Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Experience With Cops



I have written a lot about Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and other recent police shootings. Generally, I have been critical of the officers and the way the legal system reacted to these incidents. As a result, I have often been called anti-law enforcement. The truth is that it is exactly the opposite. It is because of my experience with law enforcement that I've been so negative about some of the events that have occurred. 

I worked for the Wabash County Sheriff's Department for almost 10 years. Ours was a small department and many of us engaged in duties not strictly listed on our job descriptions. For instance, although my job title was Sheriff's Secretary, I was made a special deputy in order to do things like transport females to detention, go with detectives on drug buys to search the females to ensure they were not carrying drugs in, participate in serving warrants of females, accompany officers transporting mentally ill females to mental health care facilities. I attended Reserve Officer training and did firearms qualification with the deputies.

I was taken aback the first time I was told to go into the restroom to watch a female change from her street clothes to jail clothes to make sure she didn't have a weapon. My boss, the Major, chuckled and said, "do you know what the last sentence in your job description is?" I told him no and he said, "....and other duties as required. Consider this one of them". 

Incidentally, the inmate laughed at the expression on my face, - "don't be embarrassed for me, Honey, I've been through this 100 times."

In the same way, the first little gal I had to search prior to a drug buy also smiled at my reluctance. "I wore a tube top to make it easy on you and I ain't got no boobs so you can easily tell I don't have anything extra under my top!"

I was pleasantly surprised when I first went to the Sheriff's Department at how accepting the deputies were of a female in their midst. They often invited me to ride with them, particularly on the night shifts, simply for company. 

I saw the gamut of offenders during those years. Aggressively resistant mentally ill people off their meds, wildly crazed drug users and drunks, dangerously furious wife beaters, robbers and assaulters. I saw my deputies hit, bitten and scratched as they fought to take someone down. I saw them pepper spray perpetrators (we didn't have tasers then). I saw them draw their guns but I never saw them have to resort to shooting anyone.

By contrast, they were comparatively kind once the suspects were in custody. Usually, they shared their cigarettes (or mine). They generally spoke to them courteously unless the prisoners themselves were being assholes. 

On long transports, I usually functioned as the "good cop" convincing the "bad cop" to let them smoke and buying them a candy bar and pop when we bought ourselves one. My compatriot told them, "I'm being nice because of her but if you give me any trouble, the smokes and the treats will go away." It was an effective system. We never did have any trouble.

We worked closely with the Wabash City Police Department and the Department of Natural Resources officers and the State Police. 

I liked some better than others, of course, but mostly, I respected all of the officers I worked around. I took for granted that they would use good judgement and they did. 

I talked to one of those officers, one I've known and admired since he was first a jail officer and then a police officer. I asked what he thought of the cop in Alabama who shot a naked student high on drugs. The kid,  a slight boy (5'7", 140 pounds), banged on the University police department door. He was deranged from drugs but the officer obviously knew he had no weapon since he was naked. It took only 30 seconds for the cop to decide to shoot him dead. He was exonerated by a grand jury.

"Do you think that's what you would have done?" I asked my friend. Of course, he hemmed and hawed and refused to answer, said he didn't know the circumstances, or how the officer felt, so he couldn't say. But, my opinion, knowing him, is that there is no way he'd have shot the boy. He'd have called for back up; he'd have used less-than-lethal force - something besides killing him. 

So, it is knowing these guys and having seen how they did their jobs that makes me so critical of the "shoot first and ask questions later" mentality that seems to have become so pervasive in modern law enforcement. The officers in my county showed me by example the way it should be done.