Long before some of you were born, I squeezed into a patrol car for a year of my life. I loved it at times, feared it at times, respected it always. I worked with some great people, some adequate people, and a couple of awful people. No doubt, some of my colleagues put me in a category as above. I hope it was at least the adequate one.
Over the last four decades, law enforcement has changed its methods of training and operation. It’s a lot more dangerous than it was (for most cops) today. People don’t think twice about being belligerent, actively resisting, and daring the officers to do their job. There are a lot more racial slurs dished out to the officers. And not as you might think. I talked to more than a few cops in my research this summer (for a book and for a seminar I’m teaching) and the casual racism the public subjects them to is utterly awful.
Nope. Not talking about just black officers, but I’m more than sure they get their share based on other inputs. I’m talking about Asian, Caucasian, and Hispanic officers who take an unbelievable amount of crap from the public. Most of it is minority subjects (of a group other than the one the officer belongs to) trying to interject a race component and get the cop to back off and not do their job. Trust me, it just annoys the officers, and most of it causes ulcers, not prevents arrests.
If you think that cops are targeting people based on race, go on a ride-along. If you can’t go on a ride along, do this simple test: Put a lawn chair on the sidewalk at a busy intersection. When a car comes by that fails to signal a turn, or has a burned out light, or looks drunk, or any other infraction, write down the plate number and the description of the driver and passengers. You’re a better man than I, Charlie Brown, if you can do that in the daytime on a consistent basis, and at night it is virtually impossible. So just chuck that profiling thing away. I write this only because it damages the reputation of good people when this accusation is thrown about to avoid the results of illegal activity. It harms the souls of good people who know better, but are not allowed to fight the charges in the public domain.
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Now that I’ve kicked the soapbox out of the way, let me tell you what it is you expect your officers to do in an 8 hour shift. Not just today, but every day. The answer is anything you call and ask them to do. Yes, they’re called “first-responders” for a reason: they are the first ones you call.
During the ride-alongs I did this summer, I was blessed to be with sworn officers from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bloomington Police Department. I was given an inside look from before roll call to end of the shift. I was an observer, not an actor. I did, in full disclosure, get pulled in to a few events, mainly because nobody my size is invisible. I wore civilian clothes and stayed on the perimeter of the action. But some citizens and suspects wanted me to act, or get clear of the scene. I think this had a minimal impact on the officers and deputies I was around. I did make sure to watch their backs. That is just who I am. But no weapons or force on my part, just eyes.
I was deeply impressed with the professionalism and quality of equipment and deportment both departments showed me. I was even more impressed by the fact that the sense of humor, and the good attitude of the officers on the street, is undiminished in the face of modern threats to their safety. Cops will be cops in the briefing room, and the humor is not different at all from the military. They can take a joke. And the gallows humor is the same as it was decades ago.
So what do we expect our officers to do? Here’s a typical list of a shift:
Inspect car, make sure you have Narcan so you can save overdosed opiate users, long gun and weapons, computer functioning properly, radio working, lights, sirens, vehicle lights, emergency flares, road cones, and first aid bags to bring inside before the ambulance gets there.
Briefing: get a list of people that are a danger to the community and are wanted, businesses that need close attention (prostitution, drugs, or likely to be robbed based on some intelligence the department has obtained), unusual items such as a parked car that bears watching – it may or may not be an issue, but neighbors complain that it might be abandoned – and a host of minutiae including payroll issues. Usually a cursory inspection of uniforms and weapons is done as well, but since all the cops I saw looked “squared away” it was just a glance by the Sgt. as they did the briefing.
In the next 8 hours (this is a combined list from both ride-alongs, but pretty accurate for that time span. No names, I signed an NDA, and am making these just generic enough not to specifically identify the people involved) we:
Detained and sent to detox a violent drunk who was scaring people at a retail store. This call was waiting when we cleared the station. The officers were very cool and calm, and the suspect wrote his own ticket into handcuffs with his threatening and violent behavior.
Responded to a series of parking complaints. None of them justified.
Responded to a man who was wandering the streets, incoherent, had soiled himself, and had no idea where he was. We returned him to his home where the caretaker was waiting.
Searched for a homicide suspect thought to be in the area.
Responded to a fire call where a gas leak had made a house dangerous. We waited for the homeowners to explain why the fire department had to be let in by a neighbor, and what they needed to do next.
Responded to a dead body in a residence. They were. Wait until Coroner arrives or supervisor releases you. But getting there you have to drive like crazy because it comes in as an unresponsive subject who isn’t breathing. You want to get there in time to help. Sometimes it’s already too late.
Respond to a domestic disturbance. Everybody is drunk and stupid. It’s one heck of a combination. No arrests.
Pull over a drunk driver. They’re on the edge of the limit so they get to go home. Wifey drives.
Long, involved domestic where everybody is sober, everybody has an old axe to grind, and nobody is telling the truth. Everyone wants the other one to go to jail. Nobody goes to jail. The police, I promise, will be back there a few more times before Christmas.
That’s in 8 hours. Every day. So the officers were marriage counselors, professional wrestlers, sobriety counselors, traffic wardens, building evacuators, referees, consolers of loved ones, and filmed repeatedly by every citizen who they came in contact with that night.
Oh, yeah: we did get dinner one night, a hot dog. We paid for our own meal. We never stopped for coffee, or donuts. Bathroom break was at a fire station.
Never stopped to just talk or hang out, always eyeing what was going on, checking plates for stolen cars, checking people’s identification for warrants, answering questions about natural gas leaks, and generally working extremely hard to serve the public.
The Bloomington Police Department and Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office were both excellent to deal with on those occasions. Polite, smart, compassionate, and real. I have left out the two calls that would rip your hearts out, but in both cases the officers went above and beyond their public charge to help citizens with major problems in their lives.
In short, the cops on the beat work hard and deserve your faith. I was impressed, and very grateful to both departments for the opportunity to see them in action.
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