National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Upholding Law & Defending Life: Officers Try to Serve God and Men

BY Brian Caulfield

May 17-23, 1998 Issue | Posted 5/5/99 at 1:00 PM

 

NEW YORK—Barney Krahm has seen police work from both sides of the abortion divide. As an officer he has stood outside a Long Island, N.Y., abortion clinic while peaceful pro-life advocates prayed and counseled women on the sidewalk. As a pro-life citizen he has fingered his rosary beads and joined those same pro-lifers in prayer.

Not surprisingly, his heart is torn. Alaw enforcement officer for 19 years, he is trained to spot crimes and stop perpetrators, and each time he sees an abortionist enter a clinic, he knows a crime is in the making. Yet Krahm has sworn to uphold the law of men and that means taking a professionally neutral stand toward abortion. As a matter of conscience, however, when assigned to the clinic, he tells his superiors that he will not arrest a pro-lifer unless that person does something to endanger other people.

“I knew a lot of people who were praying knew what my position was,” Krahm, an officer for the Suffolk Police Department, told the Register. “I was on duty, but I was still praying the rosary with them privately.”

Police personnel do not have the best of reputations with pro-life activists and are often seen as agents of the enemy — there to uphold unjust laws on abortion and protect the lethal trade of abortionists. A number of well-publicized incidents in which Operation Rescue participants were beaten, abused, tortured, and sexually harassed have also given police a bad name among the pro-life community. The names “West Hartford,” “Pittsburgh,” “Los Angeles ‘89” are almost legendary and carry painful memories for rescuers who were on the receiving end of brutal police tactics.

Krahm knows of the war stories and winces. “It makes me uncomfortable to hear that a member of a police department anywhere has been abusive to pro-lifers. A lot of cops think they're relieved of doing what's right by blindly following orders. They don't see the matter of conscience involved.”

As a Parks Department officer in Des Moines, Iowa, Frank Lacoma has noticed the direction that society has taken since abortion was legalized.

“I see people who succumb to violence as a way out of their problems, and the government gives them the sales pitch,” he said. “There's talk of legalizing gambling and drugs, which are only going to add to people's misery. Child abuse has skyrocketed since abortion was legalized. There's a lack of respect for life all around.”

Krahm and Lacoma are members of a small but growing organization, National Cops For Life, which bills itself as “Pro-God, Pro-Life, Pro-Family.” The group was founded three years ago by Vincent Ciappetta, a Suffolk County narcotics detective who sees great pro-life potential in the goodwill and courage of officers. He is upset by the negative image many pro-life advocates have of police and wants to awaken fellow officers to their higher duties to God and neighbor.

Although his organization does not advise officers to ignore trespass violations and other illegal actions by pro-lifers, it does offer guidance in matters of conscience and asks officers to make a serious commitment to prayer and witness. A prayerful cop can have a powerful effect among his fellows, Ciappetta said, since police are, on the whole, men and women of faith who want to do the right thing. The logo of his group is a badge wrapped in a pro-life rose, a reminder that their duty as officers cannot be separated from their special obligation to protect human life.

“The authentic laws are set down by God, and man's laws must be in line with God's laws,” said Ciappetta, a Catholic. He cites Pope John Paul II's teaching in Evangelium Vitae, the 1995 encyclical in which the Holy Father says that laws allowing abortion and euthanasia are not legitimate laws and must be opposed.

“We all need support in bringing our faith to bear on our jobs,” said Ciappetta, who has been on the force for 28 years. “Our political leaders are given the power to rule by God and they must follow God's laws. We cannot vote for pro-abortion politicians and all our members are asked to write these politicians and remind them of their obligation to God and to the common good.”

Blue Brutality

Raymond Mylott, a New York City attorney who has represented pro-lifers who were victims of police brutality, told the Register that his view of cops changed after the 1989 rescues in West Hartford, Conn. Officers removed their badges and nameplates before wading into a crowd of rescuers and used pain compliance and rough-up techniques to get the peaceful but non-cooperative protesters moving. Some of the worst incidents were captured on video tape.

“They were thugs,” said Mylott. “They engaged in absolutely brutal beatings of people who were not resisting at all.”

