Three-hundred and 80 years ago, the Pilgrims at the Plymouth colony published the 1636 Book of Laws and authorized the local militia to enforce that criminal code creating, essentially, the first police department in America.

Times were simpler then. The laws in ye olde Plymouth town combined church dicta and English common law to combat, mostly, crimes of moral turpitude like public intoxication, gambling and fornication. Offenses like drive-by shootings and selling crack cocaine were considerably less common. Whatever the crime, the punishment was swift and certain – and very, very, harsh.

Crimes like arson, rape and even smiting your parent were punishable by death. The settlement’s general court enacted the laws, passed judgment and carried out the punishment. More than just judge, jury and executioner, they were also the legislative body for the colony. Plymouth’s fledgling government was ardently devoted to law and order and to those who enforced it.

Candidates for the general court of Plymouth likely ran on a “tough on crime” platform. It would’ve been highly irregular for a candidate to side with a young Pilgrim who turned deadly violence against a militiaman who had to use his musket to subdue his attacker. Certainly, the convening of a candidate’s political supporters at the town lodge wouldn’t have embraced the criminal element by featuring the mothers of would-be constable killers. You see, in these pre-colonial days, those who kept the peace were held in high regard, and those who disrupted it found their way to the calaboose or the noose.

My how times have changed.

The demonizing of police: How far will it go? Get a cop’s-eye view of the current climate against law enforcement with Jeff Roorda’s “The War on Police: How the Ferguson Effect is Making America Unsafe”

Nearly four centuries later, the criminals are better armed, greater in number and more violent than ever. More and more frequently, that violence is aimed toward the keepers of the peace, the modern-day militiamen and militiawomen who labor to keep our post-colonial communities safe.

Death by gunfire for police officers is up by over 70 percent this year, and death by ambush is up more than 150 percent. Still, some abnegate the existence of the war on police with the same confounding vigor as Holocaust deniers. Those knotty-minded souls instead lionize the desperate criminals who try to kill police officers when the cop is lucky enough to get the drop on his cowardly attacker. The reality is, American police officers are constantly on the receiving end of deadly violence today. Sometimes they subdue their attacker with appropriate force, sometimes – too frequently – it’s the cop who lay bleeding on the street.

Here in the St. Louis area, where I represent over 1,000 police officers for the Fraternal Order of Police, I’ve made three trips to the emergency room in the last seven weeks. That’s three hospital visits resulting from three ambushes – two in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, where I’ve represented police officers, and one in the quiet suburban town where I worked as a cop for 11 years – where a total of four cops were shot. All four of them were shot in the face. Astoundingly, three of them survived, scarred physically and emotionally for the rest of their lives. The fourth was not so lucky.

On this Thanksgiving – the tradition handed down to us by those very same early Americans who gave us our first laws and our first law enforcement officers – I am eminently thankful for the miraculous survival of these three St. Louis area police officer and for all of the heroes that toil to keep our colony safe. It is no small task in this sprawling, violent nation that has evolved from that small settlement at Plymouth.

The Pilgrims who forged this nation would be appalled by our propensity as a nation to devalue the lives of peace keepers and celebrate the lives of those who threaten the peace. The Pilgrims were smart enough to value those who enforced their early code of laws and they were devout enough to give thanks for their many blessings.

Police officers are a blessing. Pause today and give thanks for that blessing.

The demonizing of police: How far will it go? Get a cop’s-eye view of the current climate against law enforcement with Jeff Roorda’s “The War on Police: How the Ferguson Effect is Making America Unsafe”

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