‘It’s just a horrible time to put on a uniform:’ NJ police grapple with latest shooting
As New Jersey police officers were preparing to leave Dallas following the funerals of 5 slain officers there, they learned of another fatal police shooting Sunday.
"I'm speechless. I can't believe this is happening in our country, blindly targeting police officers for the uniform they wear," said Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey Policeman's Benevolent Association, reacting to the news that three officers in Baton Rouge were murdered.
Law enforcement officials throughout the state are grappling with the recent attacks on police officers.
Members of the New Jersey PBA were preparing to return home after providing support at the funerals of the slain Dallas officers when they heard about Sunday's fatal shooting.
"We had a couple guys with a truck and trailer down there providing support at the funeral," Colligan said. "We had six members literally at the airport when this happened."
Colligan said the recent shootings make it a difficult time to be a police officer, but there are communities across New Jersey that have been showing support for law enforcement following the Dallas murders.
"I'm sure we'll get through this, I'm sure we'll get over it," Colligan told NJ 101.5 FM. "It's just a horrible time to put on a uniform and get in a patrol car. No matter what town you work in, you have to realize you're always going to be a target."
Colligan also posted a statement on the NJ State PBA Facebook page in reaction to the shooting of police officers in Baton Rouge.
"Our Thin Blue Line has been stretched these last two weeks but it will not break," Colligan said in the statement. "Our society will not be undermined by the few who despise us for what we represent."
Ocean County Sheriff Mike Mastronardy said that in his 40-plus years in law enforcement this seems to be a low point with the regard to the safety of officers.
"It's obvious that no community can be immune from anything happening," Mastronardy said.
He thinks the shootings show the need for officers to be properly equipped and trained to protect both themselves and the public.
Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and retired New Jersey State Police major, said there is a perceived lack of appreciation for law enforcement.
"I've never seen a time in law enforcement when 99 percent of people in uniform are so frustrated and so demoralized," he said. "There's no appreciation for their sacrifice and commitment. So many good people in uniform are being labelled."
Colligan and said the landscape has changed dramatically in law enforcement since the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Brown's death was followed by protests and riots, escalating tensions between police and the communities they serve.
"We know a lot of the rhetoric that came out of Ferguson never occurred and that's sad because it changed our profession forever," Colligan said adding that it has impacted recruiting of future police officers, including in his own home.
Colligan said his son wants to become a police officer, but he's pushing him in another direction because of the unrest. "I've been begging him to be a fireman," he said.
"Most communities appreciate us. We saw that throughout New Jersey since the Dallas shooting," Colligan said. "Virtually every police department in the state had people stopping by, writing notes, dropping off food just showing signs of appreciation."
Colligan dismissed the idea that all police departments are targeting minorities.
"I know overwhelmingly people appreciate what we do and they understand that we have a difficult job. I think that's 99.9 percent of our communities throughout the country," he said. "There's just a few who are holding us to this almost racist standard because they're accusing us of targeting the minority community as police officers and it's just not true."
Mastronardy said he's hopefully the country can move past these difficult times.
"It's been a tough year for law enforcement and we just hope that it comes to an end and we can move on, come together and protect our officers better," he said.