Monday, February 11, 2013

Hey guys, check out my latest blog about bad apples in law enforcement.


Bad Apples.
The recent manhunt in Southern California has prompted people to publicly ridicule law enforcement, again.  I won’t discuss what the person did (refuse to mention person’s name or what they did), but rather, that I work in law enforcement and I will admit I have seen some bad apples in my career.  But, I have been a part of so many more positive situations while wearing the badge that I’d like to add my interesting spin on this topic.

Since the beginning of law enforcement in the United States, some officers have slowly hacked away at our credibility and honorable profession.  Officers would beat people up just because and they would steal from homes and people.  Other crimes were committed as well.   Eventually, the public fought back and made public the injustices by these few who wore a badge.  Things would get better in the area where it occurred, but not so elsewhere.  The LAPD beating in 1991 reaffirmed that at times law enforcement clearly makes poor decisions.  Many wearing a badge today would agree we needed to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them.  Some agencies have, others have not.

I’m here to tell you that the times of flexing our muscles, disrespecting individuals, stealing, and violating people’s rights is NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE in law enforcement.  I’m part of an agency that aggressively ensures those who wear a badge are held to a HIGHER standard than the public.  And, I’m proud to be a part of the change, and I support it.  When I first started, I witnessed things that would not fly today.  Do injustices and questionable things still occur? Absolutely.  But just because one or two apples are rotten doesn’t mean the whole barrel is.

Now here is the difficult part for law enforcement.  Whether in the public eye or behind closed doors, “cops” are not trusted and are not respected.  Whenever an officer makes a mistake, whether small or large, it is blasted on the media.  Even officers get caught in the media crossfire.   So we conduct foot patrol, push a patrol car, ride motorcycles, and bicycles amongst the public constantly watching our back because people want us dead.  We risk our lives every day, for people who may kill us the next day.  We respond to calls to help, and are ambushed and attacked.  We are portrayed in the media as savages, all because of some bad apples.  The public likes to respond, “Well you get paid well for risking your life.”  Have you seen my bills?  Do you know my situation?  Furthermore, I do what I do for pride in my profession, and because others cannot or will not do it.

Let me give you some insight to being an officer.  You get up and deal with your responsibilities; however, your loved ones are internally dealing with the fact you may not come home.  Not only the physical loss crosses their mind every minute of your twelve hour shift, but if you don’t come back, what does the family do to survive? Who pays the bills?  These same thoughts consume the officer.  You know this profession you have chosen is tearing up your marriage or relationships, but it’s all you know.  You walk outside, head on a swivel, looking for any threats in your immediate area since you are sure the neighbors and their friends know you are a cop.  Nothing better for an upcoming gang member than to take out a cop or steal from his home.  You get in your car and drive to work.  At every single stop light you have to position your car in such a manner to prevent an ambush.  You have to scan all around you to make sure you can deal with a threat in case someone already knows you are a cop, or THINKS you are a cop.  You make it to work thinking about a thousand scenarios in your head that you may have to respond to during your shift, all hoping you don’t have to kill someone and that you will come home at the end of your shift.  You get dressed and see old bullet holes in your own locker room.  You wonder if today another “incident” occurs in the locker room.  You make it to briefing, where you are told WHAT NOT to do, and you are reminded of whatever foolish thing some other officer has done this time…You check your weapon and your ballistic vest then step outside into the battlefield.  You walk to your patrol car with your head on a swivel because people make comments, give you stares, and look right through you.  You make it to your patrol car, check your weapons again, and start your 12-hour tour.  On a busy day or a slow day, you are constantly reminded of what not to do, and often catch yourself wondering if a shooting occurs, what will you do?  The next twelve hours you respond to calls.  You cannot run into homes anymore to help people because it may be a trap.  You do less proactive police activity because the car full of bad guys versus you doesn’t seem safe.  The odds are against us every single time we respond to a call, do a traffic stop, or stop to talk to people.  

Then, you respond to a call and see something happening that is not right.  If it is me, I speak up and try to fix the situation.  Most officers would do the same.  However, some would do nothing because they are afraid of the label they will get with the “fellas.”  So, we are ridiculed by the public, and by our peers. 
Throughout the day friends and family are checking on you to make sure you are okay.  You may have been injured during the shift, but you don’t tell your family because they stress out already.  You don’t tell your boss, because you can’t go out on light-duty because you cannot afford less money.  You don’t tell your co-workers because then you are a sissy and weak.  Then you reverse the whole process and hopefully make it home without a problem. 

Once in your home, you try to explain to you children why you are always late and missed their play or game, why your finger is broken or your back is messed up, and try to tell your family you will spend more time with them.  You try to sleep, yet your own fears and stress make it difficult.  You hear a noise and wonder if someone is trying to break in, or worse.  At some point, you fall asleep.  You get a few hours before you repeat the whole process again.  You flip on the TV and you see a story like in southern California and wonder, Do I really need this stress?  You convince yourself you must push forward because the people you protect and help will need you.  And even though they may ridicule you one day, you must protect them and save them the next. 

This is what it means to wear a badge today.  And, to be certain, very few bad apples wear a badge, because you have to really want to do what we do and go through what we go through to pin one on your chest. In time, the bad apples surface and are dealt with.  Until then, we keep doing the best we can.



Sunny Frazier said...

I think it's good that there are more "watchdogs" these days and law enforcement officers are held accountable. Having said that, I remember watching my narcs go off to do a bust and thinking it might be the last time I see one of them. They confided in me things they could not tell their wife. They broke down in my office. Sometimes the pressure and horror of what they confront, especially if children are at risk, makes it hard to control the rage. And then, as if it's a slate to wipe clean, they go on to the next case or crisis.

C.L. Swinney said...

Sunny, you lived it all through our's a tough road to go down. But someone had to do it!

William Doonan said...

Words to the wise! This is the lot of us humans - we made patterns out of a small number of incidents. Most people, law enforcement or not, are pretty great. They just don't make good press or good TV, so we tend to focus on the bad.

Sally Carpenter said...

Excellent observations. We often forget that peace officers are only human too, not supermen/women. They can make mistakes and are judged harshly for doing so. But bravo to all the gallant officers who work so hard every day to make our cities safe.

Jackie Taylor Zortman said...

I really enjoyed your article. My husband is a 42-year veteran cop, now retired. He made it through one 20-year career in a metropolitan city and then became the chief of police in a Colorado mountain tourist town for 22 years. Nothing compares to the last month until his retirement in terms of fear. I was terrified that he'd be killed on some hot call and he later told me it also crossed his mind. Nobody understands what it is like to wonder if your husband is coming home at the end of his shift daily, unless you've lived it. I once wrote an article that was published in a law enforcement journal that I called "Just Routine". It's very similar to what you just posted. Cops have a thankless job and never have any satisfied customers, but most of them are honest citizens willing to die for those they've sworn to protect and serve. They work hard for low pay, miss holidays with their families and do things that others would not or could not do. It's a shame that a few bad apples spoil it for the rest. Thank you for being out there. Our world is a better place because you are.