That’s a motto still sometimes emblazoned on police cars. It’s a nice thought but there doesn’t appear to be any reality behind it.
The first thing you need to understand is that the police have no obligation to protect any individual. Even in the special case where the court has issued a restraining order on your behalf the police have no obligation to protect you from the person restrained. This has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
The theory is that police serve to protect “society” rather than individuals. There’s just one problem with that, what is society without its individuals? Take away the individuals and show me “society”.
Now, on a certain level they have a point. The police cannot guarantee each individual’s safety. They can’t put a 24 hour guard on each individual, not even each individual who has a restraining order against someone. Can’t be done. Thus, it would be unjust to make them legally liable for failing to provide that protection. They can’t always be there.
But there’s a problem with that. Since they don’t have a legal responsibility to provide protection, many take that to mean that there is no responsibility, legal or moral to even try. They may not always be there but even when they are there they have no obligation to intervene. This additional level of lack of concern for the individual was confirmed in New York were police were only a few feet away from a man being brutally attacked at knifepoint until after the victim, thanks to his own training in martial arts (and suffering multiple knife wounds in the process–please consider that those who recommend martial arts training as an alternative to being armed for self defense–he survived but he’ll carry the scars until the day he dies). Only once the knife wielding attacker was subdued did the police emerge from the motorman’s compartment (on which the attacker had previously banged the door claiming to be a cop so their claims they didn’t know ring a little hollow).
To be blunt, a duty to protect “society” which does not include a good faith “best effort” to protect the individuals that make up that society when they actually encounter situations to do so is nonsense. It’s not protecting “society”. At best it’s protecting the regime which seems more the job of a third world dictator’s secret police than the peace officers of a free society.
Without that best effort, “to protect and serve” isn’t even an empty motto. It’s nothing but a bad joke.