Monday-morning quarterbacking Sunday-afternoon quarterbacks is easy and fun. Some of us even played football in high school or college and so we think we have an expertise. We’d have done it differently—and better! And the best part? We don’t have a 350-lb. lineman trying to bury us in the astroturf!
Monday-morning quarterbacking the police isn’t so different, apparently. Yes, I know you’ve seen countless episodes of “Law & Order,” “Barney Miller,” “CSI,” “NCIS,” and watched all of the “Lethal Weapon” movies. Impressive! But guess what? You don’t know a thing! Not unless you’ve done it.
So my challenge: Try it! Ride-along. Better yet, go to a citizens’ police academy. Hell, better still: Become a cop!
What It’s Really Like
After watching a video of an officer doing, well anything, people constantly say what the cop should have done or what they would have done if they were in the same position. But that opinion is gleaned from a paradigm of what?
I’ll tell you: Nothing. Well, nothing but TV and movies, which I always say is like watching Grey’s Anatomy and then critiquing a real doctor’s appendectomy procedure.
Every news network operates with pundits blathering, usually lawyers or activists or politicians, about the procedures and actions of cops.
My question: What do they actually know about trying to physically control someone and/or make force decisions under those circumstances? From listening to them, apparently not much. Which I find incredibly irresponsible, because the public I fear, trusts these people because someone put them on television.
So let them try it!
I guarantee you it isn’t anything at all like the movies, TV, or video games. Nothing at all! The reality isn’t pretty, especially when using force and trying to control people who don’t want to be.
It is hard to explain to others that police officers deal with things most people don’t even know exist.
95% of the cops I know—and I meet thousands a year—have been spit on. In some parts of the country almost routinely. We get pissed on. We have feces thrown at us. I had a guy rub cat poop in my face. (I’m glad that only happened once.)
I personally know police officers who were purposely spit on and stabbed by people who were aware they had AIDS.
We are routinely verbally abused with the most vile and explicit language. We have our families threatened in the most abhorrent of ways. Dialogue that would make Quentin Tarantino blush.
We’ve been punched, stabbed, and shot by people we are trying to help.
The angriest and most dangerous people sometimes give no indication of their intent while others approach violently while shouting threats.
You try dealing with that.
When people do attack they often do it while screaming, moving, hiding and/or concealing their hands. We have to decide what it is they are concealing, which causes our visual field to narrow as our ability to listen becomes compromised.
While our brain tells us to focus on what might be a weapon suddenly others begin yelling and threatening us, which causes confusion as our brain becomes distracted with these other potential dangers.
We know based on training and human performance science that someone can move a gun from their side or out of their pocket in less than a half of a second. We know our reaction time is slower than that in the best of scenarios. Much slower.
(Don’t think people carry guns that they would turn on a cop in an instant? Think that’s paranoia? Again, you’ve never been a cop. Come down the alleys in the early morning hours and see what you encounter. Yeah, it’s scary, but that’s where we’re called to go.)
We know going in that if someone really wants to kill us, if they are determined or desperate, they will be able to do that.
We know that one shot, two shots, three and sometimes dozens won’t incapacitate someone trying to kill us or others.
We know that multi-tasking under high-stress—and in our very own life-or-death situations—is incredibly difficult and something you can barely prepare for. You can’t understand that stress unless you’ve been there. And why are we there? Usually because we’ve been called there by someone who needs our help.
We know that no matter how many lives we save, either literally or by virtue of our proactivity, the public, the pundits, the media, and the politicians will not care or mention. We know if we get shot, stabbed, beaten, kicked, gouged, or grabbed, no one will care.
If we die, we know that in most cases, outside of our world of friends and family, many will simply shrug. Policing, they will say, is safer than fishing the Bering Sea …
Some celebrate or justify our deaths. Serves us right, they say. Or, the softer version: It’s understandable.
We beg and plead for others to comply, to calm, to talk, to obey our requests and then eventually our orders. We try to save the lives of people who want to die. We try to save the lives of people who are fighting us. WE even save the lives of people who have just tried to take ours.
We watch as our brothers and sisters get shot, stabbed, punched and suffer. Almost all of us will see a friend and colleague killed in the course of our career.
We commit suicide for a variety of reasons, three to four times more than people shoot us. Why? Various reasons, but either way, most don’t know or care why.
We do become despondent, because the vast majority of us would risk our lives, and do risk our lives, for people no matter the color, sexual orientation, creed, or held views about the police. I challenge anyone to find an example of a cop running away from gunfire.
You won’t find it.
In Dallas police officers stood between the shooter and the cowering, scared, and terrified protesters who were vilifying those officers seconds earlier.
Two days after police officers in Dallas were assassinated, someone wrote a column titled: “Here’s What’s Wrong With #BlueLivesMatter.” The author wrote: “Blue lives have never lived under erasure, where their lives were considered less than, disposable, and constitutively hostile to order.”
Utter, and demonstrably, false. But what do I know? I’ve only been in law enforcement for over 35 years.
Do police need oversight? Absolutely. This is a democracy and cops uphold the laws the people create. As a government entity, our oversight and transparency are essential to our mission. We expect that. But please know what you are talking about before demonizing the individuals and the profession as a whole.
I’ll end with this: We don’t want to be lauded as heroes. Not at all. Just don’t jump to the awful and erroneous conclusion that we don’t care. We prove, overall, that we do every single day.