From ‘evil people’ to ‘a ton of support,’ local law enforcement says community response following protests is mixed

Local law enforcement officials say a wave of anti-police sentiment in the wake of protests and riots related to the death of George Floyd has had an impact in Lincoln. 
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A Lincoln Policeman seen standing his ground with his fellow officers.

Local law enforcement officials say a wave of anti-police sentiment in the wake of protests and riots related to the death of George Floyd has had an impact in Lincoln.

“It has had a negative effect on morale,” said Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner.

Wagner says he believes his deputies are “in this job for the right reasons,” and want to make a difference in their community.

“So when you go from hero to zero in a week, it’s really difficult to understand how that happens,” he said.

As tensions between demonstrators and law enforcement continue to flare nationwide, many – including some in Lincoln – have called for law enforcement agencies to be defunded. Several well-documented incidents of apparent excessive use of force – including one where a 75-year-old protester in Buffalo was seemingly shoved to the ground by officers – has led to even more widespread criticism that Wagner says could lead potential recruits to reconsider joining law enforcement agencies.

“Why would they?” he said. “And subject themselves to that kind of criticism?”

Officer Erin Spilker with the Lincoln Police Department says over her 18-year career she’s seen officers do “some really amazing things.” She says LPD strives to maintain a positive relationship with the community through things like public events.

“It’s really hard to have that demonized into somehow we’re evil people,” she said. “And we know we’re not. And that’s a hard thing to go through.”

While the backlash has led some officers in other cities to quit, it doesn’t appear that any have done so locally.

“We’re still working, and we’re still out there investigating and it doesn’t stop us,” Spilker said. ‘The bottom line is we keep trudging forward.”

Spilker says officers choose to carry a burden when they join the profession, and says they’re suited to carry that burden. She says things are at a “low spot” right now.

The community response has not been wholly negative, both are quick to point out.

“We have a ton of support,” Spilker said. “We have an absolute ton of support from the community.”

Wagner says he’s “getting a little fatter” because of all the lunches, cookies, “and, yes, donuts.”

Wagner pointed to a heartwarming moment when a four-year-old boy who couldn’t have a birthday party due to COVID-19 restrictions gave dozens of cookies that would have gone to his friends to officers and deputies. LSO posted pictures of a deputy who followed up with the boy to personally thank him. “We do believe this young gentleman may, one day, become a deputy,” the post says.

“That really brings a tear to your eye and makes you appreciate of the support of a four-year-old boy,” Wagner said.

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