By Danny McGuire
After a brief hiatus to complete a book chapter for an academic textbook, I am back with some more input from streets.
My latest conversations with men and women working to keep our communities safe focused on the “police perspective,” a key piece of information missing in today’s academic reporting and research. I conducted interviews, and later analyzed their content, to get the viewpoints of real heroes who answer calls and make quick decisions every day.
While a segment of the population – the ones who have zero experience in law enforcement – tend to speak loudly online and in the world of punditry about what they think a police officer does, I know the only valuable perspectives come from the front lines.
My interviews revealed what all of us professionals know: officers are out there working in a professional manner on a daily basis doing their jobs and stopping people based on descriptions from service calls or because of an individual’s behavior. They aren’t filling quotas or harassing people because of the officer’s personal agendas.
Academic studies going back five decades lend credibility to the idea officers respond to people’s actions which, shaped by the officer’s experiences, alert them to danger or dangerous types of behavior. As recently as 2006, a study pointed out how officers are keyed in to recognize when someone or something is out of place given their expectations of the people and places on their beat. Additionally, the study found officers typically don’t make judgements based on a person’s appearance because it isn’t necessarily a reliable factor to consider.
With all that information in hand, I took to the streets again for the Cops Eye View and conducted some interviews about the realities and fallacies about police perspective. What I discovered was right in line with what our professional brothers and sisters do each shift.
One veteran officer said his approach is pretty straightforward.
“I don’t think I’ve ever stopped anybody because they were certain ethnicity. I stopped people because they are described as committing a crime … or I’ll stop somebody based on their behaviors,” he said. “An example is if I see an individual trying to lift car door handles … (who) looks in my direction in a marked squad car while I’m in uniform (and) then tries to walk the other direction in a swift motion.
“I may approach that individual and ask them if I can help them in any way. It could be someone who locked their keys in the car or it could be someone trying to steal the car. I won’t know and don’t know until I asked him if they need help,” he explained.
Another officer followed up by stating the obvious – it’s a clue something isn’t right if that person hanging around the parked cars begins to run after seeing a squad car. That comment garnered a big chuckle from the group.
The bottom line is simple. Police officers do their job as professionals in every sense of the word. Doctors, lawyers and many others labeled in “professional” category are no more professional than those who work law enforcement.
A police officer’s recall knowledge is commensurate with what many other highly educated professionals must have to do their respective jobs. The law enforcement professional who follows their calling to be a public servant is no different than a doctor or surgeon with an inherent drive to help people using their own specialized skills.
Police officers don’t get to choose who they serve and protect. A professional police officer does his or her job for everyone, every time.
Next time, I’ll delve a little deeper into what these officers had to say about professionalism and how they use their experience to guide them on a daily basis. You can join the conversation by contacting me to share your thoughts.
Until then, stay safe, and may God bless you and yours.
Dr. Danny L. McGuire, Jr. is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at National Louis University in Chicago with over 20 years of law enforcement experience. Danny can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.