Good Police vs Bad Police
Here’s my problem. I’m very emotional about this topic. I was going to find sources to quote from various blogs I read from points of view that are not my own. From voices who are not white. And then I decided I’m just going to write from my own point of view, and about why I’m emotional.
I have been a campus police dispatcher. Before you scoff that “it’s not the same”, I worked for a department that was a hybrid of security and actual police at a small Texas university. The only security (by the time I left) were bicycle patrol used for writing parking citations and checking buildings to make sure they were locked up after class. When I started working there, those positions did not exist, and all of my officers were armed from non-deadly (pepper spray) to deadly (firearm) with an in between level of a telescoping baton (or an old fashioned baton with a t-style hand grip to brace against the forearm). None of my guys (they were mostly guys, although we had a female sergeant and 2 other women patrol officers at various points of my tenure) had stun guns. There were very good cops.
Our university was in a small town, so there were local police officers we supported and Texas Highway Patrol had a satellite office (mostly for doing paperwork) in the back of our office space. As an evening shift (3pm til 11pm) dispatcher, I was responsible for monitoring at least 3 bands of radio traffic: ours, City, and County. Sometimes highway patrol would blip in to the Emergency Band, which was set to only trigger if they called for local back up. At the time, I had 911 training (very minimal back then, we’re talking a 1 day course), CPR training (also shockingly minimal) and then general office training. Looking back on it, I was a very functional secretary and operator who managed a lot of phone lines and a lot of radios and did several different computer system input/reports without really any training other than on-the-job.(1) Most of the guys at the three departments I interacted with regularly were just normal people. They had spouses, they had kids, they had exes and kids, and they had sometimes complicated history, but I’d say most across the departments were good guys. We had mostly white cops, but a few black cops as well, including in the upper echelon.
There were also a handful of not so good cops. Most just had problems with partying too hard and cheating on their spouses. Those things are pretty easy when you want to do them in most towns, but in college towns where at least two of the fraternities generate military, lawyers or law enforcement it’s even easier to party for pretty cheap. And for some reason, where I grew up, a lot of women really get excited about a uniform. Almost any uniform will do, and if that uniform will ignore a speeding ticket or an expired license or a bit of inebriation for a blow job, well, it’s even easier to cheat as a cop. I didn’t notice a lot of racism, or not guys who believed they were being racist anyway. But in hindsight, as an adult who is looking harder at life, there was still racism. There was still profiling. Not to the degree of Ferguson, but it was there. Mostly, it was Haves versus Have Nots. Some of the Have Nots weren’t white, and the best way they could see to get to be Haves was to sell drugs.(3)
Cops do have a problem with the blue line. They don’t want to believe that other cops are bad, or at best they believe it’s possible but they don’t want it talked about everywhere because it “erodes the public trust in the majority of good cops out there”.
Here’s the thing, there are bad cops out there.
Posting flyers (in real life or on social media) with the clean cut fresh recruit just out of academy telling parents “don’t tell your kids we’ll come arrest them if they tell a lie” because that teaches kids not to trust cops, but rather “trust cops so your kids run TO us for help rather than AWAY” is over simplified and problematic. Not all cops are good. More cops are being called up in social media and video sites for what definitely seem to be unjustified, extreme-risk take-downs of people who turn out to be un-armed, be the wrong person entirely, or to have just been in the wrong place when the cops were scared. Those cops are not being called up in court, and if they are, they’re given a slap on the wrist. And cops do profile kids that have done nothing wrong just for being out late and in a group, or alone, if they are not-white. There is no safe place for these kids, especially if they are male.
Rather than putting it on parents who, believe it or not, do not typically tell boogie-man tales of cops unless they’ve experienced scary-ass cops, let’s have good cops continue with Meet the Police nights and actually follow through with respectable actions. How about when that one cop who has anger issues wants to crack down on that guy ducking out of 7-11 with a hoodie and a paper bag fisted in his hand, you the good cop tell him to wait. Wait and see if the owner hit the panic button. Wait for that 911 call. That one brief beat isn’t going to be a problem if you, the good cop, actually pay attention and be a good witness (get his license plate, make damn sure you know exactly what he’s wearing and what direction he went) but might keep him alive if your angry cop buddy is stopped from going guns blazing after someone who is miserable with a head-cold, has a bad case of hives and is just hiding from his neighbor seeing him look like crap.
This is a bit like rape culture. No, not all men are rapists. Just like not all cops are bad. But just like we need to tell people who joke about rape that it’s not appropriate and that rape is bad and to not rape, we need cops to tell other cops to uphold their oaths and be upstanding, trustworthy people we can turn to for help.
Why am I so emotional about this? Because I’m white. And I was a police dispatcher. And I was married to a city cop who moved up to eventually being a federal investigator. And when I am pulled over my heart races like mad because I don’t know why I was pulled over. And I put my hands on the steering wheel and I do NOT move unless I am asked to. And I am very polite and end every sentence with “sir” (and would use “ma’am” if it was a female cop). If I am a passenger, I do NOT make sudden moves, I do not speak without being spoken to, I keep my hands visible. Why do I behave this way? Because I know that cops get scared as hell at traffic stops (highest rate of being injured for a cop aside from possibly responding to a domestic violence call) and when a human being is scared they react first and ask questions later. But I’m a small white female. The likelihood that I will EVER actually scare a cop once they actually get to my window is extremely low. I can not even fathom what it is like to be a non-white young man.
We need our good cops to help police the bad cops. We need them to go to their admins and lawyers and tell them “It may be bad for our image for a while, but it will be a lot better if we turn him over to the system than if we let him hide behind us. We UPHOLD the system, so we should trust it to find him not-guilty by his peers.” If you do anything else, you are conspirators and accomplices, or you truly do NOT trust the system you are working for, and then why are you? Be better.
1) This doesn’t even get into other duties I had as a female employee of the department, which involved having to frisk drunk detainees before they were transported to either local or county jail and photographing domestic violence victims who were female. Being alternately cat-called (“want some of this baby?”) and threatened with hidden razor-blades (along the bra line, inside cowboy boots) or noxious diseases (never did an actual strip search and was glad not to) by a drunk detainee was a whole new experience as a 19 year old, let me tell you. Finding out later that the DV victim recanted so that she could go home still makes me nauseous to this day. I understand why she did it, but I wish she’d felt safer with another option.(2)
2) It has improved by huge leaps and bounds the last time I visited that campus. The dispatchers are uniformed now, behind bullet-proof glass (I wasn’t for at least 2 years) and in general seem much more cop-like. I’m assured they get much more training, although some appear to be almost as young as I was. (I was just shy of my 18th birthday when hired, and was 23 when I left.)
3) Some of them were white, too. One of my scariest moments of worrying about one of my guys, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to do crap except send more support, was when a white crack-head prostitute got naked and panicky with a butcher knife in the middle of a very busy street. Oddly, it was off campus. He’d been responding to a support call himself.