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Father Of Police Officer Reflects On Tensions Between Cops, Community

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Police departments across the country are facing new scrutiny and in some cases, intense criticism over aggressive policing. Commentator Murray Horwitz has a son who's a cop, and he offers these thoughts.

MURRAY HORWITZ, BYLINE: I used to be a clown in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. My wife was a professional opera singer. So you can imagine that we were surprised when our son, a history major at a prestigious liberal arts college, announced that he'd applied to the police academy. Now, years later, we still look at each other with a bit of wonderment, not quite used to the fact that the fruit of our loins makes a living by chasing people down, handcuffing them and hauling them off to jail.

He did exactly that last June, in fact. A suspect had just stabbed a man and was running through a residential neighborhood still carrying the knife. The victim subsequently died so it turned out that our son had captured a murder suspect. A few months ago, he received a commendation for his role in that arrest, along with dozens of his fellow officers who had performed well in other situations, mostly by saving people's lives. There was the SWAT team that stopped a heavily-armed gunman from shooting up a suburban neighborhood, the officer who stopped a man from hanging himself in his kitchen, the cops who saved a teenaged girl who was hiding from her parents in her garage cutting herself.

Mind you, this award ceremony happens every six months in our county. Police do these sorts of things all the time, but they're seldom news. I didn't see a single reporter or video camera or broadcast microphone that day. I well understand and share the anger at cops who do wrong. As for our son, we're very proud of him. It seems to us he's doing something very worthwhile and good, as are most police officers. But it's a tough time to be a cop. Just as strangely, it's a tough time to be a circus clown or a Catholic Priest or a member of Congress. Older listeners may remember a time when we used to admire those professions.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund says that 117 cops died last year while doing their job. It's National Police Week, and there'll be a candlelight vigil here in Washington tonight in their memory. Somewhere in the crowd, there will be a mezzo soprano and an ex-clown.

BLOCK: Commentator Murray Horwitz is a playwright and lyricist and a former NPR producer. He lives in Washington, D.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.