is still a dip in visitation in the winter months, but not like it was pre-1997. And the CIPD enforces tribal and federal law 24 hours a day, all year long. They network with other municipalities to ensure public safety for events, small and large. From an Elder Walk to the Cherokee Indian Fair Parade, you will find patrol officers ensuring the safety of the activity. They are a presence at every public affair, from school award programs to Tribal Council sessions.
Cherokee police officers are typically members of the community, and many are tribal members. They serve their neighbors and their families. Responding to calls knowing that you may be dealing with a close relation in a potentially tragic situation has to be additional stress on an officer’s mind.

Long hours, short pay, probably mountains of paperwork for every incident, families burdened with worry. A public that doesn’t understand the police officer’s role and doesn’t appreciate their “interference.” Doesn’t sound like a dream job, does it? When you talk to officers, you typically don’t hear dissent. Instead, they are excited and enthusiastic about their jobs. Any distress is due to red tape and other things that stand in their way of doing a more effective job. They stand on the front line between law and chaos. They take pleasure in knowing that they make a difference in their communities.

A friend once told me that every time he hears a siren that he stops whatever he is doing and offers up a prayer. He said he knows that at that moment, someone may be facing a traumatic experience and maybe even loss of life. He pauses and prays for those people and those who are racing to intercede in vehicles with red or blue lights flashing. The men and women who take on the roles of guardians in our community deserve the best pay we can afford, the best benefits available, our support and, most importantly, our prayers.