Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Meditations on Law Enforcement

Since I help moderate a couple of fairly large-ish on-line forums -- and given my nom de electronique -- I get a lot of questions running along the lines of: "I'm thinking of getting into Law Enforcement. What's it like to be a cop?"

Goodness. Talk about your open-ended questions ...

My career started out in a small county where the Sheriff was the only local law. The city had given up on its police department, disbanded it, and contracted with the Sheriff to provide services to the city.

The entire sworn personnel complement of the department consisted of the Sheriff, the Chief Deputy and two patrol deputies.

That was it.

The four of us were responsible for the county seat, several unincorporated villages, just shy of 1,000 square miles of ranches, canyons, lake, farms, creeks, four-lane highway -- totaling about four- to five-thousand souls, all told.

The interview for the job was a bit ... odd.

Sheriff: "Can you take a whuppin'?"

Me: "Not unless I have to."

Sheriff: "You ever punk out?"

Me: "Not yet."

Sheriff: "You ever fight fair?"

Me: "No."

Sheriff: "You got a hat?"

Me: "I can probably find one."

Sheriff: "Hmpf. Shift starts at midnight. Don't be late."

When I showed up for shift, the Sheriff issued me a can of CN mace (which had expired four years previously), an M2 .30-calibre carbine (no ammo), and a twenty-inch oak stick with several lead weights pounded into the business end.

The bennies were limited to the Sheriff tossing me a box of the cheapest available 9mm FMJ ammo at the beginning of each month, along with orders to use it up in practice before the end of the month.

No armour. No health insurance.

The Chief Deputy dug around in his "Things I Have Not Been Killed With Yet" box, handed me a lead beavertail slapper and gave me a class on the proper use and application of same, and then he drove me around the county for the rest of that shift.

The second night, the class on the blackjack continued, and then I drove the Chief Deputy around the county.

The third night I was on my own.

I miss that county.

This is the law enforcement that I am used to, and it is not one that most new officers will be exposed to.

To me, law enforcement is tracking an Alzheimers patient for four hours through the boonies after he wandered away from home; answering a 911 call because a rattlesnake is about to eat a nest full of baby birds; and scaring off ghosts because the lady of the house lost her husband ten years ago, her children live out of state, and you are the only outside contact she gets.

For me, being a cop is about keeping an eye out for a black-and-white dog of indeterminate ancestry, red bandanna, whose 9-year-old owner is crying his eyes out.

Most big cities don't provide funeral escorts anymore. We provided an escort to every funeral in town, because that was part of the job and was What Is Done.

Most new officers will start out in medium-to-large cities/counties -- because (to be honest) that's where a decent (more-or-less) paycheck is.

I don't know how to describe to these folks what it's like to patrol when your only back-up is 45 miles away as the cruiser drives -- and asleep in bed to boot.

I don't know how explain to folks who are going to have to deal with a book of General Orders that's a full four inches thick what it's like to work when your G.O.s are five pages long and worded more like General Suggestions.

How do I preach "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome" to people who will most likely be issued an iron-clad S.O.P. Manual covering every conceivable happenstance?

I can't.

So, I tell stories and hope that through those, the Gentle Reader can get a glimpse of what it's like to be a Western, small-town, rural Peace Officer.

LawDog

11 comments:

Deathrider1579 said...

Dog, I want to work for that county where you first started. Sounds very much like a good place to be.

Will said...

It's unfortunate that most, if not all, of those officers will be "law enforcement officers" instead of "Peace Officers", and the average person will not comprehend the fundamental difference.

redneckrepairs said...

Dog You do a fine job , I have workedvarious incarnations of " that dept " to the point I was the chief deputy lol . Now I went on to other things that a fella could actualy make a living at , but your tales shure bring back some memorys , both good and bad .

Byron said...

Dog,
You are what I think of when I think of a Peace Officer. Men like you are the reason I always wanted to be one. I still want to, but I doubt I ever will be. To borrow a line from Stephen King, "The world has moved on."
I wish we had more like you.

Leo Green said...

I'm a youngish whelp who'se tired of the city. I'd love to work for that department as well.

Anonymous said...

I had a great time for 16 years in a jurisdiction where I was the watch commander and patrolman all rolled into one. Range and training officer too.
You new your people and did your best to help them. That sometimes meant separating out the bad guys.
Back up was far away and you learned to defuse a lot of tense situations. I'm retired, I miss it so.
Always had a hunting rifle and a riot shotgun in the cruiser. Those clowns in LA would have slowed down with a 180 grain .30 cal from afar.
Keep the stories comming, I'll stop by to read them every day.

Matt G said...

In a recent board of review, I explained that I missed waking up ready for a shift with duties unknown coming my way. That I looked forward to demonstrating to the community that I was there to help them, not make them tow the line. That the idea of being tasked with EVERYTHING and ANYTHING made me happy.

They bought me lunch, and I start on Saturday.

Anonymous said...

I love it! What a great answer to a tough question. I'm proud of you...and proud to know you.

Shawn Hughes said...

Dude,

I can identify. I swore in at one department over a barrel of peanuts in the Hardware store. Of course, the proprietor was the Mayor.

Simple to work, hard to figure out the politics....

-Shawn

Firehand said...

When Dad joined the OK Highway Patrol, the first year was in a small city. Then he was transferred to a small town, and at that time he was the only trooper in the county. Small sheriff's office, most towns- if they had a PD at all- had one officer, and backup tended to be a long ways off.

Some of your stories sound like they could have come from him back then.

Les said...

Slappers were going out as I was coming in. Always wondered what the right technique was for using them. No classes available that I ever knew of. It always seemed like they would be handy. The story sounds like pre-1970's Texas peace keeping, maybe very early 1970's. Great stories, well written. Thanks and best wishes, Law Dog.