An encouraging word for future police officers. It’s a brutal world out there and you are going to have to really believe in what you are doing to be able to deal with it. Do you see those angry people out there burning down their own neighborhoods in protest of YOUR racist, abusive, overly aggressive, excessive style, technique, demeanor and so on? Those people are who YOU are working for, they are who you are serving, they are who you are protecting. Basically you are going to be trying to protect them from themselves.
Last year a friend called me and asked me to talk to a young man who had just come out of the Army and was considering becoming a police officer. My friend put this young man on the phone, he was in his early 20’s, was in the National Guard and had done one deployment. I asked him one thing, “In this day and age with all the hate towards the police, why would you want to be a cop?”… Without missing a beat he responded “Well, I figure I already have cross hairs on my back so I figure what difference would it make”… I honestly was stunned into silence for a few moments and then asked him to repeat himself, which he did. I asked what he was talking about, having cross hairs on his back, and he said that in the Army and while deployed he had cross hairs on his back from ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and so “I figured that being a cop and having cross hairs on my back would be no big deal”. I honestly wasn’t sure how to respond to that at first.
I finally just calmly told him he was going to have to do a serious gut check and consider exactly why he wanted to be police officer, because there is SOOOO much more to being a cop than just putting on a badge and gun. I pointed out to him that unless he felt deep down inside that it was a calling he was going to be chewed up and spat out by the realities of police work. I guaranteed him that at some interview with a police department they are certainly going to ask him a question very similar to what I just did, and though there is no “correct” answer per se, saying that you don’t think it will make a big difference that you have cross hairs on your back is not a correct answer. Maybe that’s just me, but I don’t think so!
We had a girl go through the whole police academy with us, did well, would probably have been a great cop, but after about 2 or 3 weeks on the road with an FTO (Field Training Officer for those who do not know) she resigned, having come to see that the reality of police work is not what she wanted to do. Literally did not last a month of in-house training.
I spoke to a police academy class last summer, and I wanted to end with an encouraging word for these young future police officers. I told them that I strongly believe that being a police officer is a very honorable calling, amazing sense of being part of a team, amazing sense of comraderie, amazing highs and incredible lows but that it has to be that, a calling. Because they are not going to get a lot of high fives from the population, not going to get a lot of appreciation, no “Thank you”, they are going to be second guessed, blamed, vilified, accused of being rude and obnoxious, accused of being racist, accused of using excessive force and so on and so on, and it WILL affect you. But it does NOT have to beat you down and defeat you. I told them that from time to time there will be moments in their career that will validate what you are doing, that will remind you that what you are doing is good and worth while and that you ARE making a difference in someone’s life. I call those moments “nuggets” and I told the class they have to hang on to those nuggets when times get hard. I shared with them one of my earliest nuggets…
I was in an unmarked car and as I turned onto a street came upon a domestic assault in progress in the middle of the street. A guy in his early 20’s had a pregnant girl by the hair, holding her down so she was bent forward and down, and he was punching the back of her head and shoulders. As I slowly rolled up he walked her to the side of the road, never letting go of her and continued to yell and strike her. There were about 5 to 6 people scattered in the area watching the whole thing.
I came to a stop, no more than about 10-15 feet from them, and smiled and asked if everything was okay. They did not notice my uniform. The girl turned her head to look at me and calmly said she was okay, there was no problem. The guy held onto her hair and held her down, so she remained bent forward as she spoke to me. I just sat there and quietly called for backup. The guy now noticed that I was just sitting there and began to yell at me, asking if I had a “fu&%ing problem” and on and on. He let go of the girl and started towards me.
I then got out of the car and as my uniform came into focus for him I saw the obvious look of confusion on his stupid face. Just then my buddies pulled up and we placed him under arrest. While putting the cuffs on him, his pregnant victim had began to call me and my buddies names. Some girls walked up, these same girls who were just watching the victim get brutalized, and began to comfort the victim and also tell her how the police never mind their business and always picking on people and blah blah blah, they all became rude and obnoxious. The pregnant girl was really defensive about her baby’s daddy being arrested “for nothing”, and I remember walking right up to her and calmly telling her that she may think it is okay to be treated worst than a dog in the middle of the evening, in the middle of the street, in front of all these people, but I personally felt she deserved better and that I strongly felt that the guy had to go to jail. I went on to say that I know she will most likely get back with him when he gets out the next morning, but as far as I was concerned at least I knew she was going to have peace and quiet that night. Then I turned and walked away.
Some time passed, maybe a few months or so, maybe longer, but there came a day that I got a subpoena for a domestic assault case. The name did not mean anything to me. As I as walking to the court room that day a attractive girl suddenly ran up and gave me a big hug, Her mom came up and she introduced me to her mom. I had no idea who this girl was. She then started showing me beautiful baby photos. She turned out to be that pregnant girl who was being assaulted in the middle of the street.
She said that later that night, in the peace and quiet of her room, going over the events and things I had said, it really hit her that she did deserve so much better. Her baby definitely deserved so much better. So she broke away from that jerk, and we were both there as witnesses against him for assaulting another girl, and this time he was facing some time and we were there to show a history of assaultive, abusive behavior on his part. He took a plea deal.
The point of the story is that it is the earliest nugget I can remember in my career, where I was validated, where I knew that something I did made a difference, that someone came away making an effort to do better for themselves and their kids because of something I said. And she certainly did not act very appreciative that evening when I stopped him from hitting her.
As time went on and I became aware having made a positive impact or having a positive affect on other people, I would remind myself of those people and those incidences when things got stressful, frustrating, depressing, and chaotic. And I would hang in there, believing that I was making a difference, even if it was not very evident at the moment.
So, all you young future police officers, when things get tough, and they will, you need to believe in what you are doing, why you are doing it, and believe and know that you ARE making a difference.
God bless all of you… Be safe.