The late news commentator Paul Harvey eloquently honored the law enforcement profession many years ago as he narrated his inspiring words titled, “What Are Policemen Made of?”
At the time Harvey said, “Don’t credit me with the mongrel prose: it has many parents—at least 420,000 of them: Policemen.”
Harvey had a special place in his heart for law enforcement, as his own father was a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father lost his life by gunfire from assassins in 1921 when young Paul was just three years of age. His father’s hunting partner, a Tulsa police detective, was also shot and paralyzed during the encounter. Although off duty, they were likely targeted due to their profession, as lawlessness was a driving force in the region at the time.
Since Harvey wrote his prose we have nearly doubled the size of our ranks. Moreover, the law enforcement profession has taken on a new appearance.
Harvey’s words inspired me to write my own version to honor modern day sheepdogs wearing a badge today. It is titled “Gatekeepers and Guardians” and was included in The Spirit Behind Badge 145.
Gatekeepers and Guardians
What is a police officer? Today’s law enforcement professionals are male and female. They are black, white, and every shade in between just as God created. Most combine what is good in our culture, possessing virtues worthy of praise and admiration. They answer the noble call to duty with excitement, enthusiasm, and vigor. However, once out of the gate the camera angle is altered, the picture loses focus, and each discovers he or she cannot change the world as once hoped.
Police officers are unique. Most would tell you they were “called” to the profession. A calling that drives them to tolerate the criticism, ignore the insults, hurdle the obstacles, and band together like Velcro holding their body armor in place. For after all, how many vocations are required to get dressed in this manner?
Police officers are the most desired people at one moment while being incredibly unwelcomed the next. Where incivility reigns, derogatory comments are hurled at them as their authority is challenged as never before.
Diplomacy is in high demand as police officers are required to settle disputes between adversaries and make each feel like the resolution was acceptable.
Another day of work, another horrific crime scene with living conditions unfit for an animal. But no matter what, they go home with little to say, because it is just another assignment where the obligation is unusual for anyone not wearing a badge, but all too common for the possessor of the shield.
Police officers must make instant decisions that would have a room full of attorney’s arguing over the best course of action months and years to come. They must catch the offenders while securing a crime scene, render aid to those in need; provide safety for citizens unable to look out for their own interests. They routinely expect to get sued if the chaos was not perfectly orchestrated. Often the pandemonium is well managed yet the civil action is filed anyway. The thought of suit will linger in the background for years, but our heroes and heroines are always told, “Don’t take it personally.”
Unfortunately, it always feels personal when it keeps them awake at night trying to figure out what they would have, could have, or should have done differently. The “would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve” will make the young feel old, cause the innocent to bear displaced guilt, turn excitement to sorrow, transform enthusiasm to depression, and vigor to exhaustion. No my friends, there is no way to wrap those facts in a fragrant aroma. As time prolongs the process, the coping mechanisms chosen become as vital as the oath of office.
Police officers are expected to shoot where it doesn’t hurt, maim, or kill. They must be able to defeat every combatant without appearing brutal regardless of the opponent’s size or the drug influencing the criminal behavior in the first place.
Police officers must keep information confidential. They must know where all of the vices occur and not participate. From limited witness cooperation and evidence they are required to describe the crime, the weapon, the crook, and know where the offender is hiding. They will run files and write reports until their eyes ache to build a case against a known felon who will be out of custody before the ink dries. Our friends in uniform receive complaints from victims who do not believe justice was served and defendants arguing their civil rights were violated.
Police officers must be a balance between ministers, social workers, diplomats, psychologists, and UFC fighters. They need to be geniuses because of the unspoken expectation they need to be everything previously described without offending an increasingly fragile and emotionally unstable society. A society which includes those who are, at any given moment, on pharmaceutical drugs, street drugs, or alcohol. A society whose members are ever more described as bi-polar, ADD, ADHD, PTSD, schizophrenic, sociopathic, or some other clinical term over used or misused to describe bad behavior or poor choices. From the perspective of police officers, most of these people are simply “jerks” invading the lives of otherwise good people.
Understanding there are true mental health illnesses and people suffering from the aforementioned infirmities, police officers need constant wisdom to discern between those whose distress is legitimate and those who simply create a smokescreen for their vulgarity, bad manners, and criminal behavior. Such astuteness is usually found in the pit of their stomach and difficult to quantify. When calculation, computation, or enumeration is required there is no textbook to rely upon. Our beloved servant either got it right, so it’s a non-issue, or reckoned incorrectly and will be subject to rather invasive and uncomfortable scrutiny.
It might sound like the ranks of law enforcement are filled with martyrs in pursuit of justice. Indeed that is untrue. In general, those in the business love what they do, that is why they strap on the gun belt, don the body armor, and pin the badge in place each day. However, anyone who has been on the job for more than one cup of coffee knows the frustration is real, the pain is legitimate, and the trauma can leave scars forever.
My friends and colleagues working as modern day sheepdogs in law enforcement, you are a wonderful group of professionals. What I have described sounds impossible, but it is not because you do it on a regular basis. For that, I commend and affirm you as never before. I have been proud to be part of the noble calling for three decades, but your job is more difficult now than it was thirty years ago. As our culture becomes increasingly unstable, may God be with you, may he watch over and encourage you in your calling to be the gatekeepers and guardians of civility and safety in our society.
Jim worked in military and civilian law enforcement for thirty-one years. While in the USAF he flew as a crewmember aboard the National Emergency Airborne Command Post—a presidential support detail. Following his military service, he served for twenty-eight years with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California where he retired as a lieutenant. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the prestigious Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the IACP course, Leadership in Police Organizations.