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OPD chief decries officers as ‘political fodder,’ says ’99 out of 100 officers making right decisions’

Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken
Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken

The Ocala Police chief is asking the public for its support amidst what he alleges is a national attack on law enforcement that stems from politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken, who took over as chief of the Ocala Police Department after former chief Greg Graham passed away suddenly in a plane crash in October, made the remarks during Wednesday’s meeting of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership.

“We had a crazy, tumultuous 2020 across the nation. Cops bore the brunt around the country,” said Balken. He suggested that most cops would blame elected officials for often using officers as “political fodder.”

“It seems that we have a problem in this country of using cops as political fodder on either side. I don’t care which side you’re on, but I would ask you this. That you don’t allow that to happen,” said Balken.

He encouraged residents to tell elected officials to “leave [officers] out of it.”

“We don’t want to be part of it. We don’t get into it, and we don’t overtly take political sides. Being used as political fodder is not what we’re about, and it caused a lot of problems and the deaths of officers around the country,” added Balken.

After a demonstration in which he asked a member of the audience to make a split decision decision as he charged him with a fake weapon, Balken suggested that the majority of law enforcement in the city and country were making the right decision over “99 times out of 100.”

He went on to talk about his own experience late one January night.

“I’m at the police department at about 3:30 a.m., in plain clothes, and all I have on me is a gun, there’s no radio, taser, pepper spray or any of that,” recalled Balken, who went to the department that evening to retrieve some supporting documentation for an active crime-scene.

“I walk out and I turn and there’s a gentleman who is crouched down, shirtless, and pouring sweat,” said Balken, who feared that the man would lunge at him with what appeared to be a knife. After screaming commands with his gun drawn, Balken reholstered his weapon to tackle the man, who was attempting to acquire a nearby pipe.

“In the end it wasn’t a knife. What he had in his hand was a little piece of steel pipe, that was broken. I don’t know what it was, but it was shiny, and it was dark, and I thought it was a knife. I thought about that when I went home that morning and I could only imagine had I shot this guy…the news report would have been ‘Cop shoots unarmed man outside police department,'” said Balken of the incident.

He went on to explain that he believed officers in Ocala and around the nation were experiencing these types of situations daily, and that they were largely making the right decisions.

“Officers at the Ocala Police Department are making those types of life and death decisions every single day. And they’re doing it across the country and 99 times out of 100, I would say the odds are better than that, they’re doing it right,” said Balken.

“Is there an opportunity to get it wrong? Absolutely,” said Balken. “Could I have gotten it wrong that night? I absolutely could have.”

Photos in Ocala, Florida

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