Officer Alex attempts to explain cop bonding while in hot water
I was in a hot tub in a Hyatt hotel just outside of Nashville when a complete stranger across from me asked if “the deal about the thin blue line, about the camaraderie, was as real as TV and movies makes it out to be?” I took a slow breath and tried not to change expressions.
Over the years, people 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, yes. But I genuinely never tire of people with sincere questions, no matter how many times I’ve heard them.
I answered with a “yes and no” to the man sharing the 104° 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, while removing a bit of floating lettuce from the area of my chest. “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 women, 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, which my guest surprisingly did not interrupt, and I concluded, “But it’s like that in most places. We just get a brighter spotlight than most.”
The stranger looked puzzled, but he had the decency of trying to hide it. I cut ahead of his next words (whatever they may been) 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. There appeared to be a slice of dill pickle sticking to his hairy right tricep, the frothing water nipping at the bottom of it.
It’s not my goal to disappoint anyone or shatter any myths, but it’s not as concrete and pervasive as Hollywood would have you believe during their conspiratorial “bad cop fests”...the idea 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 those of a criminal 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, but that’s all just a part of “the job.” If you can’t accept it, you either leave or explode. (And then leave.)
The camaraderie I speak of is less dramatic, but something that most of you can relate to. Any readers that have worked in the food and beverage industry know 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 “thing” you observe, known as professional courtesy. 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 the bond between police officers. A silent understanding that you are dealing with another person who understands things that so few others could.
Someone else 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 then witnessing the moment the parent discovers it.
Someone who you can talk to, without ever saying a word. Now that is a bond, one most marriages don’t even have. It can be that close. That bond, that camaraderie, is not about lying or cover-ups or subterfuge. It’s about understanding. It’s about respect.
And that much is true. But trust me on the advice about the expensive flashlights. (And don’t ever, ever bother trying to eat a Hardee’s burger in a hot tub. Well—unless it’s not your own.)