OVER THE FIVE YEARS OF MY employment with HPOU, I’ve had the often surprising experience of being a civilian working with classified officers.
As I try to condense my experiences into something coherent, I have difficulty finding one way to describe it. I have mostly moments. I think in those moments what I see are a lot of decent hearts. And regular people just trying to make a living.
Maybe I see this because I spend most of my time on the non-crime-and-punishment side of law enforcement. Although, I do have a good running from the popo story from my high school days.
I see your sense of humor – the way you joke about the stupid things you’ve seen criminals do, or your failed marriages, or the conversation you had with the partner you once had to back up in a shootout. I see how you use it to soften the blow to your hearts and minds. Because if you can laugh about it, maybe it’s a little bit easier to process. To keep locked away, until it comes out in the quiet at night while you’re lying in bed. Memories of people you couldn’t help. People who grew up thinking the absolute lowest of humanity was all life could give them, and then they gave it to someone else.
I see it when we’re filling out your retirement paperwork. And I hear you talk about the house you bought in the country, or the places you’re going to travel, or the grandkids you’re going to help raise. And I hope you actually get to do all of those things. I hope that the job and time or sickness won’t take the rest of your years from you. I sometimes wonder what parts of you got lost along the way over the years, and if you ever had to face your own darkness.
I see it in the way you always take time to say hi to each other in the hallway or share a story with each other. You have an unspoken code to look after each other. You have untold experiences that tie you together. Their echoes bind you together in the air around the words you speak when you’re just catching up.
I think that’s part of the problem, though. Most people don’t get to see these things. They just see when the next news report comes out that one of you from some department hundreds of miles away shot someone in the back while they were running away from you. Or they see a uniform and unconsciously they want to stay away from you.
I won’t pretend to know how to make better community policing initiatives, or how to reach people before they think becoming violent is the only way to get through life. I won’t pretend you’re all saints and shouldn’t be held accountable for your actions when you do something wrong. But I do know that the more I see police as regular people – human just like I am – the more I question perspectives that broadly apply the word “bad” to all law enforcement.
I think maybe as a society we’ve forgotten how to see people. To see the precious life they carry with them. We get caught up in titles and categories and our assumptions we use to keep us surviving. Maybe it’s not just a police-related us-versus-them problem, maybe it’s an us problem. Maybe we could all do with a bit more of seeing what makes each other human and a bit less of seeing what makes us different.