DETROIT – There are nearly 20,000 law enforcement officers in Michigan, the vast majority of whom are honest, hardworking police officers who protect their community and answer calls for help.
But many local police say they feel disrespected and unappreciated in today's world as a result of dozens of videos popping up across the country questioning the integrity of law enforcement officers.
New videos of questionable shootings that are posted on the internet and instantly go viral have created a lot of negative talk about police lately. Local officers say they have been unfairly vilified by the actions of a few bad cops, and it takes a toll on them emotionally as they try to protect and serve the community.
Police officers put their lives on the line to protect others, but these days, police say their public image has gone from hero to zero. They say it makes the career they chose tougher, more dangerous and less fulfilling.
"For me, it's heartbreaking because most people who choose a life of law enforcement genuinely have a love in their heart that they want to see things better in the community," Detroit police Officer Melanie Malone said.
"We are here to help the people, we really are," Troy police Officer Greg Stopchinski said. "We are not here to hurt anyone. We are not here to ruin anybody's life. But there are people out here that prey on other people. They prey on business."
Stopchinski is a white officer in the suburbs, while Malone is a black officer in the city. Both officers love being cops, but struggle with the image problem police are now facing.
"I put my life on the line for you and yours," Malone said. "I don't have to, but I choose to, so if nothing else, I think I deserve a little bit of respect."
Local 4 Defender Kevin Dietz drove the beat with local officers to see how they're doing. It's been a brutal time to be in law enforcement.
"It's heartbreaking to see," Malone said. "When all the facts are not there, everything isn't always about the hot story. When all the facts are not there and we're being judged by five or 10 seconds, no one sees what happens before that or after that."
In several cities, residents are protesting. In Dallas, a gunman opened fire, killing innocent officers. The incidents have local police and their families worried.
"We know that there are people out there who do not like us, and we have to be conscious of that every day," Stopchinski said. "If you don't, that one day that you are not trying to be aware of what is around you, that could be your last."
Police are angry at the media, saying they are too quick to characterize a shooting and too quick to blame officers.
"It does upset law enforcement when the press puts out just one side of the story," Stopchinski said.
Police say it has a negative impact. They say when they drive down the street, citizens today are just as likely to flip their middle finger at police as they are to wave.
"I try to take it as they're mad at the uniform, not mad at me as a person," Malone said.
The officers said they went into policing to make a difference, and to protect and serve.
"A lot of people will tell me straight to my face, 'There's no way I could do what you do, especially knowing the whole world is against you,'" Malone said.
The officers said they're more likely than ever to retire early, and even though their parents and their parents' parents were cops, it's no longer what they want for their children.
"I do not want anyone, any of my kids, becoming a police officer," Stopchinski said. "I really don't. They don't need to feel this -- that you are hated at every corner that you turn. I don't want my children to feel that way. I chose this, and if they choose this, I would discourage it."
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