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January 10, 2013

Do you like this?

I was in a hot tub when a complete stranger across from me asked if  “the deal about the thin blue line, about the camaraderie” of cops was as real as TV and movies makes it out to be?

Over the years, people have often ask me the same questions over and over about my job: “Have you ever killed someone?” “Is that body armor really heavy?” “Do you really not have to pay for your gasoline?”

The repetitive “Hey!  Hey, he’s the one you came for!” jokes get old after the 72nd time, but I genuinely never tire of answering these questions, no matter how many times I’ve heard them. In this case, I answered with a “Yes and no” to the man sharing the 104-degree water. 

“Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to something life-and-death and the far less intense things in between, it’s all 100 percent true,” I said, “But otherwise? We’re no different than most places of business. You don’t leave an expensive flashlight lying around; we stab each other in the back over booty; and I can think of maybe only one story in which a cop was willing to give up their job for the stupid mistake of another.” I paused to reflect for a moment, and added, “But it’s like that in most places. We just get a brighter spotlight than most.”

The stranger looked puzzled, but he was attempting to disguise it. I cut ahead of his next words by saying, “You ever heard the phrase, ‘I can trust you with my life, but not my wallet’? I’m fairly certain that came from a cop.” He nodded knowingly, to my relief.

It’s not my goal to disappoint anyone or shatter any myths, but it’s also not as concrete and pervasive as Hollywood would have you believe with their conspiratorial “bad cop fests” that promote an idea for their sexy allure, that of a “line” between cops and the public they serve. Are there lines between them? Absolutely, but not when it comes to matters that border on or clearly become of criminal in nature. 

People inherently fear authority figures, and fear is an emotion that does not produce much in the way of positive thinking. That disdain, in turn, makes it difficult for the average cop who is busting his or her ass to feel even remotely appreciated for the sacrifices they make and the risks they take.

The camaraderie I speak of is less dramatic, but something that most of you can relate to. Any reader who works or has worked in the food and beverage industry knows what I’m referring to when they are on duty and another bartender or waiter or waitress comes in for service. 

You don’t overtly treat them differently from other customers present, but there is an unspoken “rule” you observe known as professional courtesy.  It is an unspoken mandate that you give them a discount that is or is not within your employers policy, just as it is an equally unspoken mandate that you, the guest, compensate your host despite the lower total on any bills they may have provided (if you get a check at all). You take care of them, they take care of you—because they “understand.”

Is that so sinister, so wrong? That is the subtle feeling I am trying to describe when talking about that bond between police officers. A silent understanding that you are dealing with another person who understands things that so few others could. Someone who understands why you can’t just go home and talk about your “day at the office” when that day consisted of seeing a child’s corpse blackened and charred in the back of an SUV that caught fire on the interstate a few hours before—and seeing the parent that discovers it. Someone who you can talk to without ever saying a word. Now that is a bond, and most marriages don’t even have that.

That bond, that camaraderie is not about lying or cover-ups or subterfuge. It’s about understanding and respect. And that much is true.

But trust me on the expensive flashlights. Also, don’t ever, ever bother trying to eat a Central Park burger in a hot tub.

Alex Teach is a police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.

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January 10, 2013

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