Good Cops, Bad Cops and Why We Need The Police

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Remember when you were a snot-nosed kid and knew if you misbehaved someone in the neighborhood would tell your parents?  I grew up in a suburban neighborhood like that.  Our neighborhood became my first lesson in obeying the rules of society.  One chilly night in the 1960’s when I was about 12, a buddy of mine and I were banging on the side of a neighbor’s house just for fun—then—ran and hid in the darkness of my back yard.  We weren’t smart enough to know when to stop, of course.  Nope—we just kept doing it—laughing hysterically in the chilly autumn darkness.

My neighbor would come outside looking for us and we were well hidden.

Giggling—we came out from hiding and my neighbor was waiting for us.  He stopped us in our tracks.  We were scolded for our misdeed and told never to do it again.  “Off the hook,” I naively thought.  Not a chance.  The next day, my neighbor knocked on our front door and wanted to speak to my father.  That was the one-two punch from my neighbor, who had relocated from New York to Maryland and knew all the tricks—including getting my ol’ man involved.  He wanted justice served—and it was.  My posterior became scorched earth—which was plenty of incentive never to do it again.

The ol’ man was never big on warnings.  I got clobbered and it was a very effective discipline tool.  When I was too old for a spanking, I was grounded and forbidden to go anywhere—for the rest of my life.  Once I was of legal driving age, he took the car keys whenever I didn’t obey the rules.  There were consequences for bad behavior, and my sisters and I knew it.  No Twinkie defense or claiming I was having a rough day.  My father always knew how to make a rough day rougher.

No second chances.

When we were growing up, there was none of this “three strikes and you’re out” stuff.  If you acted up, you got spanked and were confined to quarters.  This approach to child rearing spawned more responsible law-abiding citizens and safer communities.  We were raised to understand stepping out of line meant consequences.  My folks didn’t want me to be a problem for society later—and it worked.

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So, tell me—when did right become wrong and wrong become right?  When did we reverse polarity and behaving like a jerk became the norm?  And—when did we become armed with all kinds of lame ass excuses for bad behavior?  When did the police go from being the good guys to being abandoned by society?

When we were growing up, we were instructed to obey the law.  This was especially important when we received our driver’s licenses.  If we got a ticket, car keys got taken and we were instructed to walk—to school and everywhere else.  It was a fate worse than death having to tell your friends you were grounded.  It was easier to say, “My car broke down…” rather than tell your buddies you were under house arrest.

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What changed between then and now?  Have baby boomers been guilty of not teaching our kids the same values we were taught?  Have we been too busy working excessive hours, building careers, and buying vacation homes?  This will naturally offend some of you because you know it is true.  It hits a little too close to home.  Did you spend enough time with your kids?  I can tell you I personally haven’t committed enough time to my kids, and they have suffered as a result.  Kids need parents and they’ve needed us.  That said, what happened between The Greatest Generation and us?

If the Greatest Generation was guilty of anything, it was wanting us to live in a better world than they did.  They wanted us to have more and made it easier for us.  They didn’t want us to struggle like they did growing up in the Great Depression.  They wanted us to live in a more stable world than they did.  What’s more—they succeeded in giving us just that—the peace of a good night’s sleep.

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When we were growing up, there was normally a stay-at-home parent waiting for us when we came home from school—someone to offer us a snack and get us busy with homework right after Popeye and Three Stooges Show.  Where I grew up in Washington, D.C. we had Captain Tugg (Lee Reynolds), Fantail, and Bill Gormly at WTTG Metromedia 5 as good role models.  “Don’t do this at home, Kids…” they told us.  We also had Captain Kangaroo in the mornings to show us how it was done with his grandfatherly kindness.  There were “Leave It to Beaver” and “Dennis The Menace” reruns in syndication with good moral messages.  We learned from Beaver’s lesson, got on with our lives, and played outside until the streetlights came on.

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When did society begin to break down and why are we in the mess we’re in?  As children, we were always instructed to obey and respect Officer Mike.  Officer Mike was our friend and we were instructed to respect him and what he represented.  We were also told to respect the law and do as instructed by a law enforcement officer.  Hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 and wait for instructions.  No confusion.  Nothing to really understand.  Just do as you are told.  “License and registration, please…”

Can anyone explain to me how doing as instructed by law enforcement became, “I don’t have to do what you order me to do—I know my Constitutional rights!”  You kidding me?  You’re going to tell a police officer how it is and what you will and won’t do?  Someone who puts their life on the line everyday to ensure your safety who would take a bullet for you.  Then—when you’re faced with a home invasion robbery at 2 a.m. and you expect them to rush in and save you?

Sorry friends—can’t have it both ways.  Respect for the law and law enforcement is something to be practiced 24/7 with no time off.  Law enforcement, despite bad cops, has earned our respect because it has maintained law and order for centuries.  Too many officers are dying today because society has gone off the rails and the streets have become dangerous.  Yet, there are those who suggest we defund the police and disband police departments.  It just doesn’t work that way regardless of which side of the fence you’re on.  We need the police—and they need our support.

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Perhaps, you don’t see a need for the police.  Okay…  Well, consider this.  What would happen if you were in trouble and there were no police to come?  Imagine if we didn’t have the police.  What then?  Good cops have always taken the rap for bad cops.  There are far more good cops than there are bad.  Yet—bad cops get all the attention and society and the media tend to feed on it.  Somewhere in our minds, we treasure the idea of doing what we want when we want.  It’s secret fantasy with a lot of us.  It’s like when the parents were away when we were kids.  That worked until something went terribly wrong and you were in trouble when the parents got home.

We don’t honor good cops enough—the ones who go above and beyond the call of duty to serve and protect us.  When I think of committed peace officers, I think of Sergeant Steve Owen, who was a 29-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department.  He served the people of Los Angeles County for most of his adult life and was very committed to public safety. Owen was answering a burglary call in the Los Angeles suburb of Lancaster on the high desert when he was met with gunfire and killed execution style by a California prison parolee with a long criminal history.

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Sergeant Steve Owen is but one example of a great law enforcement professional and humanitarian who was gunned down in the line of duty who served us for three decades.  This is how dangerous the streets have become for law enforcement.  To survive, a cop cannot always wait for the right moment to fire a weapon or tackle a suspect.  Wait and you get maimed or killed.  This is split-second life or death decision.  How many of you could do it?  I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t think that fast.

I also don’t sport that much self-control either.  I’d answer a child abuse call or a domestic violence situation and I’m not sure I could contain myself.  That would make me a lousy cop wouldn’t it?  It takes an extraordinary soul to be a good cop.  Sergeant Steve Owen was one such person.  He did it very well and for a long time when he was robbed of his life on what seemed a routine burglary call.

I will never support police brutality and the maiming and killing of citizens in the heat of anger and rage.  What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis should never have happened to anyone.  Floyd’s history aside, nothing justified the actions of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while the man begged for his life and died.

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Change in law enforcement must come from within via extensive screening, discipline for officers who are chronic abusers, and better pay and benefits for officers and their families.  It is becoming harder and harder to recruit good people because it has become more dangerous out there and there’s little incentive to step up.

Back when we were kids, the streets were dangerous for law enforcement, but not like they are today.  There has never been a more dangerous time to be a cop.  Not only has it become more dangerous for the police, they are lacking support from the public, government, and the media.  It is time to adjust our thinking.  They need our support as much as we need them every day.  Law enforcement must become a priority and taken seriously.  Otherwise, imagine a world without the police.

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