NJ PBA pres sheds light on Hopewell officer firing & suspension (Opinion)
This is not about Black Lives Matter or your opinion of the movement.
This is about whether a decorated police officer should be fired for giving their opinion on their own private Facebook page and whether another officer should be suspended for liking it.
Hopewell Township police officer Sara Erwin, who has over 20 years on the force and serves as a DARE officer in the community, posted this in June of 2020.
“Last night as I left for work I had my two kids crying for me not to go to work. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the way I did last night. And then I watched people I know and others I care about going into harm's way. I love my police family like my own. So when you share posts and things on Facebook I’d really appreciate if you’d THINK before doing so. I’ve seen so many black lives matter [sic] hashtags in these posts. Just to let you know — they are terrorists. They hate me. They hate my uniform. They don’t care if I die.”
This is a police officer stating her honest feelings and concerns about what she feels and her fellow officers were dealing with in June of 2020. She's simply giving her opinion in a forum that is all about opinions. In this country we have a right to give our opinions and part of officer Erwin's job is to protect those rights for her included. New Jersey State Policeman's Benevolent Association President Pat Colligan came on my New Jersey 101.5 show Tuesday night, May 4, to weigh in.
"It's important to note," Colligan said when he called into the show, "not only was it a private Facebook, she doesn't identify herself by her full name. Her name, she used kind of an acronym. It wasn't obvious she was a police officer, so the only people that would've seen that are her friends and she was basically imploring them that if they were doing hashtag Black Lives Matter, to unfollow her or unfriend her. That's really the gist of what it is...at the time, the timing of the post may have been a little on the tone deaf side. I mean, does she deserve possibly a suspension of a couple days? I could actually see that. Does a person who likes it get suspended? No. What kind of message does it send to the rest of the officers in Hopewell? It certainly doesn't help morale."
Sgt. Mandy Gray was suspended six months for responding to the post. Gray, who according to nj.com was the first female officer hired in Hopewell Township and the first Sergeant when promoted in 2019, will lose that rank in the demotion.
First off let me say that I'm no fan of posting opinions on social media. We've seen people get both built up and destroyed there. I'm surprised Facebook didn't flag it like they've been doing with so much else. I'm also surprised that Officer Erwin felt the need to go to Facebook and not somewhere else maybe internally in the department where her feelings could be dealt with. Is there such place?
"Of course," Colligan said. "We have, I'm sure Hopewell has an employee assistance program. The state PBA has a staff psychologist, I mean there's a million outlets for that."
Regardless, unless there are rules against posting her opinions there, she has a right to do so.
As far her feelings on Black Lives Matter she said, "They are terrorists, They hate me, They hate my uniform, They don't care if I die."
The fact that a 20 year decorated officer feels that way and other officers commented on it, should be enough to open up a dialog between BLM and the police to try to come to an understanding of what each is going through as they try to do their jobs. Could something like this ever happen?
"There's discussions now with different groups and I'll never be the one to say we can't fix law enforcement. You know, I'm not saying it's broken, you can't assume that every single police officer out there has some type of vendetta or straps on their gun belt and wants to go out and shoot an African-American. I mean that, that is just as ridiculous as it comes. But we certainly have our problem people, we want them, in 2021 we want them out of this business faster than ever. They tarnish our badge at a very, very difficult time in our history...there's a lot healing that has to go on, on all sides."
We the people don't; know what it's like to wear the uniform after swearing to protect and serve only to feel that some of whom you're protecting wish you dead.. It's so hard to find good cops today, the way things are going, it may be even harder to find any cops at all in the future. It would be a shame to let a good cop like Officer Sara Erwin go simply for stating her opinion. An opinion that can be changed through conversation and understanding.
We need to stop turning to social media and start turning to each other.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise. Any opinions expressed are Steve's own. Steve Trevelise is on New Jersey 101.5 Monday-Thursday from 7pm-11pm. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.