Child's Play, The Citizen, August 2020 Life as a Cop

Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.

With so many protests against police recently, let's balance the record a bit, shall we?  Nobody denies that the officers in the George Floyd case behaved unconscionably.  Just like us, police officers hurt for victims like George Floyd and are embarrassed when fellow officers betray their oaths.  I've worked with law enforcement at every level and there are far more good police officers than bad ones.  It is a tragedy that incidents like this cause some not to trust those who serve in law enforcement.  And when politicians claim that police are the enemy it makes their work even harder and more dangerous.  Ironically, if these critics called 911 for help, the police would respond.

Another bit of irony is that those who are proclaiming that police officers are biased are, in fact, displaying bias.  They are assuming that all who wear blue are the same as those bad apples in Minneapolis.  Such stereotyping is no different than racism.

An officer's shift begins by donning over 20 pounds of gear.  Imagine carrying two bowling balls around at work all day - every day.  All of this weight often leads to health troubles over a career. 

Some veteran officers make less money than a first-year school teacher.  Still, these officers love their work, often choosing to serve in the communities where they grew up.  They must memorize dozens of codes and learn hundreds of laws that govern their career and protect the Constitutional rights of citizens.  Officers must also learn standard operating procedures for their individual agencies.  An arrest that isn't done by the book or poorly documented incidents may result in a criminal walking away free.

When most families are celebrating Christmas, the 4th of July, or Thanksgiving, officers are often working.  Holidays are busy times for law enforcement.  Criminals and traffic problems don't take holidays off.

For routine traffic stops, some agencies require that the driver be on his or her way within 15 minutes.  In that short time, officers have to ensure the car isn't stolen, no warrants are out on the driver, look out their own safety, listen to protests and insults, and at the same time keep their cool and remain professional.  By the way, you may not like getting a traffic ticket, but I've driven in many countries where there is chaos on the roadways.  I don't want that here. 

Traffic stops are among the most dangerous things law enforcement personnel do.  Officers are sometimes struck by distracted motorists while managing a traffic stop.  And officers can't assume the driver they've stopped is just a person on the way to work or the grocery.  In many cases, routine stops turn up armed individuals with outstanding warrants, intoxicated drivers, or thieves leaving the scene of a robbery.  It was officers on a routine patrol who caught Timothy McVey (the Oklahoma City bomber) and Eric Rudolph (the Olympic Park bomber). 

Police work long hours and paperwork has to be completed before they go home.  On a busy shift, an officer may have to spend an extra hour or two - without pay - completing paperwork, making a 12-hour shift more like 14.  Days off may be spent testifying in court - sometimes without pay - rather than playing with one's children, fishing, or resting.

Rarely does any commentator have any understanding of police procedures and the media can easily make officers look bad with videos presented without any context.  During a traffic stop, for example, if an officer has probable cause for suspecting something nefarious and there are multiple occupants in the vehicle, the officer may briefly handcuff all of them.  If things turn ugly, officers can't fight three or four men alone and backup may be 15 or 20 minutes away. 

If an officer is forced to fight a suspect or fire a weapon, a short video of the event is often all that makes the news.  What led up to the event usually isn't shown and the many skills police employ every day to reduce tensions and avoid confrontation never makes the news. 

Like airline pilots, police officers must never make a mistake - not even once.  If they discharge their weapons, not only could their careers be over, but they may go to jail.  Yet they have to make decisions sometimes in milliseconds and if they hesitate, they may die. 

Officers repeatedly go to the same houses on domestic violence calls, arrest the same thieves and drug dealers, and stop the same drunks.  They do it because they love their career and support from the public that they serve would be nice.  Police officers are not the enemy. 

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