I saw a post on my Facebook feed today from someone I consider highly intelligent and always rational. He starts by saying: "Police are evil. Don't talk to them ever. Really. Ever."
There followed a rash of comments agreeing, saying they all lie, all the time, and should never be trusted. My first reaction was intense disappointment and now I feel compelled to respond. Let me start with a few facts:
There are bad cops out there.
Some cops lie.
Some cops drink too much and beat their wives.
What puzzles me is a willingness of intelligent people like my friend to tag an entire population of human beings as evil on account of one interaction or, possibly, one YouTube video. (It's an irony, I think, that the chap lambasting cops is an attorney practicing civil law.) Anecdotal accounts of individuals acting badly are appealing in an argument but when you think about the thousands of men and women out there dealing with the public every day, under intense scrutiny, is it surprising one or two are shown up? Ten or twenty, even?
I have known cops a long time. In England I was the police reporter. A couple of them were pecker-heads, absolutely, but then I also had a lot of haircuts in England and several barbers were racist, homophobic, narrow-minded and egotistical. You'd laugh at me if I judged from that sample that all barbers (all English barbers?!) are bad human beings.
Here in the US I've worked with cops as a prosecutor and a reporter. You know what I've found? That cops are like any other professionals: some are bad, most are good. Guess which ones make it onto YouTube?
Well, you might be surprised.
Sure, there are more of bad cops but what would you expect? You think there are lots of videos of great refereeing decisions? Oh, I know what you're thinking: a bad cop can do more harm than a nasty barber or a bad referee. Yes, but my point isn't that broad: it's that we shouldn't judge an entire profession by a limited few. One might even think of that as prejudice.
I sat alongside an officer two weeks ago in my ride-along. We were called to a grocery store where a man was causing problems, the management didn't want him there. The officer located this man, in his sixties and probably drunk, and spent 20 minutes just talking to him, calming him down, let him vent. He'd smoked weed with Willie Nelson and played guitar with REO Speedwagon, had a million beautiful babes throw themselves at him, he told us. This officer not once made fun, belittled, harassed or abused this old fellow, instead asking questions about his music, his travels. When the diatribe was over, he gently steered him off the property and towards his home, explaining that he wasn't allowed back on the property. Not threatening, explaining. And that was that.
This cop, by the way, is a former marine and a member of the SWAT team, just the kind of cop people love to hate. But he used patience and kindness that night, and not just because they were his best weapons but because they were a part of his human decency, a decency I've seen not just in him but in many cops. My own brother, for example.
I don't suppose I'll change a lot of minds by writing this, even my evidentiary use of YouTube is just one more anecdote in the swirl of tales but I'm not really writing this to change the minds of people who've decided to hate cops. As much as anything, I write this in the hope that some who are mistrustful will rethink their positions, just a little, and in the hope that a police officer will stumble across it and know that there are many of us out there who trust them to do the right thing, the right way. Make no mistake, I'm at the front of the line when a cop goes bad, but I don't start from a place where I assume that from the get-go.
After all, if things suddenly get dangerous, when your world goes to hell in a hand-basket and someone's trying to do you harm, who do you call? Your minister? Your grocer? Your barber? No, you call the same people I'd call, the people willing to put themselves in harm's way to protect you.
And in my experience, 99 percent of cops will do so, 100 percent of the time.