The word PATRIOTISM stirs up deep feelings among some, while eliciting little reaction from others.
From Webster's Dictionary: PATRIOTISM is a noun, love and loyal or zealous support of one's own country.
This was my dad's story. In 1941, at the age of 19 as a newlywed, he enlisted in the Army. He landed on the beaches of France on D-Day +4. Many years later, he explained to me that he was called to defend his country. His judgment came into serious question, at the time, from others in his life. Yet, he felt the call to duty and it was not to be denied.
He fought through the Battle of the Bulge and ultimately on to Berlin with his buddies. It was an experience that profoundly changed the rest of his life.
At the end of the War, my folks settled in Bend, Oregon where I was born. One of my earliest memories is that of my Dad being in a parade as part of a marching band on the main street of our little town. I was taught at a very early age to stand and cover my heart at the sound of the Star Spangled Banner or passing of Our Flag.
My father never regretted any of what he gave to his country. He was deeply proud of his country and his contribution. Each summer, the family would travel to some distant place for a reunion of his army unit. It was an annual tradition for us.
At the moment of his passing, he was 77 years old. My brother and I were standing on each side of his hospital bed. Each of us held a hand of the man who had brought us into this world and guided us through its difficulties. We listened to the Star Spangled Banner play on a small tape machine in his room as he took his last breath. He was a consummate patriot.
It was not until after he was gone that I realized that he had planted a seed of patriotism in me that would bloom more fully than ever before. For me, that patriotism manifested itself in the pride and commitment I felt to my country through police work. There was a pervasive honor that came with wearing the uniform. Playing just a small part in making the world better for others became my way to honor my country and give something back in return for all that I had been given.
As I matured (that's a nice way of saying "getting old"), I found that my sense of patriotism expanded exponentially.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO COPPERY?
In the good old days, many, if not most cops, came from the military service. They had been raised in a standard two-parent home. They went onto military service where (as my Dad used to say), "They'll either make a man out of you or kill you in the process of trying."
These cops held onto the traditional values of their upbringing.
These cops understood the concept of chain of command and adapted quickly to the paramilitary environment of a cop shop.
They understood the concept of commitment to your fellow solider. There were a variety of phrases used in the different branches of the service, but the message was constant: we live and die together as a team. There are no exceptions.
These cops were called to duty from a higher authority. They understood honor and the terrible result of bringing dishonor to your team, your department, or the Badge.
Back in those days (yes, we had pencils AND cars back then), cops worked mostly in pairs. Successful partner relationships evolved over time into one that was as close two people could get without being married. Your partner witnessed you in situations that your wife never would (and wouldn't want to).
If a cop got out of line (e.g. alcohol, another woman, etc.), he wouldn't stray far before his partner would tug (or jerk) on his chain and bring him back onto the straight and narrow. The cop community policed itself, so-to-speak. A wildly wayward cop was the rare exception.
OH, HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED
In our country today it seems that the evening news all to frequently has a feature story about an errant cop. We probably hear one of those once or twice each week. Each time, I cringe in anguish.
I remember the criminal law instructor from my academy. He said,
"From now on, if any one of you screw-up, the headline for the story will start with the word COP. COP beats wife. COP accused of sexual battery. And the list goes on. The media will announce to the world that a cop has gone bad.
They eat that stuff up.
It makes the rest of us look bad - so DON'T DO IT!"
I will always remember that class, that instructor and the message that was etched into my mind.
Last week, I was stopped cold when I read these words in an email from one of my very best friends. He works for an agency of about 1,000 sworn in a Midwestern state.
I was involved in the arrest of one of our own today for online enticement. It will be all over the news tonight.
I'm so disgusted I could spit.
It used to be a rarity to hear about a cop getting pinched. Maybe DUI and even that was scandalous. Then guys started slapping their wives and getting locked up for DV. Then drugs and embezzlement and forcing prostitutes to perform oral sex on duty/in uniform. Now predatory acts of pedophilia on 14 year old girls.
So they interview the understandably upset neighbors (who have kids) and it's like, "We pay our police to protect us and our kids... and now our police are among those trying to rape our children - and the Police Union wants a pay raise?"
And how can you blame Joe Taxpayer for his sentiments?
If I can find work outside the PD, I think I'm done. This used to be such an honorable profession; one I was immensely proud to be associated with; these days, I'm reluctant to tell people I meet what I do.
Coupled with the rash of media coverage locally, I began to wonder: are things in coppery really changing for the worse? I decided some research was in order. I just used Google - nothing anymore sophisticated than that. I'll confine my findings to just the last three months - and then, only to the really serious stuff. Here's what has happened in our community in just the last 90 days (as I type this):
- Tax evasion and fraud
- Stealing evidence (drugs)
- Burglarize a bank
- Selling cocaine
- Uttering, theft, identity theft and criminal misconduct
Remember: this is just the fairly bad stuff. It doesn't include the multiple counts of DUI, domestic violence, and various forms of assault.
I talked with experienced cops across the country about their perception and possible cause(s) of the problem. I also talked with some experienced warriors in the U.S. Marines. The consensus:
The moral standards of American society have measurably slipped in recent years. Too many kids aren't being raised by attentive parents, but rather by MTV. The values taught by dad in the woodshed have been skipped for the youngest generation - and a large segment of the one before that. A smaller percentage than ever of new cops are coming from the military.
