Support the Police, Oppose Misconduct

Wall Street Journal | Opinion | Dave Yost

Columbus, Ohio

America is divided over supporting the police or the communities they serve. But it isn’t an either-or choice.

As Ohio’s attorney general, I support police. I’ve spoken at police memorials and Back the Blue rallies, been on too many crime scenes, and seen firsthand their phenomenal, selfless service. That’s why I asked a grand jury to indict a cop for murder.

On Dec. 22 Columbus Police Officer Adam Coy responded to a report of a man outside a home, periodically turning his sport-utility vehicle on and off. Mr. Coy approached the man, Andre Hill, who explained he was waiting to pick someone up.

Mr. Coy disbelieved Hill and stayed. After a second officer arrived, Mr. Coy approached Hill, who was inside the open garage door of the house. He ordered Hill out of the garage. Hill complied, holding up a lit cellphone displaying a text message. Mr. Coy suddenly shouted “Gun!” and shot Hill four times, killing him.

No gun was found. The other officer said she didn’t shoot because she didn’t perceive a threat.

An officer must sometimes make split-second decisions under stress, without enough information. As the Ohio Supreme Court noted in State v. White, a police officer is justified in using deadly force “when the officer has a reasonable belief that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm or death to the officer or to others.” We’ll try this case in the courtroom. The Franklin County grand jury handed up an indictment Feb. 3. Mr. Coy has pleaded not guilty and is free on a $1 million bond.

But there’s a bigger issue: We’re being urged to choose between supporting the police and supporting justice when a cop commits a crime. We have to do both.

Law enforcement is why we have government. In a Hobbesian state of nature, the guy with the biggest club kills you, takes your stuff and makes your family slaves.

Law enforcement was the first government function, and it remains the most important. Paved streets, great schools and beautiful parks don’t matter if we’re hunkered down in our homes, afraid to walk out the door. And law enforcement regularly fulfills its promise. In millions of interactions between police and citizens each year, only a small fraction end badly.

Sometimes an officer commits a crime. If unaddressed in court, this breeds distrust of police in the community, making police work tougher and more dangerous.

The police and the community aren’t on opposite sides. They are on the same side—against violence and crime but for peace, dignity and the rule of law. The identity of the criminal should be irrelevant, whether a corporate executive or gangster, police officer or single parent or dope dealer. Every person is judged for his own actions. Neither guilt nor virtue may be inferred by association with others.

If our society is to survive, we need to back the blue and hold accountable those few who prove themselves unworthy of the badge. Society won’t survive without the rule of law, and there can be no law without justice.

Mr. Yost, a Republican, is Ohio’s attorney general.

Read the full op-ed here.