A Cop’s Life

I can unabashedly admit, much about a police officer’s life is unappealing. The pay is not great.  It’s shift work. It can comprise long stretches of mind-crushing boredom.  Paperwork. Close proximity to assholes.  And, constantly under pressure to conform to a “code of silence” about corruption, malfeasance, and illegal activities. Reporting a fellow officer for such behavior is “ratting,” and will get you shunned, and probably fired.

Oh, yeah, and sometimes, there’s even physical danger.

We get the police force for which we are willing to pay.  In most places I’ve lived, I could make more money driving a forklift than I could driving a squad car.  Nationally, the median annual earnings for a police officer is $45,000.  Does that make sense? Really?

I want police officers that are disciplined. Of course, I want them well trained in their use of force; emptying a clip at a fleeing suspect (or one lying on the ground at your feet) is just right out. But, I want them disciplined — able to maintain control of ambiguous situations and make rational judgements about their courses of action. If a cop is firing 15 rounds in order to hit the guy once, she has more than a problem with her aim.  A cop who is emptying his pistol’s clip at a fleeing suspect is a cop who has lost control of the situation.

I don’t accept that the present crews are completely incapable of such discipline. But, the officers aren’t getting the training they need. Proper training can and will cull the outright incompetents. That’s a start. But, you are not going to have a sufficient pool of applicants, if you’re asking them to work for Burger King wages.

The problem for police departments is that the have to fill seats. Getting hired as a police officer follows a cycle. The best and brightest can work where they want to work, and are most likely hired by the departments with the best salaries, working conditions, and benefits. The remaining members of the pool ripple out from there, finding positions that match lesser abilities with lower salary, &c.  Officers who are fired from one department can usually be found working at another, a short time later. Thus, it’s no good simply “going after racist/corrupt/brutal cops,” because it’s whack-a-mole. When that racist cop gets fired in Dallas, he’ll soon be found working at McKinney. There’s always some police department, somewhere, with an empty chair that needs filling.  And, that means that police officer selection processes gravitate toward the LCD, seeking to get as many applicants as possible through the exit chute, rather than seeking to cull as many applicants as possible.

Police departments face a situation similar to that faced by many school districts. Again, the best and brightest teachers can pick their spots. The rest filter down through the system, gradually coming to rest at something approaching their level of least incompetence.

Police officers and teachers are two groups of citizens whose careers are boxed by taxpayers accustomed to buying the cheapest products possible.  When you go cheap on a teacher, children are neglected. When you go cheap on a police officer, people die.

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