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Protect and Serve

August 14, 2014

A lot of stuff goes unsaid when it comes to police work. Why? Because if you talk about it in any detail, people will be shocked, and they’ll either doubt what you say or think the information is being offered as an excuse for bad conduct by a police officer. 

We think some things should be stated and we’ll attempt to do so carefully — against the backdrop of the current police controversy in New York City and the rioting in St. Louis.

The question is: What’s it like to be in law enforcement today?

Start at the beginning. Most people join a police force without thoroughly probing their own motivations. They are young. They know they don’t want a desk job.  They hear people talking about the salary and benefits and, compared to the alternatives that are immediately available as they coming out of military service or graduating from a community college, they think it doesn’t sound half bad.

In addition, their friends and family are very supportive, and they feel good about themselves for choosing an honorable career. They can’t wait to put on the uniform. It’s the badge, and, yeah, the sidearm. Again, they aren’t reflecting in some profound way about it all, but they are expecting that after finishing all the training and becoming part of the force that people will respect them.  

But here comes reality: In today’s world, they don’t get respect. 

The truth about being a police officer is that you see people at their worst. It’s actually not the drug addict or drunk who are the biggest problem. Most of them are spent and harmless. Instead, it’s often middle-class and well-to-do people, who, after doing something flagrantly wrong, become abusive.

Cops need emotional Kevlar to deal with these and other situations. Everyone on a police force develops it. If they don’t, the job eats them up.  Something similar happens in a lot of high stress professions, but with cops, it’s a more involved self-defense mechanism.

Now for the part that nobody talks about. The suburban wife who shrieks at a cop for pulling her over after driving recklessly is nothing.  The problem is the well-built guy who suddenly becomes violent. It’s two or more of them whom the cop must confront – often alone.

This is the reality: There are times when, despite all the training, a cop can’t defuse things and physical confrontations ensue.   In these situations, anything can happen.

The act of subduing someone is extremely difficult. It’s unpredictable. Cops are instructed in various methods and practice them, but it is always an incredibly volatile situation in which they don’t have control until they gain it.

When the cop is clearly stronger, quicker and more skilled in confrontation than the person he is trying to subdue, he can do it without hurting anyone.  He can quickly take the person to the ground and restrain and handcuff him. 

But when the individual is bigger, stronger, quicker than the cop and perhaps has martial arts training and knows counter moves to police tactics —  it’s a bad  situation. (The key demongraphic (sic) is young males 18-25. Obsessed with MMA, they are very difficult to handle.)   

In these situations, a cop often cannot subdue someone without hurting them.  The cop and a partner have to tackle the individual hard. They may have to bend their wrist and arm of the individual up to the point of dislocation. They may have to use their elbow or knee to pin the person’s head to the ground up to the point of rendering him unconscious.  They may strike the back of the person’s leg with a baton in the hope that stinging pain will bring the person to his senses and end the resistance.  A cop may have to apply a choke hold if all of this fails. He may have to use a Taser.

We’re not talking about situations in which weapons are present and the question of deadly force is raised.  We’re only talking about those situations where an unarmed person needs to be taken into custody, but suddenly resists arrest and becomes violent.  This happens all the time.

There’s actually more to it than we’ve related. We’ve only described what happens to the person being arrested.  The cop often takes the brunt of it.  He could catch an elbow in the teeth or finger in the eye. He could be knocked down. He could be knocked out. He could be hurt badly.  In fact, every law enforcement officer – including the Lt. Governor of the State of New York — has been hurt in such confrontations.  He’s lucky if it’s a cut or scrap or bruise or chipped tooth.  Less so if he blows out a knee or hurts his back or sustains a concussion.   He or she can be hurt so badly, it ends their police career.

In this regard, there’s a memorial in Albany with the names of police officers killed in the line of duty. There are 1,340 names on it. If there was a memorial for police officers who were incapacitated in the line of duty and forced into medical retirement, there’d be many times that number.

There’s one more related situation that almost every cop has encountered:  He has just made an arrest. He’s handcuffed an individual, avoiding a physical confrontation. He thinks the situation is being resolved when suddenly the person turns around in his grasp and spits in his face at close range. What happens then is all about restraint – the officer’s.  He must place the person in the cruiser and then wipe the spit from his eye, hoping that the person doesn’t  have a communicable disease.  Yes, this happens. Not regularly, but almost every cop has had the experience. 

Those who protect and serve must deal with the stress, danger and indignity of the job. They do so and almost always make the right call.

Without excusing or rationalizing any specific incident currently in the news, we think this graphic description of what it’s like to be a cop today should be part of the current dialogue.

One Comment leave one →
  1. NYer permalink
    August 14, 2014 3:35 PM

    Enlightening! I had no idea that 18-25 year-old males are all obsessed with MMA and are therefore a threat to the police. Bring on the chokeholds!

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