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Policeman: On Being He and It

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(A compelling view into the life of a police officer written by my brother, a sergeant, when asked to share his views on the world for a recent newsletter I published…)

My sister is wiser than me and more educated. I have read her “News from the Well” since she started writing it, so I know the general flavor of what she speaks of and have developed a mental picture (accurate or not) of the types of people that she speaks to. She asked me if I wanted the keys to the car…did I want to contribute to the newsletter?

I thought about this. What can I tell all of you?

I can’t help you earn more money or get past some obstacle in your life. I am not really in a place where I can make you feel better about the world. But I don’t think my sister brought me here for that. You see, I am the other side of the coin. I’m the darker side.

So I gave up on the notion that there is something good and wise that I can give you. Something handy, that will enrich your lives. What I have to say is harder to refine into a consumer good. But who knows? Something I say may fit into place for you.

So, I’m going to take the keys to the car, with you in it, and I’m going to drive really fast, and I’m going to drive through bad neighborhoods and I’m not going to signal my turns or make complete stops. You can bail out if you want but, like I always say, the world ain’t made out of sugar cookies. To understand the world, to really appreciate the good, you have to see both sides of it. You can’t ignore the parts you don’t like. 

So who am I, and what makes me so bold as to think I understand the world?

I think about this very thing all the time. I want to tell you that I am the wolf who would be man. Yes, that sounds frightening and at least a little pretentious. And depending on the situation it may or may not be true.

So I will tell you what I think is the most accurate self-description. 

I am the fool on the path.

Now I may be a fool but I have stopped several times to look around and I have made some observations. I struggle to understand these things I’ve seen, I struggle to understand myself, and I will share my thoughts with you if you like. You see, my path has led through some weird places because of my chosen vocation.  I’m a cop.

Now don’t forget, I’m merely on the path, not at the end of it.  I only understand various parts of our world (maybe parts your not familiar with); this is as much a journey for me as anyone else. I won’t give you everything because some of what I have seen and some of what I know is horrible. But I will tell you the truth and I will try not to put a spin on it just to make it palatable.

I don’t want to scare you off or chase you away while I’m doing it. I want you to understand. And in so doing maybe earn some compassion and respect. I want you to understand what it is like to be a police officer, to be “he” and “it” at the same time. 

Let me explain that a little bit. Police Officers are supposed to enforce the law dispassionately and impartially. We are not supposed to get angry, or scared, when bad guys make us chase them at high speeds in cars or though dog pile and chuck hole infested yards late at night, climbing over uniform tearing fences. We aren’t supposed to be offended when somebody exercises their constitutional right to free speech by calling us crooked, doughnut eating, excessive force using pieces of sh*t.

That pretty well puts us in the “it” category, as in, “it” came into my living room and arrested my husband.

But at the same time we are expected to have feelings and be cheerful and approachable “officer friendly’s” full of compassion and warmth and helpful advice. You don’t get it both ways.

We try hard to be un-human and human at the same time.

And some of us end up drinking too much or losing our marriages, or killing ourselves.

A good many of us survive though. We combine the two traits. I know I do.

Sometimes I’m “the nice man who changed my tire”. Other times I’m “that a-hole who knocked me down in my own living room then took me to jail.So, I’m going to tell you things from time to time about me and about the strange events that I sometimes get involved in so that you can understand me and, to a lesser extent, police officers in general. I can’t speak for all police officers in the country (or even on my small department for that matter) because we are all on different paths and there are as many different personalities and points of view as there are in any culture. But maybe I can give you some perspective. 

Laura Young/Wellspring Coaching

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  • This comment appeared at my blog. It was thought provoking enough that I thought you might appreciate it as well…
    From reader, Kate:
    I was impressed with this, and with your brother, when you first posted it. To see it again today in the light of all that is going on in the south, is even more powerful. I hope you will encourage him to write more.

    I haven’t known a police officer as a friend since college. I don’t understand what leads someone into that profession and keeps them coming back to work each day in the face of huge stresses and physical danger. I have no idea what it must be like to have within your reach such great physical power and the weapons to exert that power. I don’t know what temptations they face. I can only imagine what it must feel like when the press gets hold of the “bad cop” story, and ignores the thousands of men and women doing their jobs quietly and well every day.

    I would like to understand, at least somewhat, what goes on in their minds and hearts. Perhaps your brother will be willing to tell us.

  • Thanks for this comment, Kate! I just saw Jason on Friday (got to be his biker babe!) He assures me he will have something written for my next newsletter (also to be posted here).
    You are spot on about the strains of dealing with power…often power that can’t really be used.
    Jason had all the windows shot out of both his cars last year, while his family was home. He has young children. You have to know it took AMAZING discipline to keep his head cool when he knew who did it. A gang basically tried to intimidate him for an arrest of one of their own. They kept just out of reach but just close enough to be threatening.
    We’ve gone round and round about the need, or not, to be armed out in the world. I prefer to see the world as populated with mostly loving people. Of course, a few sexual assaults of bicyclists on my beloved bike trail this summer has kept me out of my cherished woods and it is killing me.
    Now I’m wondering if I should get myself a nice big dog to be my companion so I can still go out. Not sure my cat will dig that but I’m seeing more and more that the world really isn’t safe and my brother makes more and more sense to me all the time.
    I liked it better when I thought he was just hypervigilant and too exposed to the bad side.
    The reality, as Katrina attests, is that humans have great capacity for aggression, in addition to great capacities for love and compassion. We have to acknowledge all of it.