Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Rest In Peace Officer Lehner

For the past week or so, we have all seen the tributes to Officer Craig Lehner on Facebook. Officer Lehner was one of those specialists who was trained to do things most other officers could not do. When the police needed an expert diver for difficult situations, Officer Lehner was one of the experts they called on. When one of his extreme training sessions went wrong, Officer Lehner was suddenly and unjustly taken from us. His passing is a tragedy, but what Officer Lehner was able to accomplish in the wake of his accident was more significant than anything any politician has been able to do for a very long time.

It is impossible to miss the stories and videos online from people who knew Officer Lehner, and those who just felt like they had to say something in remembrance of the fallen police officer. Then the blue pumpkins started popping up to create a new form of memorial. There are even a couple of unsavory characters who are selling blue pumpkins at a huge profit without applying any of that profit in the name of Officer Lehner. There will always be scam artists, but this feels a lot different.

If you have been reading the stories, looking at the pictures, and watching the videos, then you may have noticed the same thing I did. Police officers and the general public, people of all races and nationalities, mourning together and comforting each other in the wake of a real tragedy. Police officers are mourning a fallen brother, but the public seems compelled to mourn as well. There are blue lights on the porches at night, and blue pumpkins in the front yards.

Officer Lehner has helped bridge a gap that a thousand speeches from a thousand politicians have not been able to bridge. As the public embraces the police, we start hearing "thank you for your service" from a population that has been seemingly at odds with its police for a long time. Suddenly, all of those past events involving the police and the public seemed to drift into the background as the public remembers how dangerous it is to be a police officer protecting the people.

For his years of service, we honor Officer Craig Lehner and thank him. He initiated the rescues that many thought to be impossible, and he lost his life training to make even more daring rescues. When I first heard of his passing, my fear was that some faction of the population would act jubilant in the death of a police officer. But there has only been an outpouring of emotion from the public, and a renewed sense of respect for our police officers.

I know that not everyone has reached out to the police during this time of mourning. I understand that there are still people who thumb their noses at the police no matter what may happen. But during the past week or so, many people have been reminded that the real number of "bad cops" in this country is extremely small. The police take chances to save lives that others will not take, and some police officers take chances that should never be taken just to keep the public safe.

While I would like to see this renewed sense of goodwill between the police and the public be sustained, I am not naive. The American public has a very short attention span and I fear that the police will be at odds with the people at some point in the future. But maybe this most recent understanding between both sides will become a permanent change in attitude for a lot of people. Perhaps these recent tributes and scenes of mourning will open the eyes of police officers and the population as to what life can really be like if we just learn to trust each other again.

A police officer who passes away in the line of duty, no matter what they are doing, is a hero who died protecting the public. Yes, there have been plenty of instances where the actions of the police have been suspect. But maybe this recent outpouring of positive emotion for the heroes in blue will remind everyone that we all need each other if we are going to survive. Maybe...just maybe...the police and the public can sustain this goodwill and make sure that Officer Lehner not only died a hero, but as an inspiration as well.

George N Root III is a Lockport resident. R.I.P. Officer Craig Lehner.