With citizen interactions, whether self-initiated or dispatched, the rules of operations and training demand that each one is initiated as an emotionally clean slate. It does not matter what type of call you came from, you are here now dealing with whatever and whoever. Even if there is history at the address or with the person, you still provide them the same opportunity to act appropriately even if they have not in the past.
You treat everyone with the same level of respect and professionalism regardless. That is until they demonstrate they need to be dealt with differently. Even then, if it goes sideways and invokes the use of force, it is still executed professionally and with only the amount necessary to obtain the desired result, be it arrest or compliance.
That’s the rule for us, but what about the public? They call the police because they are in need, sometimes something simple and minor, other times life threatening, and they act and react according to what they are going through.
They call the police because of disputes, arguments and the like In these cases you already know even before you put your car in drive that half of the people involved are going to love you, the other half are going to hate you. Depends on where they or their actions fall in regards to the incident. People react with emotion. It’s human nature, understandable and expected, it’s just not allowed for the police. In fact, the courts have ruled that although the public can sign a complaint about disorderly conduct because someone “alarmed” or “disturbed” them, the police can not. The courts have said that it’s expected, it’s part of the job, I can not be alarmed or disturbed by your rants, raves or yelling at me. Verbal threats are a different issue and not the point here.
I had one shift years ago that I will never forget, I refer to it as the “cradle to grave” day. It was during a bad Chicago winter storm. We were ordered to do “Stationary Patrol” by the Sergeant. This meant the roads were so bad that rather than risk life, our vehicles, or being unavailable to handle calls due to our own accidents, we were to find a spot and sit. We would only respond to emergency calls.
I was dispatched and I headed to a report of a mother giving birth, her water had broken and she and her husband were stranded on the side of the road. The parents-to-be were on their way to the hospital when they slid off the road and were horribly stuck. The ambulance was dispatched and on its way but was actually stuck in the snow as well. My police squad was a 4x4 jeep and I was not far from the caller's location and responded. Without all the details, let me just cut to the chase, Mom gave birth to a healthy baby girl in the back seat of my squad and was quickly transferred to the now arrived ambulance and EMS personnel. Off they went, refusing I might add to name their beautiful daughter “Al”, after me. Hey, it could work, ever hear of the song “A boy named Sue”?
Immediately after I cleared this spectacular miracle of new life I was dispatched to a lock-out of auto at one of the local “Stop & Robs”, police speak for a 24-hour convenience store like a 7-11, White Hen, Quick E Mart or similar. Due to the storm, the road conditions and general non-emergency nature of the call, I was driving pretty slowly and with care. While headed there my police radio broadcast a report of an auto accident with an injury not too far from my location. I notified our dispatch and altered my route to respond to it, “stacking” the lock-out call, meaning it was added to a list of waiting for non-emergency calls to handle when officers became available.
Once again saving you all the details, I found myself holding a 47-year-old woman in my arms as she died from injuries in the accident, all while her daughter, a passenger in the car looked on and sobbed. The actual impact was not that bad, it was a side impact at less than 25 miles an hour. But the impact jerked the woman sideways, separating her aorta from her heart and she internally bled to death even though she did not really display outward signs of injury.
Cradle to Grave in under an hour. A new mom & birth on one end and a dead one on the other. One life comes into the world and another one leaves. Because this accident was originally dispatched with injury and now, of course, a “fatal”, the departments dedicated Major Accident Unit was called to the scene. I was actually available for other calls sooner than I would have been had I handled a minor accident myself.
Since no one had been available for the lock-out of auto call and it was originally assigned to me, I notified dispatch that I would once again be heading to it.
Still processing the past 2 calls, I arrived and was met by a now furious woman, about the age between the new mom and the recently deceased one. Before I even got out of my car she was screaming at me about the time it took for me to arrive. She was running late, and according to her, I took my own sweet time getting there. “Where were you, what were you doing?”, she demanded to know, “sitting somewhere eating donuts?” She continued yelling about the lack of police service and did not allow me to answer even if I wanted to. Since the weather was bad she continued, she decided to leave her car running and accidentally locked it when she went in to get coffee. Forget that this in itself is a violation, “unattended running motor vehicle”, minor though it is, was still chargeable by traffic ticket. In addition, she also left her open purse in plain view on the front passenger seat, which often leads to a smash-and-grab theft.
I retrieved the tools needed to open her vehicle and once I did, started to explain that what she did was a violation and “although a ticket could be issued, I...” With that she interrupted me yelling once again that I better not give her a ticket, where was my heart, it’s cold out, am I just some kind of robot, incapable of feeling? Adding that I probably have a quota and since I’m not out doing “real” police work she was not going to let me take it out on her with a ticket!
At this point, my mind raced playing out the various ways this could end, the things I could say if not for the fact that I am the police. Things like get a grip, the sun does not revolve around you, especially when it was your own dumb fault and choice that led to this. Or hey, one woman just gave birth in the back seat of my squad an hour ago, and I just held a dying woman in my arms right before coming here..... that's where I was you arrogant, self-centered brat! But no, none of this. I am a professional who not only must handle each call as a new event but actually wants to do this by not bringing the emotional baggage of prior calls with me. I want to be professional. I truly like people and want to help them. I believe that everyone deserves to be treated with a base level of respect. Not to mention that although I liked my Sergeant, I felt no intense desire to have a one on one conversation with him about how I lost my composure with a resident. Once the police do this, the receiving party instantly becomes the victim, whether they deserved
the outburst or not, you have now lost your standing and become the aggressor in this interaction.
So I did exactly what I had been trained to do. I handled this as a new call, a call that was completely avoidable if not for her bad decision. A decision that so many times leads to a stolen auto, or busted window to grab the purse. I did not display my emotions, I did not utter a word about the prior calls, but I also did not continue my original statement which was “...am not going to issue a ticket”. I very calmly explained to her the court procedure to dispute the newly received ticket in court, should she desire to. I wished her well, a safe drive, and I last saw her tearing the ticket up and tossing it in her car as I went into the store to get that now well-deserved coffee and donut while digesting the past 3 calls.
Oh and that conversation with my Sergeant, yeah it was short. He told me some lady called to complain about me and a ticket I gave her. He told her that it sounded like the officer (me) did his job and she had every right to protest it on her court date or pay the fine. She hung up on him while screaming some choice obscenity about his un-natural relationship with his mother. His biggest concern? Why did I not grab a coffee for him, and threw in a smile as he said, where was my heart, don’t I care about him?
Remember before you start screaming, yelling and reacting to whatever is going on when the police arrive, that badge you are verbally attacking, they are there to help and well.... there is a human with emotions behind it, they may have had a bad day too. At least one of you needs to be professional, hopefully, you both will be, but in the end, you can pretty much count on the police to hold up their end. Regardless of your role as victim or offender, the outcome for all involved will be much better if you remember to keep your composure and respect others, including the police and the person behind the badge.
About the Author: Al Hobbs is a Law Enforcement Correspondent for DrydenWire and writes on a wide-range of topics on Law Enforcement but focuses mostly on the human element of being a cop in his weekly segment titled: "Behind The Badge". Al brings a unique writing style that allows him to connect with his readers. You can read his introduction to DrydenWire here.
Al is a retired police detective from the metro Chicago area. He has been a Law Enforcement Officer at the City, County, State and Federal level in excess of 35 years. His career has taken him all over the nation and the world. Al has been involved in all aspects of criminal investigation as well as general police duties. He is once again on the street as an active LEO for a North Shore community, just North of Chicago in Illinois.