Our Own Worst Enemy

Even before I first walked into the police academy in February 1983, I remember my father and Uncle Jack saying, “We are our own worst enemy.” They, of course, were talking among themselves or with fellow police officers. This was never intended for my ears.

In the academy, instructors repeated the phrase pointing out examples to accent their war stories. It was clear early on to me that this was true. The years have pointed out how true it really is.

You might say that 99.9 percent of the time we do the right thing. Although our work wasn’t always flawless, it was always our best. We sought to protect the innocent and capture the offenders. Our intentions were good. But then occasionally, a police officer does something stupid. It may be due to poor training, lack of sleep, frustration, or ignorance. Regardless the reason, it gets noticed and we look like the bad guys.

At one time it was common for most restaurants to offer police officers discounts on their food. Pizza joints were great for this. Coffee shops were too. If you were smart you still tipped the wait staff like you’d paid the full amount. After all, they had families to feed and house like we did. Sooner or later a discount is forgotten, or a civilian might complain. Some officer would raise a fuss when they didn’t get their break.

Rather than be thankful for the time they did get the discount they raised a stink that they didn’t get their free coffee or half-priced meal. Had they thought about it, the officer might have ignored it or mentioned it with discretion. Instead, they had a bad day either at home or on a job. They got a little bent out of shape and it’s all in front of the room full of customers paying full price. What happens is, that place never discounts again, and we’ve made an enemy or two. We were our own worst enemy.

A car rolls through a stop sign. The officer sees it and tears off lights and siren to stop it. The distracted mother in the car of noisy kids doesn’t see the officer at first and when she finally does pull over the overworked officer is now a little pissed off. The driver gets the benefit of the full lecture as well as a ticket. The driver pulls away upset. The kids are scared, and the story only gets worse when she tells her husband and friends. Once again, we are our own worst enemy.

We respond to a burglary in progress. As we approach the home a young man runs out the back door and hops the fence. One of the faster young officers takes off after him. He also hops the fence only his pants snag the top of the chain link. He stumbles and falls damaging his pride and pants. He’s successful in his pursuit because he stays in shape. He keeps up with the bad guy, eventually tackling him and handcuffing him. More damage to the pants and now his shirt is filthy.

Adrenaline is pumping through him like fuel through a race car engine. He’s pumped. The young punk is feeling pumped too. The young officer responds to the burglar’s taunts. He slams the burglar up against a wall and gets in his face. He wants to kick the bad guy’s ass. Instead, he pulls him back and shoves him towards the squad cars. A crowd has gathered now. It’s not a friendly crowd. As the offender is being seated in the squad he spits on the officer. The officer without thinking gives the little burglar a crack and slams the door. The officer walks away muttering obscenities to himself while looking for something to wipe the spittle off his face.

Three of the good citizens, who did nothing to help prevent the burglary or assist the officer, have instead been recording some of the events on their phones. They didn’t see the burglar attempt to escape or him wrestling with the young officer. All they saw was the walk back to the squad car. They didn’t hear the taunting from the offender. All they witnessed was the officer give the offender a crack. Facebook now has another video to go viral. I guess we are our own worst enemy once again.

People need to know police officers are human, not superhuman. We bleed, we bruise, and we get upset when someone spits on us. When we act human we are our own worst enemy.

There are enough stresses on today’s officers. It is hard to cope at times. It’s impossible to be superhuman even though society and administrations demand that of you. Take a step back from intense situations. When you arrive at a crime scene and see an officer amped up, give him a hand. Walk his prisoner to the squad or paddy wagon. Keep him away from the public with phones. Give the officer time to cool off.

Do your best to make sure your fellow officer isn’t his own worst enemy.

As my old watch commander used to say to end roll call “Run Low and Zig Zag.”

– Robert Weisskopf – www.bobweisskopf.com