People have an unhealthy fear of police that seems to come from their personal quest for greater freedoms. This is an interesting concept that has been for many years negated by those who believe that children should be permitted freedoms that equate to adulthood. My own mother once told me that she would rather me drink at home, if I decided that was to be a part of my life. Now, I love my Mom, and I can understand the sentiment, but what is so hard about not drinking when under the legal age?
Crimes are not often thought of in realistic terms. I have seen people who just want to get their case over. Agreeing to impossible future restrictions just to escape the mere minutes they would be in Court, before a Judge, or in Police custody. Then lingers the thought that if it can happen once, it may be happening again just because a police car pulls in behind. Even so far as to have you break out in sweat just by being questioned. The man who decides to run cannot often explain terror at the thought of a confrontation.
What differentiates us now is the mindset of individuals from that of our parents time to today. Police were known as “Peace Officers.” Today they are “Law Enforcement Officers.” We fail to recognize that the policemen of years past have not all disappeared. Feeling (empathy), humanity and even assistance is able to be received without adverse consequences.
My wife and I went to a party one evening with some couples who were serving with the California State Police. There was a fair amount of chit chat on mundane issues. The conversation returned to the “Perp” did this, or the “hype” did that. Then proceeded down hill when the subject of prostitution came to bear. Women for the most part gravitated to one part of the house and the Men (most) moved to the other. As if battle lines had been drawn.
I began to wonder about the line between cops and criminals as I watched more than a few unethical situations materialize. I listened to justifications. Then, I remembered a question asked by an examiner on one of my interview boards; “What would you do if you and your partner entered a 7/11 after responding to a break-in, then went and got a candy bar or something more and ate it without paying for it? Would you report him?” My answer was that I would take probably joke with him, then take money out of my own pocket and leave it on the counter. I wasn’t told whether it was a right answer or a wrong one. I was merely asked more questions on a variety of dissimilar topics.
My concern over the years is that we forget to permit people to be human. We forget that different people of different backgrounds make choices defining different paths. Our hope is to fine a path that coincides with like-minded people. Considering this, a few days ago, I witnessed a news broadcast where a Police Lieutenant, two sergeants, two patrol men and a dispatcher were appearing at a bond hearing in which they were alleged to have been a part of a drug conspiracy ring. To my dismay, bail of $250,000 each was reduced to an amount between $3,000 and $6,000 each. They all made bail.
Training Video – Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept
In contrast, while working a particular training video for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, I was ensconced in an county jail jumpsuit. We had finished shooting in the rear of an industrial building in Burbank. I was handed a shotgun to return to the Property van around the front of the building. Imagine my surprise to find two Burbank Police Units sharing a break (doughnuts and coffee) right next to our nondescript van. Mind you we were shooting just behind the building — with nearly 40 similarly dressed officers and volunteers.
Upon my being noticed by the officers, I stopped, placed the shotgun on the ground, and backed away a few feet. Needless to say the adrenaline rush that followed was by virtue of having two weapons pointed at me. I knew I was in trouble as one of the officers has soiled his shirt, startled with his cup of coffee. I tried to explain and was told to shut up. I complied until I could explain that I had my identification inside my pants pocket UNDER the jumpsuit.
Though I was not immediately believed, I was permitted to unzip the over-tight overalls and reach “carefully” for my ID. After retrieving it, the officers moved closer and four more “fake” inmates rounded the corner. All happened to be armed with different types of weaponry; two shotguns, three machetes, a hand full of knives and several handguns. Had it not been for the Sheriff’s Department Vehicle rounding the corner at nearly the same time, we would still be writing home professing our innocence come the next century.
As it was the Burbank Officers merely yelled a lot about not being given notification of the film shoot. The point of this story identifies that contrary to popular theories, we do like doughnuts, coffee breaks, and don’t necessarily shoot first, asking questions later. At least when it comes to people of the similar color — the uniform.