A participant in the June 1989 rescue there, who did not want his name used, told the Register he was lying on the sidewalk when an officer grabbed his arm and threatened to break his wrist. Similar techniques were used on grandmothers and pregnant women, he said.

“I was in Vietnam and I can honestly say that I never saw such deliberate brutality as I did that day in West Hartford,” he said. “They were out as a police force to break us up. Let's just say that I now know what human nature is capable of.”

In Los Angeles that same year, said Mylott, mounted police rode into the midst of sitting rescuers. In Pittsburgh, a group of college women charged officers with brutal sexual harassment. In none of the incidents did police officers suffer so much as a public reprimand from superiors. When it comes to pro-lifers, the lawyer said, cops know that in most communities they can get away with just about anything.

John McGrath, a detective in Pittsfield, Mass., said that too many cops are hypocrites when it comes to abortion. One of the biggest frustrations in police work is trying to get testimony from witnesses who are apathetic or afraid to become involved. Yet police officers are guilty of the same silence when they refuse to call abortionists killers or witness to fellow officers, he said.

“Abortion is vicious, brutal murder and yet so many of us cops treat pro-lifers like they are the enemies,” he said.

Two years ago he brought his daughter to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., and saw a dozen or so well-armed and helmeted officers standing on the steps of the Supreme Court at the march's end.

“I saw a couple slapping their night sticks and a couple cracking jokes,” he recalled. “You could see their attitude was very negative.”

Small But Committed

Cops for Life has about 50 members nationwide but Ciappetta is not concerned with numbers.

“We want zealous and committed prayer warriors to set an example. If God wants us to grow, we will,” he said.

All members happen to be Catholic, though membership is open to officers of other faiths. Ciappetta thinks that only Catholics have been attracted because of his emphasis on the rosary and devotion to the saints, including St. Michael the Archangel, patron of police officers. The chaplain for the group is Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life who works in Rome for the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Cops for Life form a companion group to the National Federation of Officers for Life, run by Sgt. Ruben Rodriguez of Corpus Christi, Texas, which is slightly larger and maintains a World Wide Web site.

Ciappetta and his companions are inspired by the example of Sheriff John McDougall of Lee County, Fla. In response to a request for police protection from a Fort Myers abortionist who felt threatened by two pro-life “stalkers,” the sheriff sent a letter last December that stated, “Tell me, doctor, did those tiny defenseless babies feel threatened when you ripped them out of their mother's wombs? Were they fighting for their lives when you began your slaughter?”

McDougall, a Catholic who has held the elective office for 10 years, pointed out in his letter that abortion has been legalized by the same Supreme Court that legalized slavery a century ago. He informed the abortionist that his officers would protect him like any other citizen, but they would do nothing to obstruct the free-speech rights of pro-life demonstrators.

“I'm in the business of protecting people and it's frustrating that I can't protect these little babies,” the sheriff said.

Ciappetta knows the feeling. He became a police officer in 1970 largely in response to the widespread campus unrest, anti-war demonstrations, and inner-city riots that gripped the nation. At a time when many people his age were calling police “pigs,” Ciappetta felt “a calling” to help right the injustices and place himself between the attacker and the victim. His vocal support of unborn babies is simply another form of his advocacy for the victim, he explained.

“The cornerstone of all rights is the right to life. All laws are simply an enhancement of that basic right,” he said.

This reasoning leads him to oppose the death penalty though he does not make opposition an official part of his organization. He understands that the Church strongly discourages the use of lethal punishment but acknowledges the state's right to impose capital punishment in extreme cases.

Speaking for himself, he told the Register, “The death penalty is vengeance and we are supposed to get beyond vengeance personally and as a society. As a police officer for almost 30 years I can say quite realistically that there are some people who are not supposed to be out in society and there is really no hope of rehabilitation. Life sentences should be used, though, because killing is not the answer.”

For information, write National Cops for Life, P.O. Box 267, Cutchogue, NY 11935; e-mail: ncfl@juno.com.

Brian Caulfield writes from New York.

------ EXCERPT: Cops for Life show pro-lifers that sometimes the law is on their side