I like cops. I’ve liked cops since I was a kid and wanted to be one when I grew up. During my 20s I had an opportunity to serve on a police reserve — a well-trained group of guys who volunteered to assist the paid force.
As much as I enjoyed the experience, I learned I wasn’t cut out to be a cop. I’m large and clumsy. My size may have been of some benefit in ending a brawl but I’m a large and slow target. In addition, I quickly learned that a drunk thinks he can beat up the largest person around. I encountered that truth the first night of duty.
My time on the reserve taught me lessons that have been valuable over the years. I learned to be constantly aware of my surroundings and to make note of unusual behaviors and situations. I’d hate to have to demonstrate them, but I learned some good self-defense tactics. And the advanced first aid training has been helpful many times.
During my time on the police reserve every officer I worked with was a good guy. Some were more sociable than others. Some were more businesslike. But none were jerks.
In the four decades since my reserve experience, I have met a lot of good cops and a handful who weren’t.
During my time on the police reserve, I was dumbfounded by the boneheads who became smart alecks when an officer approached their driver’s window. “What’s wrong; is the donut shop closed?” was an occasional response. Another: “Why are you picking on me? Don’t you have any real criminals in this town?”
Those were the nicer ones. I was called an “f—-ing pig” on too many occasions. Most people, however, were polite if not happy.
When I see red lights in my rear view mirror, I am angry at myself but not terribly uncomfortable. By the time the officer arrives at my window, I try to have my driver’s license, registration and insurance card ready. When I have been stopped, I know I have been speeding and I don’t get argumentative. On a couple of occasions I have been surprised by how much I was speeding. There may come a time when it is reasonable to protest, but I haven’t been there yet.
A few years ago I was stopped by a small town police officer for speeding – 56 in a 45 zone. The instant I saw the red lights I looked at my speedometer and knew I was guilty. The young officer was polite and professional and I treated him with respect. When all was said and done, and I got off with a warning, I complimented him on his professionalism. He said it was his policy for minor infractions like mine to let the violator choose a warning or a fine by their conduct.
Sadly, there are bad cops. More than we’d like to think. Whether it’s as grave as shooting and killing suspects, assaulting innocent individuals or just being jerks, the evidence is there… often on a video recording.
I worked in a community where there were a few bad cops. In fact, two of them were sent to prison for their bad cop deeds. Some of the good cops were harassed by the bad cops. From a leadership perspective, the “good ol’ boy” system was in effect. Fortunately, the situation did not result in any deaths (that I am aware of) but a number of individuals’ and families’ lives were made difficult as a result of the problem.
I know individuals whose opinions of law enforcement officers have been jaded by news reports of the bad cops. That’s a shame. The number of good cops far exceeds the number of bad cops.
Law enforcement can be hard and dangerous work, often with difficult hours. Unless you’re a bad cop, you won’t get rich as a law enforcement officer.
Our law enforcement agencies — the good cops — need and deserve our respect. Bad cops need to be reported and their superiors need to weed them out.
Mary Frances Berry, the former Chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, put it this way: “When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe.”