“Fear” of Law Enforcement
That having been said, let me get serious. In my opinion, the television portrayal of officers today renders a nearly 50/50 split between those that are hard working custodians of public safety, and those that represent lawbreakers seeking self-satisfaction by corrupt practices. Even as we watch shows like “Cops” we find a seeming indifference to the plight of individuals rescued in favor of labeling them “suspicious perps.” Yet, when a child is missing, nationwide manhunts are gratefully called for in the hope that “our child” will be spared becoming another statistic.
We now know from media reports that police look at family members first as likely culprits. But, in a demonizing fashion, we focus so much on police procedures and “assumptions” narrated by former law enforcement “analysts” that prejudices result. This results in a “fear” of law enforcement that can blind the knowledgeable person almost entirely. For that reason, I relate the following true situation which occurred to an officer and his family in Los Angeles some years ago.
Crime Reenactment – Los Angeles
We were granted permission to reenact this crime in an effort to provide proper training, and avoid further tragedy.
An off-duty officer had gone to the grocery store to pick up a few things for his wife. He took along his 5 year old son. As expected, this attentive father stopped to permit his son a ride on electronic hobby horse in front of the store. That was when he noticed two men entering the store. Each with longer coats not conducive to the summer’s heat. As they split from one another, the father/officer noted two shotguns appear from the gentlemen. This was a robbery.
The officer took his son back across the parking lot, concealed him behind a car wheel-well and told him to remain there. His son stayed. The officer then took up a position near the entrance, drew his weapon and awaited the men exiting the store.
Upon their exit, the officer identified himself and ordered the two men to stop. They split up. Each moving in opposite directions. One of the men happened near the boy. That man would later state that he saw the boy, knew that the officer would not chase him if he killed the boy — so he “did it.”
The night of our filming our re-enactment, I met that officer. I met his wife. I returned to my car, cried until there were no more tears. Then went home and looked in on my children.
The entire way home, I reasoned that I should quit. I should let others take on that responsibility. Even as a “Volunteer” in a Reserve Unit, the weight of that man’s heart, and still, years later, caused torment, anger and pain. I don’t want to look at the world as an us or them sequence of random events. Nor do I want to face the fact that there are those on the street that care so little for human life, and the lives of children that my own could never be considered “safe.”
Teaching by Example
“Dragnet,” “Adam 12,” and the like never dealt with officers that were not caring, feeling people. Even if stoic. Seeming displaced emotion always erred on the side of “right choices.” Right choices and right thinking are left behind for the sake of making your way through life excusing bad habits, character traits, and just plain neglect when it comes to parenting and/or providing positive role models.
It is fine for our children to know they want to be Police Officers, Firemen, or Military. But the better question than asking our children; “What do you want to be?” is; “Who do you want to be like?” Do you know any Sheriff’s or Police Officers? Are there any friends you would rather have your children not be around? We teach by example. We have our children watching our actions, associations, and even the things we would rather not deal with in our lives. It may not be as hard as you think to expose your loved ones to positive role models.
Having the Courage to Make a Difference
DARE or SANE programs are not the only Police Programs having merit. But they are all most people know. There are youth programs where individuals can learn about departmental responsibilities. The Boy Scouts have Post programs that can lead to law enforcement positions as officers and support personnel. More than that, there are Policemen’s Balls, Ride-a-thons, and Races. Officers taking their time out to give MORE to the public. Time and Money. These are for those of us with the courage to make a difference.
Yes, there may be a few who do not belong. It may take a long time before they are discovered and weeded out. In the meanwhile, let’s try to view our local police with a “thank you” in our mind. If we happen to be speeding (and we unusually know when we are), then don’t get mad at the officer that gives you a reminder (the ticket).
Remember… you may need that officer one day. You may need a friend that has dedicated his life to helping others. For underneath that tough exterior lies men and women who believe in the same things you do; The right to live “free” from the ills of the world. The right to have your children grow up unmolested. Safe in your home and castle.
So, next time you have the opportunity, find a cop. Make a friend.
Give them the same kind of thank you that our troops are finally getting. They might not expect it, but they will appreciate it. Even some of the toughest old goats out there will find a tear or two — just knowing you care.