Twelve of us stood tall and, with right arms raised, repeated the solemn oath of office. I was 22 years old and, after being sworn in, a police officer in the Salt Lake City Police Department. We all congratulated one another, shook hands, hugged, and even shed a few tears.
During my long career in law enforcement, I learned how inspired the Prophet Joseph Smith was when he wrote the twelfth article of faith and how important it is that we live by its principles. Without laws and obedience to those laws, anarchy would reign. We would live in fear instead of freedom. I remember too clearly a day when I felt that kind of fear.
I had been in the police department only a few years when I was promoted to the rank of sergeant. One of my first assignments was to patrol the east side of Salt Lake City. It was a beautiful Sunday, and Liberty Park was crowded with families enjoying the spring weather. Suddenly, my quiet patrol was interrupted by a call for assistance from another officer in the park. As I approached the officer, I could see a large group of people pushing and shoving him around. (This group had been having a “beer party” in the park, even though many signs in the park read, “No Beer or Alcohol Allowed.”) The officer had tried to arrest one of the individuals who was determined to keep drinking despite the law.
The crowd appeared angry and threatening. I could see that the officer was in real trouble and that drastic action would be needed to rescue him. I quickly picked up my microphone and ordered the crowd to disperse.
“This is the police! Please disperse and leave the area immediately!” Upon hearing the announcement, the crowd became even more violent. I called for additional help, but because it was Sunday, few officers were on duty. I was on my own.
In a desperate attempt to rescue the officer, who was now being beaten and having his uniform torn, I opened the trunk of my car and got out the tear gas grenades. I knew that if anything would disperse the crowd this would be it. I selected a canister, pulled the pin, and lobbed it toward the angry crowd.
Poof! The gas began to fume, and people were running to get out of the way. The tear gas was effective in dispersing the crowd, but it also enraged the beer partiers. Chaos broke out, and within a short time the crowd was throwing bottles and rocks and jumping on police cars. More police arrived, and more people joined the riot. Before the situation was finally brought under control, more than 1,000 people were involved, including almost 100 police officers and several police dogs. Both citizens and officers were the victims of torn clothing and dog bites. For a few hours that day in Liberty Park, anarchy reigned.
Seeing that riot convinced me of the importance of obeying the law and sustaining those who uphold or enforce the laws. Obedience to the laws of the land ensures our safety and freedom in many ways. Laws protect us on the highways; laws help keep us safe in our homes and neighborhoods and preserve our rights and freedoms. Most communities have organizations that encourage residents to protect their neighbors and to report suspicious circumstances. Participating in these programs is an excellent way to demonstrate our willingness to honor, obey, and sustain the law.
Edmund Burke has been quoted as saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The freedoms we enjoy and the blessings of the gospel have come to us through the sacrifice of good men and women who chose to do something. It is up to us to ensure that these blessings continue to be available through our efforts in honoring and sustaining the law.