It wasn’t until I was around the age of twenty that my impressions of the cops really began to take form, with some of my earliest encounters with the men in blue being a couple of traffic stops. One of the stops involved a speeding ticket, which I decided to contest. In court the cop went through his spiel first, after which I told the judge that everything the cop said was true but that he had left out the part about him giving the car behind me a ticket for speeding and following too closely and that on this stretch of road their was no shoulder so I couldn’t just pull-over and let him pass.
All of a sudden there was a dramatic shift in the courtroom dynamics, as the crusty old judge was now glowering at the cop instead of me as he said “Is this true?” The cop was caught flat-footed and could only stammer “Well, um, uh, yes” when confronted with some enlightening context, but his lesson in humility wasn’t over yet. The judge went on to say “ I know that road very well and have had the same thing happen to me more than once”, and as he shot a withering glance at the cop he barked “case dismissed!” The big cop slunk out of the courtroom with his head hanging low, a broken man.
The second encounter began with a test ride after finishing a tune up on my motorcycle. As I sped across town my thoughts were on the sweet sounds of the freshly tuned motor and the road ahead, so I didn’t notice the patrol car following me until he lit me up of all places right in front of the local courthouse. “I’ve been following you for two miles and you ran two stops signs and were going 65 in a 25 zone just for starters” the clearly irate officer bellowed as he bounded up to me and flipped open his ticket book. “Son of a bitch” he shouted as he stared at the book in disbelief “I’m outta tickets!” A frantic call was made for some bureaucratic back-up, but it was to no avail as everyone else had bigger fish to fry that afternoon. I struggled to contain the belly laugh I felt building deep inside me as the red-faced cop (Who I was genuinely worried might have a stroke at any minute), hollered “If I ever see you again blah-blah-blah”.
So I learned that cops were just as emotional, deceitful and dumb as the rest of us, but my real education began when I moved to Sacramento and got a job running a shop where I had to interact with cops on a regular basis. There were about a dozen law enforcement agencies on my customer list that ranged from the FBI to the local school district police, plus the tow yard next door used some of my extra shop space to store stolen recovery and crime scene vehicles, so I talked to cops almost every day.
Regardless of age or race Sacramento city cops were all the same, their goals were to expend the absolute minimum amount of effort while on duty and to never leave the relative safety of the patrol car unless absolutely necessary. CHP officers came in two types, the go-get-‘em rookies and the forty-something “I’m counting the days until my twenty years are up” burnouts, who through the years had honed their time wasting skills to the point where a two hour job could be stretched to cover an entire shift. Then there were the deputy Sheriffs, who were a whole different breed of cat. Imagine your grammar school bully high on cocaine with a gun and you’d have the average deputy sheriff pretty well summed-up in Sacramento county during the early 1990s.
There were times the deputies would tell me things where I wasn’t at all clear on whether they were bragging or confessing-and I sometimes had serious doubts they knew either! For instance, they would tell me how on a slow shift to liven things up a bit they would “Shake the tree” when they saw two or three young black or hispanic men driving around using a made-up premise for a vehicle stop in the hope that they would find something they could drag someone to jail for. Some of the driving force behind this (probably most of it) was straight-up racism, and part of it was a reaction to the fact that those were some pretty wild times in Sacramento. The murders and car thefts may take place in the city, but the dead bodies and stripped cars were left outside of the city limits for the deputies to retrieve.
As repellant as I oftentimes found the cops to be I also sometimes pitied them, as they seemed almost trapped in their world of law enforcement and struggled at times to interact normally with civilians. It didn’t seem like the majority of them had dreamed of one day becoming a cop, it just looked like the least awful career option at the time. There had to be a cost beyond the higher divorce, suicide and alcoholism rates, the mental wear-and-tear that comes from having so many opportunities to do the wrong thing and the struggle to carry the baggage that came with the failures to take the high road.
My 2015 bust for running a 100% compliant 215 collective showed both sides of the law enforcement coin, the charges (which of course were later dropped), were payback for writing a story two weeks earlier and talking on my radio program about the Lake County Sheriff’s deadly failures during the Valley Fire evacuations, the flip side being the officer who got the whole thing started came back a few days later to say “I’m sorry for getting you into trouble the other day”. It restored my faith in humanity, as well as once again showed me that cops had all the same shortcomings and virtues as the rest of us-how many people have had the cop who got them busted apologize for it?
