Officer Alex talks about cop basics to a college class
A college professor recently asked me to speak to his class, basically an open forum free-for-all where the students would feel comfortable asking any question that popped into their heads to a copper equally comfortable in responding off the top of his.
While I get that mine was a name that came to mind, I had to wonder why he would roll such dice with something that earns him money? Needless to say I accepted.
I walked past an engineering laboratory with observation windows showing experiments dealing with volatile gases under pressure and suddenly felt a kinship with them. The flame, the glass, the tension...it was almost comforting. Perhaps it was because I had no idea where I was in this particular campus building that I only found by chance five minutes after the interviews were to have started? Only my editor could relate to this, I suppose. (By that I mean because I was late and fairly unconcerned by this.)
The difference between answering random questions from college students as opposed to elementary students is that the college students don’t start off with “How many people you have shot?” or by asking if “Batman is real.” In college, they also come up but much later into the inquiry (the answers are the same).
I started off explaining the difference between the vision of a mayor being translated to a plan put into effect by a chief that was in turn translated into a mission to pass to upper management, which passes it on to middle management and ultimately to execution by people in the field, and how the complexity of such a process is indeed as complicated as it sounds. Quantitative and qualitative results vs. expectations, how such things are measured and how such things are, of course, criticized.
And in the end? God bless them, but they bring it down to Earth by asking where I go to the bathroom “if my office is in a car.” But one of the questions was “how, as a police officer, can I operate without everyone’s respect under current conditions?” I liked that question.
Without thinking, I automatically answered that respect is something that is earned, not given. And that on the part of the citizen, the customer, it is not given to the polyester or to the brass and the enamel of the badge as it was being asked. Because people have come to realize that despite the definition of the word “uniform,” the people wearing these uniforms are not some cookie-cutter template or robot put in place to perform a task. They are individuals, with their own problems and their own dynamics and their own gifts and their own handicaps.
As such, I explained, I didn’t expect automatic respect. That’s something I needed to earn. But in the meantime what I did expect was compliance. (Hang on, don’t start throwing bottles just yet.)
I expect people to behave in a specific fashion so as to determine the course of our interaction. They don’t have to “respect” me, they just have to behave themselves in return for the same. Not subservience, not pacification—just compliance.
I explained to the students that I always, always let my clients determine the course of our interaction, and their kinesic responses in the classroom actually seemed genuine.
As a cop, I want to be someone people look up to. As a guy, I hope the same, but as a cop I know it’s expected. I want people to be happy, to be impressed, to feel obligated to sit up straight, maybe...I’m not sure what is expected here. But in reality I’m just a guy with a job to do like everyone else, and I truly don’t think I’m better than you, but for the same reason I don’t argue with a convenience store clerk over having to show my ID (because it’s their job to ask), I really just wish people would let me do mine.
You don’t need to display that you have “power” over me in response to the perception that I have “power” over you. I don’t. Oh, I have consequences I can deliver, but I’m not better. I just need compliance to get to the next step, not surrender or capitulation. It’s not personal.
Give a little respect at the onset and chances are respect will be given in return. Just find that balance, and I will do the same.
Until then? Class is dismissed…and yes, you can now do a ride-along. Just...not with me.
(As the professor will conclude, Officer Teach is a very crude man.)