Law enforcement is in crisis mode. Morale is low, recruitment is hemorrhaging, and there are reports of cops holding back from making arrests.

It’s no wonder. Their risk of being ambushed or assaulted has risen. They fear being sued or prosecuted for doing their jobs, or demeaned for a decision they had a split-second to make. They’re subjected to incessant and hostile criticism from armchair critics that are based on half-truths and lies.

And they’ve acquired new rivals: Politicians, community leaders, members of the media, zealous prosecutors, and the public they’ve sworn to defend.

The one thing that can help change this trajectory is outcry from citizens. As co-founder of a grassroots group called We Support the Madison Police Department, I’ve personally witnessed the positive impact just a few citizens can make.

Tired of being bystanders as certain politicians, citizens, and media repeatedly mischaracterized and condemned our beloved Chief Michael Koval and force after an officer-involved incident a couple years ago, we began to take action.

citizen outcry

Chief Michael Koval among others. (Photo courtesy Paula Fitzsimmons)

In June of 2016, a few of us began discussing ways to fight back. One of our group’s key players, David Blaska brainstormed the brilliant idea to design, print, and distribute pro-Madison Police Department yard signs. Hundreds upon hundreds of residents ordered our signs, prominently displaying them on their lawns, eager to show their support for our cops.

Our little group has evolved since then. We host appreciation parties, start petitions and deliver them to elected officials, initiate letter-writing campaigns and send action alerts, appear on various media, write op-eds, attend and speak at city council meetings, research issues reports in an attempt to shepherd change, and run a blog to keep people informed and motivated.

We also work to support law enforcement on the state level. My husband, Steve is working with Representative David Steffen and Craig Kolbeck from the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial on a license plate bill that would benefit the families of fallen heroes. In addition, we held a vigil this past October to honor Wisconsin’s fallen officers in response to vandalism of the law enforcement memorial a few months prior.

citizen outcry

Police Honor Guard. (Photo courtesy Paula Fitzsimmons)

Think a handful of citizens can’t make a difference? Our little group recently pulled off what many have said is the impossible: Getting our city council to vote for a proposition to fund the hiring of more (and sorely-needed) cops. We started a massive letter writing campaign, prepared an in-depth report detailing why we need more cops, and spoke in front of the council. Several of the city alders mentioned that the large volume of letters they received from Madison Police Department supporters influenced their decision to vote yes.

Our efforts also provide much-needed emotional support to our police officers. Consequently, they know someone has their back. Police officers need this now more than ever.

I urge you to start a similar group in your own city. It can be as simple or involved as you like, and you can work solo or as a group. The most important factor is that you publicly speak out for your cops.

It’s no longer sufficient for those of us who care to watch as our friends and defenders are being betrayed, abused, and discarded. It’s up to you and I to make change.

I can be reached at [email protected]

 Paula Fitzsimmons