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Courageous Conversations: The Challenges of Being a Cop

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Law enforcement is tasked with serving and protecting the public-- a job that has become increasingly challenging in the recent months.
   
Officers have faced growing scrutiny after tensions between police and the public escalated since the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
   
As part of our courageous conversations about race relations, KOLR10's Linda Ong looked into what the job of a cop is like today.
 
Day and night, officers patrol the streets to keep communities safe.  What they often enter are uncertain situations.
 
"You're always thinking arriving to a call, what are my options? What if this happens what if that happens?" said Cpl. Mark Chamberlain of the Webster County Sheriff's Department.
 
Chamberlain has worked in law enforcement for 24 years.
 
"Back when I first started, it was rare that you would get attacked by somebody," he says.  "Now it seems it's an every day occurrence."
 
It's a challenge faced by counties, both big and small, says Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams.
 "It's always been a dangerous profession. It's always dealing with people nobody wants to deal with in society," said Williams.
 
In 2014, 126 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty.  That's a 24-percent increase from 2013. Two of those officers were from Missouri. One was Cedar County Deputy Matthew Chism.

Cedar County Sheriff Leon Dwerlkotte considered Chism family. "It's a loss that you don't really recover from because you think about this stuff day in and day out," Dwerlkotte says.
 
The unrest of ferguson re-ignited tensions between the public and police. Officers now must couple protecting the public with protecting their own from being a target
 
"Don't do things in a routine pattern. Change it up. If you go to work by one street, go to a different street," said Dwerlkotte.
 
Dwerlkotte says since Ferguson, the public's perception of officers has taken a turn for the worst.
 
"The respect for law enforcement is lost. We're in a losing battle," Dwerlkotte says.
 
"It's frustrating that people are doing around the country what they accuse officers of doing all the time, which is generalizing," notes Williams.
 
"When a crisis hit, we revert back to what's comfortable for us, or what our biases taught us about other folks, and so it's easy to grab onto those and say, you know what? That's the problem," said Wes Pratt, Director of MSU's Institutional Equity and Compliance.

Pratt is part of a group working to improve diversity and community relations in Springfield.
 "You have to have the trust of the community in order to effectively fight crime, and so we need the police and the police need the community," Pratt says.
 
Pratt says part of the puzzle is understanding cultural differences. He's done this type of training with cadets at the request of the Springfield Police Department. However, despite the best in training, officers are human and judgement can still fail.
 
"Every now and then a cop will do something that doesn't exercise the best judgment," says Pratt. "You don't blame the entire police department, nor should the police department blame every citizen because of some transgression or some criminal act of somebody in that community."
 
Williams believes key to trust is for officers to be engaged with the community.
 
"Unfortunately, as police, we are there when bad things happen and people are upset," said Williams. "If you have open dialogue, and build relationships with folks before something like that happens, then there's a conduit to sort that out and get to the facts."
 
Pratt says the way forward will take time.
 
"We have to continue to work together, build that common bond and common awareness and appreciation for one another, in order to make sure our community remains a safe community," said Pratt.
 
"We in law enforcement still are still human. We try to help them out to stay equal with them," said Dwerlkotte. "But if the public will work with us and help us, we'll do the best we can to help them."
 
Both the Cedar County Sheriff and Springfield Police Chief said they're trying to recruit more diversity into their departments.

Chief Williams encourages the public to go on ride-alongs and to attend the citizen's police academy.  He says this will give people insight into what police do and why.

The next citizen's police academy will be in August through October of this year.
 

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