By: Mike Haglund
With all the bad publicity and negative media, it’s hard to believe that anyone would want to put up with all of that. I talked with two individuals to discuss just that. Sergeant Bryan Peterson of the West Valley City Police, and Mario Widdowson, an intern for Unified Police currently under going the interview process to become an officer. For both of them, the desire to become a policemen started out as a child’s dream, and confirmed later in life when they had a positive interaction with a policeman.
For Sergeant Peterson, that experience came when he was in 5th grade he was a victim to an attempted mugging and had a knife held to his throat. “The detective assigned to my case” he said, “was very caring and worked very hard on my case. I was never able to ID the suspect, but the professionalism by the detective impacted me and my desire to be a police officer.”
“I want to be a policeman first and foremost” Widdowson explained, “because it was a police officer who had the most positive impact on my life when I was 18 years old and getting into trouble.” He also hopes to be accepted into the program so that he can have a positive influence on the community that he was raised in and have the opportunity to change a life like the officer who changed mine.
Two individuals with very different backgrounds, both with the desire to help their community. So why do the police have such big targets on their backs, and are put in such a negative light? As Widdowson and I discussed this question, we both agreed that where you grow up, and the experiences you have with the police have the most impact on your personal perception of them. We discussed that perhaps socioeconomic status played a big factor in crime. The majority of people don’t commit crimes because they’re bored, they do so out of necessity. If someone grows up in the projects of Baltimore and has negative interaction with the police from the time they’re very young, there’s a pretty good chance that they won’t grow up to respect the police.
We’re all human and humans make mistakes. When we make a mistake in school, we get a few points docked off our grade. At work when we make a mistake, your boss will bring you into their office and take corrective measures. Just like anywhere, there are good apples, and there are bad apples. But, when you are a public servant working out in public, everybody has their eyes on you, watching everything you do. When you do something wrong, people will pull out their cameras and start recording you, and in the blink of an eye that video will be posted on countless social media outlets. Soon enough it will be circling the news on a 24-hour cycle.
While talking with Sergeant Peterson, and Widdowson I asked them if their departments do anything from a public relations perspective to help counter all the negative media. Sergeant Peterson said that for a long time his department didn’t do anything PR wise, and thought that might have hurt them. They now have someone in charge of their social media, they have even posted pictures to Facebook of people they are trying to identify to get the public involved as well. Every summer, Unified Police holds an annual event called “Night Out Against Crime.” The goal of the event is to increase public awareness of crime prevention, build bridges between law enforcement and the community, and send the message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back against crime. Widdowson also told me that they host a citizen’s academy where you take a class once a week for a few months and learn a variety of things that relate to police work. He says “people really do learn a lot from this experience and I would welcome anyone to go to it. You start to think more like a police officer and can better put yourself in their shoes.”
I asked Sergeant Peterson I asked him if there was anything the public can do to help change the effects of the negative media. He replied by saying, “I wish the public would ask the media for more heartwarming stories, or even call in to the media when they see good things happening. There are a lot of cops in the Salt Lake Valley doing a lot of good work that goes unnoticed.”