In Nashville shooting, police officers were heroes. But no one wants to be a hero anymore.

In Nashville shooting, police officers were heroes. But no one wants to be a hero anymore.

We need more officers like Metropolitan Nashville Police Department’s Rex Engelbert and Michael Collazo. But few young people want to serve in law enforcement or the military.

Take a good look at Nashville police officers Rex Engelbert and Michael Collazo working their way quickly and methodically toward the shooter at Covenant School on Monday morning. 

That is valor uncommon in our world today: Two men leading other men to something terrible around one of those corners at that tidy private school.   

In the police body camera footage you see training take charge to stop a killer. The officers come upon a tiny body in the hallway and run past understanding with certainty now what they’ll soon confront.

And still they go on.

The Covenant School shooting timeline: 14 minutes: Visual timeline of Nashville school shooting from break-in to police response

Nashville officers undoubtedly saved livesWhen they reach the shooter, Officer Engelbert fires at least three rounds. Officer Collazo fires four, according to the Nashville Tennessean.

Soon after, Audrey Hale, 28, is dead. Armed to the hilt with weapons and ammo, Hale had just fatally shot three students and three adults. The victims might have multiplied were it not for the quick work of officers.

Today Engelbert and Collazo are hailed as “heroes,” and no one is doubting their worthiness. They showed extraordinary courage putting their lives at risk.

Take a good look because men and women like that are becoming less common in our country as it is torn apart by squalid infighting and deeply divided political outlooks. 

Young Americans today no longer want to sign up to protect their communities or their country.

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Few people want to join police, militaryAcross America there is serious shortage of police officers in departments large and small. At the Pentagon, the U.S. Armed Forces are facing “dangerous shortfalls in military recruiting,” the Washington Post reports.

The causes are many, but it is no secret that our culture has greatly devalued police officers and the country itself.

From Philadelphia to Phoenix to Los Angeles and in between, the nation’s police forces are struggling to add new officers.

Facing a shortage of some 500 police officers this summer, the Phoenix City Council bumped up the salary for new police recruits by $20,000, reported 12 News.

“It is getting better, but we’re still a long way from where we need to be,” said Andy Anderson, a retired assistant Phoenix police chief. 

Police shortages negatively impact citizensIn Austin, Texas, the police shortage is so great that state police were brought in to help with patrols. With some 200 police vacancies, Austin police cannot perform all of their regular functions, reports the Texas Tribune.

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Lacey and Dustin Purciful experienced the practical consequences of that shortage when their vehicle was struck head-on by a suspected drunken driver. They waited more than two hours for Austin police to respond to the 911 calls.

As they waited in the car with their two young children, the driver who struck them managed to sober up and walk away, they told Fox & Friends.  

In a city struggling with a violent crime rate double the national average, Tulsa, Okla. is short 160 officers, according to the Marshall Project.

Public safety is the greatest challenge facing the city, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “The toxic national dialogue that demonizes police officers has made police department staffing significantly more difficult for every major city in America.”

Public perception is a ‘sizable barrier’A 2019 survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police points to other reasons young people don’t want to be cops.

Today’s young people “are more apt to value work-life balance than their Baby Boomer counterparts … hoping for more flexible hours and guaranteed time off. Mandated overtime and missing holidays with family are less appealing to Millennials and members of Generation Z.”

But it adds this: “Public perception of law enforcement limits interest in the profession and is a sizable barrier to effective recruitment.”

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On March 22, Pentagon officials appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and warned of a dangerous decline in military recruiting that threatens our national security, the Washington Post reported.

“U.S. defense officials face the bleakest recruiting environment since the aftermath of the Vietnam War,” The Post reported, “with less than a quarter of Americans ages 17 to 24 years old eligible to serve – and just 9 percent willing to do so.”

Honor our veterans: On 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War ending, a reminder: Veterans deserve our gratitude

No wonder young people aren’t willing to serveNone of this should come as a surprise.

Young people today share their parents’ own flagging sense of belief in the country, only more so.

In a March survey by the Wall Street Journal and the independent research institution NORC, under 40% of Americans said patriotism was very important to them. 

In 1998, that number was 70%.

Today’s young people are even more pessimistic about the country. Only 23% of adults under 30 consider patriotism an important value. 

In a society that has lost faith in cops and country, is it any surprise that young people aren’t eager to serve? Or that Americans look to other alternatives for protection?

Here’s one.

Firearms sales are soaring in America. Last summer The New York Times reported that “the number of guns is outpacing the population.” 

And the fastest-growing group of gun buyers?


Phil Boas is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic where this column was first published. Email him at



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