As often happened in my career, real world events intervened. This time, the Los Angeles riots caused me to shelve my plans as I became part of the effort to support Marine operations in restoring law and order. Two indelible memories remain with me from that operation.
The first was how quickly the riot developed. It was there for all to see on television. I had always heard that the line between law and order was thin and I saw the boundary evaporate in a matter of hours. The police trying to control the riot were swiftly outnumbered and, once the tactical decision was made to retreat, the fate of that part of Los Angeles was sealed.
I remember thinking how ironic it was that it was that the same Marines who one year before had recaptured Kuwait City would perhaps now be needed to retake Los Angeles.
The second takeaway is that members of the police have it much more difficult when it comes to maintaining the peace. As I learned in my long career, when you send in the Marines, they are not there to negotiate. They do their job by closing with the enemy by fire and maneuver and destroying him and his will to resist.
That worked great in Kuwait, but not in Los Angeles. It’s just not good public policy to have members of the U.S. armed forces shoot Americans, regardless of the context.
So we were more than happy to turn our security responsibilities back to the police once they regrouped. They have a completely different set of skills that you don’t really appreciate until you are asked to operate using their rules of engagement.
What’s my point? We live in Cobb County where we go about our lives in relative peace, somehow not cognizant of the danger associated with having an undermanned police force.
I know there will be those who will argue that the personal armories in Cobb collectively more than compensate for the shortfall of police officers.
But there is a vast difference between police officers who receive extensive training on use of lethal force and a society ruled by vigilante justice.
I deployed later in 1992 to Mogadishu, where virtually every male, including children, had an AK 47. I clearly prefer to live in Cobb County protected by our police force.
Secondly, you get what you pay for. I’m always amazed at companies that provide the best training but then pay sub-par wages to their employees who eventually look for greener pastures.
At a recent town hall meeting, I was struck by Cobb Police Chief John Houser noting that it takes $80,000 to train a police cadet. Even if only 40 out of the current shortage of 80 police officers left for better paying jobs elsewhere, that’s still $3.2 million out of the County General Fund that will benefit another municipality, plus another $3.2 million dollars to train their replacements with no guarantee they will remain.
In essence, Cobb is being used by other local governments as a cost-free development league for police officers. Quality is not cheap and not paying our police officers their true value is penny wise and pound foolish.
Having done budgets on both a national and local scale, I am more than aware of the challenges the Board of Commissioners faces in developing a budget. But the number one priority of any government is the protection of its citizens.
Using our first responders as bill payer in a budget will have the same bad results that our country sees every time we try to extract a peace dividend by downsizing our military. As I learned in Los Angeles, and as we saw in the snowstorms this past month, there are times when you simply do not have enough first responders in a real emergency.
Not only do we need to quickly remedy the serious shortfall in police officers, but we need to pay them their true worth. In the long run, it makes us safer and is fiscally responsible.
Michael Boyce of east Cobb is a retired Marine colonel and ran for chairman of the Cobb Board of Commissioners in 2012.