Do you expect every cop to be a "hero"?

My wife asked this question this a.m., and I thought it might be worth its own thread. Obviously related to that sheriff’s deputy in FL. My immediate answer was “Yes!”, but then I wondered what limits I might expect on a cop’s obligation to display “heroic” behavior. And appropriate behavior might vary depending on the situation. In some situations, it might be better for a lone, outgunned cop to take cover, monitor, and communicate with support, rather than charge in and (likely) sacrifice himself.

How appropriate is it to compare what is expected of cops to firemen, or military?

I don’t even know how to best frame this discussion, other than to raise infinite scenarios. I imagine tere would tend to be extreme categories of situations/responses at either end, where most of us would agree action is expected or not, with a huge grey area in between.

Any thoughts?

Discretion is the better part of valor. Given their training and pay, I expect cops to attempt to maintain order and deescalate volatile human conflicts–especially in the case of school resource officers, whose daily routine might get as exciting as breaking up a fistfight. I don’t particularly want that guy to be armed in the first place, and I especially don’t want him to be eager to draw his weapon and go a-hunting through the high school full of scared and flighty kids.

With Parkland in particular, my criticism is limited to allowing the shooter access to the school. I’m not clear about how that happened without a cop being made dead at the point of entry. But once someone breaks out the big guns, it’s SWAT time. A resource cop with his little pea shooter is just another casualty. If he gets a clear shot that doesn’t threaten innocents, then I expect him to take that shot. But going on a hunt when that’s not something he’s well trained to do is to court disaster.

I’ve always perceived police as ranking in the middle between civilians and the military.

They carry firearms and receive some tactical training. But their primary mission is to enforce laws and keep order. They generally aren’t expected to engage in combat. There are rare occasions when police use lethal force to protect themselves and the public.


That is so hard to define. Soldiers will tell you they fought as brothers. No one in the squad wants to let his fellow soldier down or be seen as unreliable. I’ve read true accounts of wounded men returning to their units early. Knowing they were needed and didn’t want to let their buddies down.

Police have a similar code. They back each other up. Protect each other. They aren’t organized as strongly as the military. They don’t operate in the same way. Police officers usually work with a partner and that can become a very close bond. They look out for each others safety.

Ultimately no one knows for sure how they’ll respond to an emergency. There’s so many factors to consider. Are you completely alone? Is help on its way? Do you think your actions will save anybody? There’s so many things to consider. Some people just respond without any thought.

Today you may freeze and not run into that burning building. Under different circumstances you might put yourself at risk to save somebody.

I expect them to uphold the oath they made when they voluntarily accepted the responsibilities and obligations of the job. They put themselves in the position as the “thin blue line between order and anarchy,” so when “anarchy” presents itself, they’d damn well better be prepared to step in front of it.

Part of being a cop is taking on risk. Nobody should expect a cop who’s out of ammo to make a reckless suicide charge against an armed aggressor, but if you’re a paid law enforcement officer, the expectation is that when everyone else is running away from the gunfire, you will be running toward it. The post-Columbine philosophy with regard to active shooters is that first responders are expected to confront and neutralize the shooter to limit the casualties, the thought being that in most cases an active shooter does not possess a high degree of tactical training and does not exhibit a high level of resolve (i.e. they tend to surrender or suicide when faced with any armed resistance). Yes, there’s a small chance that today’s active shooter will be someone who is highly trained and motivated, or maybe they just get a lucky headshot on you when you first enter the building; that’s the risk we’re paying you to take.

Knowing that active shooters tend to fold when confronted with armed resistance, should we consider it “heroic” for a first responder to go into the building alone? Probably not by that simple fact, since that’s now general policy. Heroism might arise from what happens after that first responder goes in. Does he stay pinned behind one corner after a single random bullet zips by him? Or does he repeatedly break cover to advance on the shooter despite being shot at multiple times (thus keeping the shooter too busy to murder more innocents)? That’s perhaps where heroism gets determined.

My definition of a “hero” may be a little bit different that others. I think a hero is someone that goes above and beyond with a large risk to yourself to help others in need.

Police officers*, are paid, trained, and given a firearm through public money to protect the public. In theory, the money they are paid is compensation for their time and the risk that they incur to conduct their duties. The training and firearm are tools which they use to conduct those duties and they are also useful tools to reduce the risk of harm coming to the police officer.

Considering that time was of utmost essence (people are being actively executed as an officer waits), it is** the duty** of the officer to go in and engage with the shooter. As others have pointed out, this is not a death sentence. A young, distraught untrained, gunman, even armed with a rifle, is not an insurmountable foe. Their most common response to police pressure is suicide, not to shoot their way out of the situation.

With all of this in consideration, if it is the duty of the police officer to engage with the shooter, then I do not consider them “a hero.” That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be extremely thankful for him/her, but they are doing their job. We as citizens pay tens of millions of dollars so that someone will be there to do that when our kids are in danger. It is not above and beyond, it is expected.

*There is some discussion if the person in question was a police officer or not. I am setting that aside for now.

Thanks for the thoughtful responses so far.

I realized I was thinking about the Vegas shooting, where folk were impressed w/ cops “running towards the gunfire.”

I guess I kinda thought that was in their job description.

Another data point - where I live, cops are (IMO) rather well compensated - especially given the low crime rates. And they have (again IMO) very generous retirement packages. I thought one reason it was accepted that many cops could retire w/ full benefits at relatively young ages was because of the potential hazards they willingly faced.

