My best friend in high school, John, and I had aspirations of one day working in the field of law enforcement. I continued to flirt with the notion, of starting a career in that noble profession, many more times thereafter. Surely, my childhood infatuation with the television shows Starsky & Hutch, CHiPs, and Hill Street Blues had no bearing on my longing to one day wear a shiny badge. Thirty years later, John is currently the sheriff of Jasper County, Iowa, and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. A few short years after our high school graduation I ran into John although I barely recognized him at first. My normally clean-cut friend was sporting long, shaggy hair and a spotty beard. After commenting on his newfound appearance he informed me he was working undercover in the narcotics division of our local police department.
Admittedly, at that moment I was a tad jealous of my former best friend: partly because I had spent the majority of my time since high school slaving away at McDonald’s, but mostly I was envious because the only thing (in my mind) that was preventing me from obtaining a lucrative career in law enforcement was the length of my hair. While living under my father’s roof I was forced to wear a “respectable” hairstyle, but now that I was free from his reign, and flaunting a fashionable mullet, I wasn’t about to let anyone else have control over the hair on my head, yet here John was looking pretty darn cool with his flowing locks and fulfilling his dream at the same time. To my surprise, John was living proof that there was obviously a need for a “hippie” or two on our city’s police force. I don’t know why I did not immediately bolt to the police station at that point in time, but I didn’t.
When my son was in high school we enrolled in a 12-week course offered by our local police department. The Newton Citizen Police Academy was a hands-on class meant to give ordinary citizens an overview of what a police officer typically encounters on a daily basis. The weekly, 3-hour class taught me everything I could have imagined (and then some) concerning all what law enforcement entails. We learned the proper procedures and techniques for questioning, arresting, and handcuffing alleged criminals. We were also given the opportunity to use a baton in self-defense (against a padded police officer), fire a handgun at a shooting range, and drive a squad car (including backwards) through an obstacle course. The tremendous experience once again ignited my thoughts of becoming an officer of the law in some manner.
A few years later, immediately after moving to Arizona, I had a scheduled interview with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department for the position of detention officer. I had already sent in my application and had a long-distance phone interview before leaving Iowa. This was not just another flirtation with the idea of pursuing a law enforcement position, but in actuality it was my first real attempt at achieving a life-long dream. My attempt was unsuccessful, much to my chagrin, for one reason or another. In hindsight, I can no longer even fathom working for the legendary (in his mind) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “America’s toughest sheriff” assuredly did not get his nickname for nothing, and life’s too short to have to deal with someone like how he portrays himself to be on the TV screen.
More recently I took a Criminal Justice class during my one year of community college. I excelled in the classroom and was not surprised when my instructor (a retired police chief) was more than eager to be a future reference for me if I ever chose to pursue a career in law enforcement. I undoubtedly was thankful for his offered recommendation since shortly thereafter I found out the Peoria Police Department was considering hiring some new recruits. I enthusiastically attended an informational meeting about it at City Hall. I learned that part of the training at the police academy, if I was fortunate enough to make it that far, included being tased and pepper-sprayed. Supposedly, the reason for this was to allow the recruits to experience firsthand the unpleasant effects they most-likely would be heaping upon others at some point during their chosen line of work.
In addition, I was informed about a specific training exercise all recruits must go through, at least implemented at the Peoria police academy, which begins with the “wanna be cops” pairing up, getting on their knees, and donning boxing gloves. The recruits are then pepper-sprayed and forced to pummel each other to the point of physical exhaustion. At that precise moment, during the meeting, I was reminded of the famous line frequently spoken by Danny Glover’s character, Sergeant Roger Murtaugh, in the Lethal Weapon movies. I could not help but agree with his relevant words of wisdom, “I’m too old for this s**t.” Since then I have no longer toyed with the notion of having a career in law enforcement.
However, I definitely continue to admire and respect those who do. Most of them. There’s bound to be a few shady cops amongst us as there are shady politicians, doctors, priests, and possibly even McDonald’s employees as well. Regardless, I respect authority, that’s simply how I was raised, so whenever an officer of the law is compelled to pull me over (not that often) I have no problem obeying their orders. I know if I am wronged I will eventually have my day in court, so there’s no need for any resistance on my part. The thought never even crosses my mind. I’m usually clueless as to why I’m being stopped, but I certainly can’t blame it on the color of my skin because I am undeniably…White! I cooperate with the officers nonetheless.
I’m not sure where it all went wrong in our society, although I suspect negligent child-rearing, but apparently respect for authority is a thing of the past. School children hitting their teachers, or spitting on them, and police officers being forced into scuffles with the public are frequent occurrences nowadays, yet parents tend to blame the teachers, and families are more inclined to sue the police officers involved, the police department, and the city than to blame their loved ones (aka “victims”). I may have watched too much television growing up, or maybe I’m simply “old school” (I know I am), but I think a police officer has every right to shoot a suspect who doesn’t obey the officer’s commands.
I recently said that very thing to an officer of the law, and he thought I was plumb crazy for thinking such a thing, but that’s my sentiment nevertheless. I also know if I was in law enforcement I would shoot first and ask questions later. I’m enjoying life way too much, so if I thought someone was reaching for a weapon to potentially end my life then I would not hesitate expelling every single bullet from my Glock pistol. I suppose it’s a good thing for everyone that my on again off again dream of having a career in law enforcement never came to fruition, and I’m no longer even flirting with that notion.