We might think we know what it’s like to be a cop, but we really have no idea. The only reason I know how little I/we know, is that I count several cops among my dearest friends. I know them as people, first, and cops second. They are all men and to a man, they are among the finest human beings I know. Smart. Idealistic at times. Articulate. Yes, and some are even, dare I say it–to the left, politically. Yes.
As a child of the 60s who came of age just before Kent State, I grew up hearing F*ck the Pigs! It rolled off the tongues of my generation easily, thoughtlessly, although never mine. Ah, youth. So clueless about the complexities of life.
Life has only gotten more complex, though, and as it has, the issues have evolved. The Black Lives Matter resurgence since the death of George Floyd, what I call “the last straw,” has put cops in the public eye. They aren’t faring well.
I think most of us would agree that police are needed to maintain order and enforce laws. Without them our society could not survive. I believe that to be fact. Abolishing the police is a ridiculous idea.
At the same time, change is needed. Hoping that I–and through this blog post, we–better understand what law enforcement is about, what they see and how they feel, I asked a working cop I know to weigh in. He’s someone I respect and I like. We started talking and didn’t stop–for hours. Online and on the phone. And we could have (and will) talk for days.
And this is the result. Some of you might be surprised by what you hear, as I was. And remember, this is one particular cop’s view. He doesn’t represent a department or his profession, just himself. His observations and opinions.
It’s Part 1. For sure there will be Parts 2 and 3. Because there’s a lot to say and it’s a view we don’t ordinarily have.
I can’t identify him or his agency. He’s in his 40s and has been in law enforcement more than two decades. Originally, he aimed to be a Marine officer but discovered he disliked administrative paperwork. Law enforcement called his name. So let’s begin:
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Officer safety issues are a challenge and I have my own style. For example, at every traffic stop I have a smile on my face. I keep safety in mind, and I’m firm but I try to be approachable and friendly. I introduce myself and explain why I’m stopping them. Unlike most other jobs, law enforcement is not necessarily about making the customer happy. The right tone is important: confidence without arrogance.
One of the assignments I had required me to use more force than others in my profession. I work hard to not be the Neanderthal we’re imagined to be.
Isn’t it stressful to try to maintain that balance and always be on guard?
Yes. Some officers deal with it in unhealthy ways: they drink or they cheat on their spouses. Me? I love caffeine and cigarettes. But my reward at the end of the day is the case with a happier ending or that I’ve prevented bad stuff from happening. Those little victories that make my jurisdiction a better place. And if not me, who?
What are the officers you work with like?
I am surrounded by a lot of great cops. Each has their strength and weaknesses so we try to play to each other’s strengths and make up for one another’s weaknesses. Each person I work with on my watch takes their oath of responsibility seriously.
And then, there are those who do not, like former LAPD officer Rafael Perez, who was a straight-up criminal. Thankfully, I do not have to work around people like that.
How did you feel when you saw that video of George Floyd?
It raised the hair on the back of my neck. I kept yelling at him (to myself), “Why? What are you doing? He’s not fighting, get off his neck!” Our reason for using force is to compel compliance. If someone is simply passively resisting you do not get to use that kind of force. At least not in my department. It baffles me that Minneapolis PD allows it. We have other, more useful ways of handling passive resistance.
I’m a training officer–I consider it the most important job I’ve ever done. But so was Derek Chauvin.
Why do you think the other officers didn’t step in when they saw what was happening?
His role as training officer was one reason I’m sure–two of the officers were trainees, on the job under a week. I’m sure they thought, “Well, this guy’s been a cop a long time, he knows how to be a cop and he’s my trainer so he must know what he’s doing.” As a recruit, the training officer’s word is law.
Why do officers use excessive force?
I can’t get into their heads for certain. Having once been a junior guy I can say it might be a case of “you did this to me, I’m going to teach you a lesson.” They step outside of their role. Maybe they let their emotions take over.
The job does attract those who are aggressive. Most departments including mine do all they can to weed out those who are overly so. You have to have someone who can handle that tough interaction but it’s a double-edged sword. The job of a cop is to maintain order. To bring order to chaos and to protect the innocent. To enforce the constitution.
Are we allowed to make mistakes? Absolutely–as long as we are making them in good faith.
Nobody is bad 100 percent of the time. I’m sure Derek Chauvin’s kids don’t think he is the monster we see him as. He did something bad. In my job there are times that I can just feel that someone is losing it and ready to let their emotions take over, and that is the scariest thing in the world. That’s when a partner has to step in to handle the interaction and stop the officer from doing something stupid: I’ve got this. Officers must look after each other — and the public–in this way and it’s not considered inappropriate. In California it’s codified by law. Officers are required to step in if they see excessive force.
One of the recent victims had autism. I know his case hits home.
Elijah McCain. This case breaks my heart, because I can see both sides of the situation.
For those unaware of the case: In Aurora ,Colorado, someone called the police because an individual was walking down the street wearing a ski mask, acting erratically. The ski mask was not out of the ordinary as it was winter in Colorado. The caller did not believe the pedestrian was armed.
Elijah was walking home and was acting somewhat bizarrely. Law enforcement officers approached him and a physical confrontation ensued. Officers said that Elijah had attempted to take one of the officers guns. Elijah was handcuffed and the officers believed he was under the influence of a controlled substance.
Elijah was still actively resisting, so officers placed him into a carotid restraint, rendering him unconscious for a brief period. Paramedics arrived and attempted to give Elijah ketamine to control the “excited delirium.” Because Elijah was still actively resisting, three officers had to hold Elijah down while paramedics administered the ketamine. Elijah suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital. He was pronounced brain dead two days later.
This incident fills me with dread. A close family member is autistic. Autism thinks differently. We do not know what was going on in Elijah’s mind, and tragically, we never will. But he was obviously in fear. I also know that I have witnessed tens of thousands of incidents of emergent medication being administered. In California, I have never witnessed ketamine used. In Colorado it was allowed.
The paramedics on scene assessed Elijah’s body weight to be approximately 220 pounds, so they administered the correct dosage for that weight. Elijah actually weighed 140 pounds. This was all a tragedy of errors. And this one breaks my heart, scares the shit out of me and brings a tear to my eye every time I think about it.
This is the end of Part 1. I hope it helped provide a bit of context to current events and gave you a view into my friend’s view of his work in law enforcement. In Part 2, tomorrow, he’ll talk about Black Lives Matters and police reform.He’ll also recommend a podcast, which I listened to, as well. And oddly enough, my nephew on the other side of the country has ALSO heard it and brought it up recently on our weekly Zoom call.
If you’ve got comments I’d love to hear them. And he’d love to answer your questions, so just ask them in the Comments section, below. Thank you! And here is Part 2.