A Police Officer Revisits an Old Parable

By T.B Lefever:

There is an old parable that has been at the center of law enforcement culture for generations.  In this parable, society is broken down into wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs.  The sheep are the vast majority of citizens. They are harmless and good-hearted by nature but tend to follow and prefer living a protected lifestyle out of harm’s way. As natural followers, the sheep are susceptible to naivety in terms of the dangers of the world. Because they are accustomed to herd thinking, the sheep have trouble understanding those that don’t share their neutral and benign intentions.  Then there are the wolves. The wolves prey on the sheep. Every now and then, the wolves invade the flock and drag off one of the sheep from the rest when it appears vulnerable or it strays.  The wolves are hungrier and to their core more tenacious than the sheep. This makes the sheep either live in fear of the wolf and stay away from it at all costs as a matter of survival or stay at the center of the flock where they rarely see a wolf and can live in denial of their existence.  The sheepdog is the singular line of defense for the sheep against the wolves.  The sheepdog sacrifices itself to keep the sheep safe because it knows that they have neither the ability nor the desire to do it themselves.  The sheep are naturally wary of the sheepdog because it resembles the wolf in a lot of ways. To the sheep, the sheepdog can appear aggressive, intimidating, and violent. Traditionally, the sheep have always been guarded around the sheepdog but know that he is a necessary evil and imperative to their existence. Some traditions get lost in time.

In reality, we have seen sheep and sheepdog alike make alliances with wolves.  Those officers that have tarnished the honor of the badge are an even bigger threat to the sheepdog than the wolf. Fortunately, the number of these bad actors is miniscule.  But however small, there is consequence.  The tragedy is that they have allowed Pandora’s Box to open just enough for this message that the wolves can be admired and sympathized with to be mainstreamed in pop culture, news coverage, and even by prominent men and women in high office.  As a result, support for the sheepdog following clashes with the wolf continues to be threatened.  In my experience as a police officer, it seems like there is probably the same number of true wolves as there has always been.  The American police officer has been an effective crime fighter if we look at the statistics.  The trouble is that the number of sheep wanting to be wolves is at an all-time high and due to recent events, the number of sheepdogs willing to join the rest of the sheep may be rising.

I’ve heard this comparison made between modern day police and Vietnam vets returning home that they were heroes at the start and villains by the end, judged and condemned by those who never had to walk a mile in their shoes.  I’ve started a shift saying hello to a fellow officer and ended it knowing I’d never say hello to them again. I’ve seen a widow or a fatherless child handed a folded American flag.  I’ve tasted the air in a deadly situation and wondered if I was going to go home or be remembered as another one of the officers that dies every other day in this country.  The burden is heavy. Even with the suicide rate among police rising at rates equal parts alarming and surprising, I don’t particularly like the comparison.  For one, the soldier undoubtedly has seen more combat and experienced more carnage and death.  But while many Vietnam vets were drafted and lost their lives fighting a vicious war that they never planned on fighting, policing is a calling. We joke that we get “voluntold” to do all kinds of things but no one gets voluntold to chase the wolves.  Nonetheless, time has vindicated those old vets in a lot of ways and rightfully so.  If our nation is to prosper in the future, the sheep will come around on the sheepdog.

T.B Lefever is an OpsLens Contributor and active police officer in the Metro-Atlanta area. Throughout his career, Lefever has served as a SWAT Hostage Negotiator, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit, a School Resource Officer, and a Uniformed Patrol Officer. He has a BA in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Rutgers University.

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