Perception is reality. There once was a time law enforcement were perceived as those who risked their lives to protect a community. Today, men in women in uniform are viewed as the enemy rather than the ally.

They say you shouldn't judge someone without walking a mile in their shoes. So we went behind the badge to find out the reality for law enforcement officers amidst the protests and riots.

Some entered law enforcement to follow in family footsteps, others to protect and serve. The reasons why they answered the call to duty may be different but their fears and frustrations over the divide in our country is the same.

The consensus of the 7 members of local and state law enforcement we spoke with, who asked to remain anonymous, is misconceptions and judgement based on the actions of a select few. "People assume based on the movement racism and police brutality are equivalent and all police officers are bad."

Not all cops are bad. Most are just trying to do a very difficult job that's been made even harder by the public's preconceived notions. "There is nothing more pejorative than being told 'you’re one of the good ones,'" said a New York State Police Sergeant. "I am not one of the good ones. We are the good ones. No one hates a bad cop more than the good cops."

Racism does exist. But just like not all cops are bad, not everyone is a racist. "We don’t accept nor condone racism and people shouldn’t make it appear as though we do."

Law enforcement is there to help, regardless of skin color. "There is no group of people more dedicated to the idea that all black lives matter than the men in women in blue who put themselves in harm’s way to stop violence," said one Sergeant.

The media isn't helping with all the negativity either. A 15 year veteran with the New York State Police said there's more to the story. "The public have only the media to look to for answers, and it portrays that minorities are targeted for no other reason than being a minority."

A local officer who's been on the force nearly two decades, feels there has become a clear division since the protests began. "Some people are vocal and very supportive of the police. Some simply want a reason to criticize before getting all the facts, and by the time the facts come out, opinions have already been made."

Those opinions are now affecting split second decisions, decisions that could cost a law enforcement officer their life. "If an officer second guesses an action based upon how it may be perceived, it can be deadly."

New laws, lack of respect and little to no accountability are handcuffing police. "Some people have much less respect for police and little fear of consequences because of the ridiculous bail reform," said a Sergeant who's been with the New York State Police for 34 years. "We have a very difficult and often thankless job to do and rules to follow to do that job right."

A fellow Sergeant agrees. "Accountability for criminals has decreased, while laws specific to police enforcement have increased."

Just as criminals need to be held accountable, all 7 officers agree the same should be said for members of law enforcement. "When an officer does something wrong he or she needs to be held 100% accountable."

What officers don't agree with is the violent protesters and looters. "I don’t feel we need to provide an understanding to violent people who think looting businesses and being violent with non-involved citizens is an acceptable response to an incident they were not involved in," said a State Police Sergeant. "These actions do not provide justice for the incidents they are protesting."

The negativity towards law enforcement is taking a toll on not only the officers, but their families. "People are leaving in masses and those that stay question if it’s the right choice for them and their families."

One local police department went from 250-300 people take a civil service exam every year to less than half this year. "If we don’t have police officers to maintain law and order, what will that do for our communities and our children?" asked one Sergeant. "Men and women should be proud to tell their children their career choice but now have to tell their children not to talk about it out of fear it may endanger their child."

Can communities, law enforcement and other entities find the truth and get back to a point where they all work together before it's too late? "The pendulum always swings back. Unfortunately, because of weak politicians and mainstream media that is only interested in fanning the flames, the pendulum has been pushed to the extreme. I hope it swings back before too much cultural damage has been done. Innocent people that spent their lives working hard have seen their life’s work destroyed over this."

Despite all the changes, one thing is the same. "Our job remains the same. We still protect people. We still enforce the law. We still help people in need."

Local Pastor Neil Coe Sr. prays the officers can keep doing their job while some Americans turn a blind eye to the truth. "None of us has any idea what you men and women have to deal with trying to work with every kind of unique person there is in this society," he wrote in a letter to State Police.

Photo Credit - NYSP
Photo Credit - NYSP

"Walking a mile in someone else's shoes isn't as much about the walk or the shoes; it's to be able to think like they think, feel what they feel, and understand why they are who and where they are," author Toni Sorenson once wrote.

"If you really want to know what it’s all about, contact a local agency and look into doing a ride along," suggests a local police officer. "Take the civil service test and make an impact rather than an uninformed opinion."

KEEP READING: See changes enacted since George Floyd’s death

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