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The Benefit of the Doubt

Community Voice Stephen Davis ~ Captain Davis retired from the Pensacola Police Department in December 2022.
Community Voice Stephen Davis ~ Captain Davis retired from the Pensacola Police Department in December 2022.

I constantly have people that I made up in my head ask me, “Steve, what can I do to help our local police officers”? I’m glad you asked, still small voice.

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The short version is, be a good person, return your shopping cart to the store, and familiarize yourself with Chapters 1 through 1014 of the Florida State Statutes.

I kid. No one knows just what all is in that Statute book.

In fact, the middle is the 1976 Junior League cookbook.  Even your police officers only concern themselves with a couple hundred of those chapters, primarily the chapters entitled, “Crime”.

The longer answer to the question is this: Give them the benefit of the doubt.

That’s it. They don’t require you to admire them. Don’t even require you to respect them. Don’t even require that you like them. But if they could ask for one thing, it’s this — just take a minute before assuming the worst about them.

More often than is reasonable, someone will ask me if I heard about some rogue cop in some faraway city. I’ll admit that, yes, I did hear about it, but I don’t have enough facts to really have an opinion.

I’m hoping that they take the hint and let it go, but no. I’ll get a quick refresher and a rundown of the offense that this person gleaned from whatever sound byte they heard.

I nod a lot and agree that, yes, that is indeed crazy. Then the loudspeaker calls my name and I escape into the Cracker Barrel.

When someone’s uncle or sister or middle school teacher is accused of a crime, they are quick to come to their defense. They’ll proclaim loudly that you’ve known them their whole life and they would never do that. Even if they always thought they were kinda sketchy.

But if they hear of a deputy or police officer arresting someone after having to fight him into custody, some are ready to march on City Hall.

Is there police misconduct? You bet.

As long as Law Enforcement agencies are required to recruit from the human race, there will continue to be. And no profession devotes more resources to rooting out unacceptable behavior than the police.

We ask our police officers and deputy sheriffs to do an impossible job. We ask them to wade into the toxic human condition daily, not make a single mistake, but if they do, we are going to assume the worst and assign evil intentions to them even though all we have is some clickbait and a foggy notion of what the job is based entirely on what Hollywood tells us.

Fair enough.

And these law enforcement officers, although disheartened, will keep practicing their craft because some defect in their DNA makes them care deeply for strangers, despite everything.

The Benefit of the Doubt™ is not a free pass on criminal acts or ignoring knuckleheaded behavior. It is simply waiting for facts before presuming guilt.

Thank you for giving me and many others the benefit of the doubt.

Retired Captain Stephen Davis, Pensacola Police Department

President, Pensacola’s Finest Foundation

*Note: Stephen Davis is a part of our Community Voices series. Community Voices is a group of Pensacola dwellers that are making a difference in our city by sharing best practices, experiences, their perspective on impactful subjects, and contributing expertise that leads to movement forward for a stronger community.