I was raised to respect and trust the police. Always.
But as reports (and video footage) involving “bad cops” have become widespread, I can no longer pledge blind allegiance to the judgment of every person wearing a police uniform.
Dad may not come home (a reality my mother kept to herself during my formative years), so I was taught that civilians should never second-guess anything a cop does in the line of duty.
Dad’s stories about his experiences on the job offer a consistent pattern of de-escalation. Although he was ready to defend his life if warranted, his first instinct was to use his voice, body language, and common sense to calm people in the heat of the moment. I once asked him if, during his 38-year career, he had ever fired his gun in the line of duty. “No,” he replied, without hesitation.
As a police officer, Dad responded to a broad range of calls, from a squirrel that came down a chimney (the homeowners thought a burglar was afoot), to dramatic hostage situations, to helping track and capture a tapir that had escaped from the local zoo. In multiple instances, he found himself thrust into the role of social worker or psychologist, interacting with people who were clearly struggling with mental health issues. Many of his stories describe how he successfully negotiated and/or wrestled weapons away from individuals--without using his own. During one memorable interaction, when told by a fellow officer that a Black man had a gun, Dad’s response was to tackle the suspect, only to learn that the gun (as in the case of Tamir Rice) was a toy.
When I asked about police behavior in the cases of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Dad was adamant that those officers were wrong. In particular, the video of George Floyd’s murder infuriated him. “I have no sympathy for [those four officers]. They should be taken out and shot.”
Other recent charges of police misconduct were not as cut and dried. For example, in the case of Rayshard Brooks’ killing, because Brooks had a weapon (a taser), the officer “had cause,” Dad said.
“So, what has changed since you walked the beat? Why is all this happening now?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Not all cops are like that, but there are always some ‘bad apples,’ no matter where you go,” he said.
To support his theory, Dad described the exploits of several “bad apples” who graduated from the police academy with him. Highlights included shaking people down, accepting money to provide favorable testimony in court, planting drugs on innocent people, and burglarizing stores while on duty.
“I told them they were going to get caught eventually, and they did. They all got fired,” Dad said.
“Why didn’t you report them?”
“You don’t squeal on another cop, Ri.”
Although we may disagree about how many “bad apples” are now patrolling our communities, I know that “protect and serve” is hardwired in Dad’s DNA. As a police officer, he treated all people with dignity, a skill that seems to be in short supply today. In other words, he was and is one of the good ones.
1 year ago