Over the years I’ve seen and cops have told me about an astounding array of police misconduct, from taking $60K during a raid and only $20K making it to the evidence locker to planting fake evidence or lying about how a suspect died in their custody, so I’m not at all blind to what cops are really like. But in the last year or so I think the pendulum has swung too far against the cops, and its unnerving to see so many people so far removed from the realm of law enforcement slam the police using so much cherry picked misinformation. In the Bay Area I know of a public school where a teacher screened a pro-BLM documentary and said the class would discuss the film afterwards but that no one should criticize it or say anything supportive of the cops because she and all other black people would find it hurtful. Apparently this sort of censorship, mind control and propaganda is where we’re headed as no one objected.
What I’ve seen in the last thirty years is a big change in policing, as the screening processes, training and equipment have all been significantly upgraded. We have body and dash cams, a whole new generation of much less racist cops and an array of less lethal weapons that give officers more options when dealing with difficult suspects. That doesn’t mean that all policing problems have been solved, but people should know that big improvements have been made and the trend is for that to continue. As citizens we need to stay aware and ready to step-up, as many of the changes for the better have been aided by citizen-supplied video footage. We also need to insist that our police chiefs, sheriffs and their officers be consistently held accountable, and that police unions don’t protect problem cops. That goes for DAs, judges and Grand Juries too, as we’ve seen some big failures on their part in investigating police killings lately as well.
We need to be clear on the fact that to a degree the cops are a reflection of our society, when you have legions of unsupervised mentally ill people roaming the streets and a homicide rate that is a national disgrace you can’t blame that on the police. Things need to be kept in their proper context too, something the MSM has failed miserably at in recent years. The impression the news media have given the public is that racism and unjustified police killings of people of color are skyrocketing, when the general trends are the exact opposite. Statistics always need context, like was the unarmed young black man shot while wrestling for control of an officer’s gun or did an officer shoot him because they mistakenly thought a cell phone was a pistol-or was he an innocent bystander caught in a crossfire? It matters when deciding if there is a problem or what to do about it, statistics without context can tell a very misleading story as our MSM has shown us time and time again.
We also need to understand the fact that its almost impossible to get a clear idea of what is going on by listening to just one news source, those days are long gone in America. Today we have whatever flavor of high-paid liar you want, if you like anti-cop propaganda listen to professional liars like Amy Goodman, Thom Hartmann or TYT, if you want people to tell you all cops are wonderful listen to right wing liars like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Ben Shapiro, or if you prefer pretentious BS listen to PBS or NPR. Most of the people and outlets just mentioned don’t actually tell you lies (usually), they instead lie by omission, they know the truth but don’t mention the stuff that contradicts their ratings-driven propaganda.
When I was a kid I could read the SF Chronicle and get a fairly good idea of what was going on, but that was 50+ years ago and today I generally have to look at several news sites that are at opposite ends of the political spectrum to get the story straight, and I know not many people have the time or patience for that. The result is most Americans have been brainwashed by somebody with an agenda and they never hear an opposing viewpoint, or if they do hear a subject debated it will be a rigged theatrical event of the sort PBS is famous for.
We also need to understand that even video without context is potentially misleading, the video of the death of George Floyd is proof of that, if you didn’t see the twelve minutes of body cam video taken before Floyd was laid on the ground ( at his request), you really have no idea what is going on. How many Americans know that Floyd had a lethal level of Fentanyl/meth in his blood? Not many, since the MSM kind of skimmed-over that part, which is dangerous because people will undoubtedly get riled when the cop is found not guilty. We have to be open to the idea that whatever our emotional first reaction to the citizen’s video was it didn’t tell you the full story, like the cops had already called for an ambulance before he laid on the ground because of his obvious drug intoxication, or that Floyd was saying “I can’t breathe’ while seated upright in the patrol car with no one touching him. Even kneeling on his back is right out of the police handbook, they didn’t have many options as a taser dart would have almost certainly caused Floyd to flat-line, at some point people have to be responsible for their own well being.
So be careful jumping on that (or any other) bandwagon, listen carefully to voices that challenge your assumptions and understand everyone’s biases and motives, and when your understanding of the facts changes don’t be afraid to let your opinion change course as well.