Back in early April I wrote an article called Silent Pain & Pride of A Wife, where I described the pain I feel when I hear someone criticizing law enforcement officers for the service they provide. Since Mike has become a part of this world, I’ve been a strong advocate when citizens - even well-meaning if perhaps ignorant - have made comments that degrade our fine men and women who serve our country and communities as first responders, or speak dismissively of what they do or the sacrifices made. Whether about paramedics, fire, EMTs or law enforcement, I try to educate the public whenever I can. Lately, however, I’ve witnessed a handful of disturbing incidents, and the impressions they leave, from a different angle: LEOs using their authority as a sworn or non-sworn official to manipulate a situation for their benefit. As the saying goes, “One bad apple spoils the bunch.” Well, this is one of those behaviors that damages the reputation of every officer, and leaves me feeling defeated when I’ve been sticking up for the profession to have that one bad apple confirm a citizen’s negative perception of who the police are.
The behavior I am talking about is a small one, but it has a large impact on the receiving end. Many have probably done this when frustrated, and many more have probably been sorely (maybe even understandably) tempted, but it does not speak well for the profession and hurts you, your colleagues, and your profession as a whole. It is the simple behavior of dropping the comment, “Hey, I’m a cop, and I work for… (plug in your city, village, town, county, federal agency, etc)” when a situation is not going your way and you are trying to influence a different outcome. For me and others, using this statement is an abuse of power because it is, in that circumstance and regardless of how the officer might try to frame it, a power play.
At the group practice I am a part of my office is across the hall from our clerical offices where they perform tasks such as billing, appointment scheduling, medical recordkeeping, etc… They are the heart and soul of our office and I am very protective of them, just as I am of LEOs. Because of that proximity, I often overhear the clerical staff upholding a business policy of the office, perhaps an amount owed on a bill, or that this information or that cannot be released under HIPPA laws. There’s really nothing unusual about that – it’s a conversation they have with many clients of our office everyday - until I hear the client say, completely out of context, something to the effect of, “I know that’s your policy, but I am a police officer for…!” Now, there is no reason for the LEO to utter those words except with the hope of getting something in return that the average person would not or to influence the person on the receiving end to change their mind. Every time I hear that statement, I see red because the anger is so intense inside of me. I work hard to defend the profession, but in that moment I can only agree with the angry staff person that some cops are a profane word I will not use here.
I wish those who have ever used that statement could experience how it feels on the receiving end. It brings a person to anger and a feeling of powerlessness. That statement is also seen as fighting words and is very offensive. So the person on the receiving end only has one of two choices to give into the manipulation and give the officer what they are fighting for or to fight back. It takes a lot of courage to fight someone who has authority over you so it does not feel right or good. The statement “I’m a cop” is perceived as hostile and bullying. To be fair, this is not something that only LEOs do. People in other professions, who perhaps perceive their job or station in life gives them status or power, such as lawyers, doctors, celebrities, etc use it, too. However, the difference being no other profession has quite the ability to enforce a citizen to obey them when they are on the job. No other profession can arrest people, put them in handcuffs, use a Taser, put them in a jail cell, or write a ticket. LEOs have power that no other profession possesses. So use your authority wisely and only on the job.