This generation of police officers doesn't come aboard with the same discipline, with an understanding of chain of command, with a commitment to fellow officers, and in some cases, they even lack a clear ability to judge right from wrong. The world has changed, indeed. No organization remains unaffected - even the Marines.
Today's society is largely disconnected. We wander about with iPods or cell phones glued to our heads. Just getting through to someone is now more difficult than ever. Then there is the fear of offending while remaining politically correct, lest we offend the likes of someone we're trying to help.
Two man cars? Many agencies today don't have any. Each man works by himself, in isolation until he meets up with another on a scene somewhere.
SCENARIO: We sense that one of our brothers is having a problem. But because of that distance, we are often afraid to say anything, like your partner would have in days gone by.
WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
We have a driving need to re-connect with one another. Each of us has a stake in the quality of life of our brothers and sisters in arms. Make no mistake about that. You might ask, "How will I get the nerve and motivation to get off the dime?"
Remember patriotism? To many Americans, cops are their only human point of contact with their country, a/k/a government. We have long stood for what these citizens want their country to exemplify - even if they sometimes complain about how we do our jobs. Any complaining they do can be forgiven. Enforcement or use of force isn't pretty to watch and we should not expect them to understand it like we do.
It is our patriotic duty to reclaim the honor of police work.
How? Take a moment and think about the cops in your immediate circle. Think about the small stuff. Burglarizing a bank was probably not the first crime of the cop I mentioned earlier, but other smaller problems were probably ignored.
How many times have you heard of a cop who has been repeatedly cut loose after being stopped for DUI? I have a friend in Michigan who was that cop. He nearly lost his career when he was involved in an accident, was over the legal limit, and he injured the driver of the other vehicle.
- I have a close friend. We work out occasionally. He means a great deal to me. But recently, he told me that has too often sought solace in a bottle.
- I have another chum who is a state trooper. His wife decided she did not want to be married to him any longer. He found out when he discovered that she had a hot romance going with another dude. There were times when he was so angry that he wanted to lash out emotionally and physically. Fortunately, cooler minds prevailed. Their divorce is imminent.
- Another one of my knuckle-dragging pals is married and has a few kids. He has taken up to having a wild fling with a girl that is half his age and lives next door to his own home.
I do not judge these cops for what they have done - or are doing. I judge myself for what I have failed to do.
Twenty years ago, each one of their partners would have slapped these guys up side the head and said sternly, "STOP THAT!"
But not today.
The current situation is unacceptable. This approach is not working. The evidence is all over the evening news.
Each of us needs to take personal responsibility for the cops in our lives. Just like when we quietly approach a home in the dark of night where there is allegedly domestic violence activity in progress - we must listen carefully. We need to use all of our senses and our instincts to reach out to a brother who may be reluctant to tell anyone that he has a problem.
You seem tense. Is anything bothering you?
You haven't been your normal cut-up self lately. I just want to know: is everything OK?
I noticed that you have been at the bar almost every night after work. I am concerned for you. Would you like to meet up for lunch today?
Yes, asking these questions creates the possibility that you will be told to mind your own business. That's a risk.
I believe the risk of doing nothing is far greater. Careers of good cops are being pissed away. Lives are being ruined. Marriages are going down the drain. Each one of those events puts a little bit of tarnish on the badge that we all carry.
This problem does not belong to the administration, the shift lieutenant or the crew sergeant. It also does not belong to someone else. It belongs to you and me, individually.
The focus must be clear. Our approach cannot be one of punishment or you chastising the cop who is having the problem. Rather, the approach is one that throws a life preserver to an individual who has gone overboard. It is demonstrating the kind of caring, concern, and even love for a fellow officer that we all profess when exclaiming that, "I would take a bullet..."
Now is the time for each of to turn up the volume on our perceptions. It is the time to be there for a brother while problems are still small and can be managed. It is the time to save a life and/or a career.
I am well aware that there are a few out there in cyber-space who seem to stalk whatever I write and attempt to discredit it for any number of inane reasons.
Well, before you start twitching your fingers at the keyboard about how YOU have decades of experience, and therefore know EVERYTHING about this topic, consider this:
Most of what I have written about today is based on principles that I learned by the time I was five years old. Yup, by the time I went to kindergarten I had already had a few years of Sunday School. It was there that I learned most of the really important stuff that I would need to know in this life.
Doing our best for others is in fact one of the few laws of my religious beliefs: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
This writing is not about those who have gone astray. Rather, it is about me and you. Have we taken every opportunity to throw a life preserver to a fellow cop in a time of need? I admit: I have not. I am working hard to be a better listener with both my ears and my heart. This writing is simply an attempt to provoke a moment of self-examination. The choices you make thereafter are uniquely yours.
The generation gap; the expansion of personal space; the unfortunate pervasive demand for politically correct behavior have all contributed to isolation of the individual. We aren't there to help deal with problems when those problems are small. The problem festers and becomes something that controls and ultimately ruins lives.
We can do better.
We have proved that in the past.
We need to prove it again. It is our Patriotic Duty.
Now is the time.