OPINION: Good Cops, Bad Cops

By Dominic Pino, Columnist

On Feb. 14, a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  This we all know.  However, there was a lesser known event on Feb. 20 that allows for reflection on this incident.

On Feb. 20, President Trump presented 12 police officers with the Medal of Valor, the police equivalent of the Medal of Honor, in a White House ceremony.  One of these 12 police officers was Andrew Hopfensperger from Antigo – a peaceful town of about 8,000 people in north central Wisconsin.  So why was Hopfensperger receiving a medal from the President?

Because he did his job.  Now, normally a police officer doing his job in Antigo means patrolling for speeders and responding to property crimes.  But not on a cool, spring night in April 2016.  Hopfensperger was in his police car outside of Antigo High School as the junior prom was ending.  He was probably expecting to direct traffic or deal with a few intoxicated minors when a gunman with a rifle began to shoot at a group of students.

Pause and consider what you would do in that situation.  You are an Antigo police officer.  Your sidearm has never discharged a bullet – and likely never left its holster — except on the range.  You were planning on a late but easy night supervising the departure of teenagers from a dance.  And all of a sudden there is a lunatic shooting a rifle.  I have no idea what I would do.

But one thing, I know for sure. I would not have done what Hopfensperger did.  Hopfensperger immediately left his car, drew his gun, dashed at a full sprint towards the gunman, and fired eight rounds.  Three of the shots hit the gunman (hitting anything three times in eight tries while running is nearly impossible, made harder when the target is shooting back).  He pinned him to the ground and put him in handcuffs.  Oh, and the time elapsed from when the gunman fired his first shot to when he was lying on the ground in handcuffs in his own blood?  19 seconds.

The gunman died the next day in the hospital.  He hit a few prom attendees but none of the injuries were life threatening.  A tragedy averted.

How was it averted?  Because Hopfensperger displayed incredible bravery, selflessness, and dexterity in an awful situation, and he deserves that medal and so much more for his conduct that night. But upon further reflection, I think it becomes clear that what Hopfensperger did was what we expect police officers to do. In short, he did his job. We entrust police officers with the weighty and solemn task of using violent, interpersonal force for the sake of protecting other people. Given the situation, Hopfensperger did exactly that.  His actions were extraordinary, but, all told, he was just being a good cop.

Which brings us back to Stoneman Douglas. Hopfensperger was not in Parkland.  A bad cop was. Scot Peterson, the deputy who stood outside Stoneman Douglas High School while the shooting took place, did not do his job.  Where Hopfensperger was brave, Peterson was cowardly.  Where Hopfensperger carried out his duty, Peterson derelicted his.  May the contrast between Antigo and Parkland remind us of three things.

  1. Cops are entrusted with an extraordinary duty and consequently are expected to do extraordinary things.
  2. There are good cops and there are bad cops.
  3. And when cops don’t do their job, they should face the same fate of anyone else not doing their job – they should be fired.  The blood of 17 people cries out from the ground demanding the same.

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia/Lorie Shaull