There was a recent series in the local paper, tho, about how poorly some cops in poorer suburbs of Chicago were paid/trained, and how they would often hire cops who had been fired from other departments for disciplinary reasons, simply to fill slots with willing bodies. And then, continued police misbehavior expectedly ensues…

[warning; I haven’t thought this through completely, and reserve the right to decide it was a dumb idea]

I think we have two primary uses for police that are only conflated by accident. First, we use them to bring in people who have perpetrated (and/or we believe to have perpetrated) crimes, so that they can be handed off to the justice system (or issued a ticket right there). Second, we use them to stop crimes in progress.

While there is some overlap in the skill set, there’s also an awful lot that doesn’t overlap; I don’t know that those two things need to be done by the same employee, and in fact, sometimes I think it’s better if they weren’t. Does the person who writes speeding tickets, or handles basic enforcement on a city street also have to be the same person who enters a building with an unknown shooter? Is it reasonable to expect the person who trains for and lives a (relatively) quiet and peaceful day-to-day to always be ready and prepared to run into a movie theater where someone’s gunning people down? Conversely, do we expect the person who does train for that kind of event regularly to also make the best choices when dealing with homeless on the street?

I don’t have answers to all those questions, but if I had to pick between a police force that spent extra time training for mass-murder events or a police force that spent extra time training on de-escalation and non-violent interactions, I’d pick the latter.

Fundamentally, I don’t believe that mass-shootings are a policing problem.

I expect every cop should be a hero. It’s pretty much their job to take risks on our behalves to minimize the risks to others. That’s pretty heroic in my definition. This is the regular business of police and they are generally heroes, some bigger and some smaller but heroes one and all.

Heroism comes in degrees. Just showing up to work and being willing to stop a guy by the side of the road to cut down on drunk driving or answer a domestic violence call is somewhat heroic. Not all of heroism requires superhero levels of heroism. (And my sincere thanks to the police officers reading the thread for your good and honest service.)

But cops are human and fallible. Even well-intentioned cops don’t know how deep their reserves of heroism are until they are presented with a need for it. Others are just people who wanted to carry a gun at work and exercise authority over others. They aren’t heroes and I predict they will behave accordingly. These officers are in the minority but we shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist because it makes us uncomfortable.

I don’t expect heroism. All I ask is enough courage to stop shooting law abiding people who frightened them. I am sick of cops citing fear as a justification for shooting unarmed kids or law abiding gun owners. They should err on the side of public safety over their own. That is heroism, and if they have to take one for the team once in a while, so be it. That’s what medals are for.

IMO, you hit upon some crucial considerations - which are nearly universally poorly thought out or executed. As basic as it gets - is the function of police to prevent crime, or to enforce laws? I’ve heard/read that the overwhelming % of LEO resources is directed at the latter. Of course, the former is likely far more amorphous and difficult to quantify in budget justifications.

Then contrast the function of citizen service (“to serve AND protect”?) with the increased militarization of police since 9/11.

Finally, the job is such that an individual officer might be expected to perform equally well in widely disparate roles - maybe not as far as charging in as a SWAT team member, but might drive a desk or be officer friendly one day, and be expected to respond to an active shooter the next. I can imagine staffing (and labor) concerns would make it difficult to hire and compensate various “levels” of cops depending on their expected hazards. I do know that our area tends to have “Community Service Officers.” Impresses me that the guy in FL should have been closer to one of these, rather than an armed full deputy pulling down $100k/year (with OT).

I don’t expect police officers to sacrifice their lives; I do expect them to put themselves at risk and do their duty.

Some people thrive on this, and enjoy the adrenaline rush. I just expect them to do their job, whether or not that makes them a hero, I think some are in certain situations. But I often think of for comparison the convenience store clerk, pizza delivery person, Uber or taxi cab driving working a bad neighborhood late at night, as probably having a hell of a lot more guts to take on those jobs, but just don’t get all the adulation and fanfare and perks that cops, firemen or the military get.

I can’t say I expect them all to be heroes. But should a situation call for heroics, I am expecting them to step up.

If you can hesitate, after taking an oath, when children are literally being slaughtered, maybe you weren’t meant to be a cop.

The cops I know would NOT have been able to wait I believe. They all have a little super hero lurking just under the surface, it feels like. It’s part of what makes them great cops, I suspect.

Just one opinion, of course.

Yes, I expect them to be heroes. Maybe that’s unfair - I am asking someone who makes less money than I do to die on my behalf. But that’s how it has to be.

I heard it after 9/11 and several times since. “When a bad situation arises, everyone else runs away from it, and the cops run towards it.” Is that heroic? Damn right it is.

Should that school resource officer, or whatever it was, get fired/be forced to resign because he waited outside? I understand completely why he did it, and it is probably what I would have done (and probably fucking Trump would have done). But he should still be fired. That’s just how it has to be.


I expect every cop to be a corrupt power hungry asshole. I never expect them to be a hero.

To be honest, sometimes I’m right, but more often than not I’m pleasantly surprised.

On the specific topic of school shootings, my understanding is that since Columbine, moving in quickly (rather than setting up a defensive line outside) has become generally accepted as best practices among police departments. I.e., that is a situation where police officers themselves generally expect police officers to be heroes.

With regard to the Parkland shooting I raise the same question that I raised in another thread. If the cop isn’t there to try to limit the killing, then exactly what is he there for? To break up fights? Nonsense. There were no cops when I was in HS but some teachers would break up fights. I knew one that carried a section of pipe strapped to his leg. He used it only once, but it worked. But in those days the gun cult wasn’t so far along.

I’ve seen too much to assume heroism and dedicated public service from cops.

I don’t presume that a cop is “hero”.

That’s why I refuse to revere them. I respect their authoritay because they have the power to ruin my life with impunity. But I don’t think they are necessarily good guys who are especially brave and valiant. Most do what they do because they need a job, not because they care about the community or saving anyone from harm.