PHILADELPHIA has one of the highest murder rates in the country, a wave of cop-killings, gang violence, a drug epidemic. The only thing keeping a lid on the rampant violence are the brave men and women of the Philadelphia Police Department.

So it's imperative to address the fallout from the video showing police officers seemingly using excessive force while apprehending three African-American suspects alleged to have been involved in a triple shooting on the night of May 5 - just two days after the cold-blooded murder of police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski - including yesterday's firings.

As an Iraq war veteran who came home disillusioned and fought for an end to the war, I've always been troubled by members of the anti-war movement who disrupt congressional hearings where vital information regarding the Iraq war needs to be presented to the public.

When the activists are arrested by Capitol police in accordance with standard operating procedure, the activists turn their disruptive actions on the arresting officers in a way that tries to portray the police as a modern-day Gestapo or Bush proxies trying to silence dissent.

But the police are just doing their job.

In Philadelphia, our police have a far more difficult job. They've volunteered to serve and protect the people of a city plagued by crime. They patrol our streets every day, confront violent criminals, give their all to keep citizens safe and secure.

In order to successfully complete their mission, police officers sometimes have to be aggressive when chasing down violent offenders - especially when they're armed and dangerous.

The police will get nowhere by being "Mr. Nice Guy" with hardcore criminals. And if they aren't aggressive enough, and the criminal evades arrest often enough, the community will cry that the police aren't doing the job.

On the flip side, when police act in a overly aggressive manner to apprehend suspects, they're often accused of brutality, even called criminals themselves.

Being a police officer in Philadelphia is an often thankless job - damned if they do and damned if they don't. Our police officers just can't win.

I've sometimes been an admirer of the Rev. Al Sharpton. I supported his outrage in the Sean Bell case, in which New York City police officers fired 50 rounds at an unarmed man, killing him the night before his wedding - a true atrocity.

But for Sharpton to come to Philadelphia in an obvious attempt to stir up racial tensions and demonize our police officers is unforgivable.

Sharpton actually visited the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility to meet and pray with a convicted felon facing new charges of aggravated assault and attempted murder.

To add insult to injury, he trashed our police department upon his departure.

If Sharpton will meet and pray with criminal suspects with previous felony convictions, why didn't he also meet with the accused officers, hear their side of the story, and pray with them?

I thought Sharpton was a man of religion. In that sense, shouldn't he be somewhat forgiving? Obviously not, because the word of a convicted felon is the only one that counted.

When I was an infantry soldier walking the streets of Baghdad, I was often in contact with insurgents constantly attempting to take my life and the lives of my fellow soldiers.

So I know what it's like to have to chase down ruthless armed individuals who are fully willing and capable of killing you in order to get away. If you've never been in that position, think twice before you "armchair quarterback" our police officers.

If there's ever a time when I'm in distress as the victim of a crime, I'll be the first to call the police for help. If that day should come, I hope that the police will be appropriately aggressive and as fast as possible when coming to my aid.

Philadelphia should not jump to conclusions and condemn the officers involved in the arrests of the night of May 5. Instead, we should wait for all the facts of the case from police, suspects and witnesses. There may be more to this story than the raw footage reveals.

IN THE meantime, I'll be thanking every Philadelphia police officer that I encounter.

After all, I never know when I'll need their help. I fully support the brave police officers who selflessly serve the people of Philadelphia. *

John Bruhns served as an Army sergeant in Iraq from 2003-2004. He is now a freelance writer focusing on politics and the war in Iraq.