I had a couple of beers with three guys. Two were ex-Marines. One ex-Marine is now in law enforcement. The other ex-Marine is a business owner. The third guy is the father of a small town cop and unrelated to the first ex-Marine.
This was one of the conversations where I ended up being a fly on the wall.
Programmed to fail
The ex-Marine (cop) was tired. He had just worked a long shift, his back hurt and he was fighting off a respiratory infection. He was much more talkative than usual.
The ex-Marine noted that cops are now in a position where they are "programmed to fail". He grew up in Philadelphia, Pa and "calling the cops" is something other people did. The cops were called when there were multiple broken bones or deep, puncture wounds that required professional care. Cops might be called if your house was burglarized.
The dad of the small town cop grew up in the inner-city of a large Michigan town. He had the same story. Minor differences were hashed out by the people who were disagreeing.
Cops get called when a stranger says a "bad word". The cop responds and the person who made the call is using the words M-Fer and ace-whole and n!gger in every sentence. The caller made the call because the other person was a stranger and the caller assumed malice. They did not take five steps and ask. They called the cops.
Cops get called when men have bushy eyebrows. This actually happened to me. A woman I had never met before decided I looked dangerous and called the cops. I was met in the parking lot by two squad cars (dispatch sent one per eyebrow, I guess). I was allowed to go. The woman, a frequent-flier, explained to the cops the relationship between bushy eyebrows and stalkers.
Couples will be arguing. Often they are couples living together without the benefit of marriage. The argument escalates. One of the couple wants to make a point or really wants to win the argument. They call the cops to use as a bludgeon.
The ex-Marine then made the point that in some cases bringing cops into a tense situation is like pouring gasoline on a pile of sticks when there might be a spark or glowing coal. People panic and do stupid things when they see "The Man" with a taser, gun and handcuffs. Situations that could have been resolved by the couple who was arguing, resolved using a modicum of people skills (repeat after me, "I was wrong. I am sorry you got hurt. Tell what you want me to do next time.") turn into shootings or high speed chases.
Sheriffs, police chiefs and mayors are so intimidated by law suites and bad publicity that they throw individual cops to the wolves whenever there is an allegation. Guilty until proven innocent.
Part of this trend is probably due to the nannification of the school yard. Boys used to step out back and duke it out. Bloody noses are rarely fatal. Often, the combatants would become staunch friends. Now kids are trained to craft their narrative and tell a "grown up". How the heck will students ever grow up if they don't get to practice the skills?
---Edited to add: Of course, "Back in the day" there were no fifth grade boys sporting $4000 worth of orthodontia. End Edit---
Knowing that bad things can happen when cops show up, I asked the ex-Marine (cop) how to avoid meeting him professionally. He had two pieces of advice:
- Don't commit any crimes
- Avoid crazy people, especially ones of the opposite sex.