-- Karen Rodwill Solomon, “The Price They Pay”
A confession right up front.
I could never be a cop: a police officer. Strap on a gun, get in a car and ride the streets, asked by my fellow citizens to be the dividing line, the defense, between social lawlessness and social order. Between public safety and public fear. I just don’t have the guts to do that kind of work nor the temperament. It absolutely takes a special kind of woman or man to work in law enforcement.
To wade into the worst of what humans can do to each other or themselves. To show up in a dangerous situation not knowing what might happen next. To figure out in a split second who is at risk and needs protection and who is a danger and needs to be stopped. To be called in when all hell is often literally breaking loose and then have the profound responsibility to sort it all out. And now, in the age of cameras everywhere, to do so under the often wary eye of the citizenry whom cops are called to serve and protect.
So think about it. Could you be a cop?
Live under the microscope of constant scrutiny and constant expectations to do the right thing, and not just some of the time but every single time? I couldn’t handle that kind of daily pressure. And these days we ask our cops to do much, much more than just uphold the law. Who deals with the problems of homelessness more than any one else? Cops. Domestic violence? Cops. Natural disasters? Cops. The opioid crisis, thousands of addicts dying of overdoses on the streets of our towns and cities? Cops. Who ensures that protests against police are, for the most part, peaceful, the first amendment protected? Cops. Who operates in a nation with more civilian owned firearms than almost any other country on earth? Cops.
Cops are also just human, heroic and flawed, like the rest of us. They make mistakes. They sometimes respond wrongly, badly, violently, in the heat of the moment. They can be racist and biased just like the rest of humanity, like you and me. That’s the way it is with any calling or profession. There are good cops and bad cops, just like there are good ministers and bad ministers, good politicians and bad politicians, good doctors and bad doctors.
We as civilians are right to expect the highest of ideals and hopes in all the ways we as the public interact with law enforcement. We are right to demand equal justice and treatment for all people, regardless of skin color or class, or any “profile” which marks us as a human being. But we also need to remember this truth too: that the overwhelming numbers of police officers in our communities try their very best every day to protect and to serve us. They put their lives on the line for us, every single day.
The challenge is that the hundreds of thousands of these good, “normal”, even boring interactions don’t make the news. Don’t sell newspapers or get the lead on the 11 o’clock news. Don’t show up on a Facebook feed or Twitter. A baby safely delivered in the back of a squad car. A violent situation defused. A burglary foiled. A person on the street safely dropped off at a shelter. A car accident handled with compassion and care. A parking ticket delivered with courtesy.
In a very real way, when policing is done at its best, cops reflect the wider community in which they serve. They come from that community. They get that community and the people therein. Then “they” are not “they”. “They” are us.
So…could you be a cop? Me? I’m thankful that there are still women and men who dare to answer “yes” to that question.