(Opinion) I’m just a patrol cop in New Haven. This is my opinion and it doesn’t reflect the position of anyone but myself. I wasn’t paid, ordered or otherwise told to write it. I authored it off duty, and it’s worth exactly what you’re paying to read it.
It’s good to see the “Cop of the Week” feature is back in the Independent. Last year, around this time, I posted a letter in the police department calling for us, the cops, to boycott participating in it. I felt that the New Haven Independent, and its editor Paul Bass in particular, had crossed the line from “independent” news source to biased activist by publishing misleading stories about my coworkers. In my letter, I said that we should support the freedom of the press to report on whatever they wanted, but we didn’t need to contribute to helping them sell their papers.
I signed my name to my letter and to his credit, Mr. Bass emailed me when he learned of it and we agreed to meet for coffee (and to those who view 1 Union Avenue as some sort of impenetrable citadel, it took him less than 24 hours to hear about it and contact me). I think we had a constructive conversation, and we’ve run into each other a handful of times since then. He offered to let me write an occasional article for the Independent, but I declined at the time. On a personal level, I found him friendly and easy to speak with, but professionally, I remained wary, still feeling that the NHI exhibited an anti-police bias which I feared could be used to twist anything I wrote.
When Mr. Bass called me last week for a quote about the bit part I played in a great job my coworkers did, I initially declined. But I came to think that if I, and by extension my sister and brother officers, continued to keep quiet, we would be letting the narrative in the media about the police be only a litany of negativity, controlled by others who may know little about what we really do. Not that my own quote was particularly enlightening: I found a car thief hiding in the bottom of a Dumpster and he smelled terrible. End quote. Funny, but my coworkers are the ones who deserve the praise for doing good police work. That job (in NHPD parlance, an individual call is usually referred to as “a job”) was just an example of something we do on a daily basis.
Too often we toil in relative anonymity: domestics, missing persons, accidents with and without injures, anonymous reports of gunshots, people with holes in their body that were caused by bullets/knives/insert other implement here, naked people high on PCP running around, job after job, call after call, form after form, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. Sisyphus has a better chance of reaching the top of the hill with his boulder than the NHPD does of running out of calls for service. It’s a job that can be exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating and rewarding, sometimes all at once. If we’re lucky, we might get 30 seconds of adrenaline on a good call, but anything really fun is usually followed by a minimum of two hours of paperwork. The radio never stops, and scenes of carnage that would make the average person’s head spin become our routine.
You never know what the next dispatch is going to be, from terrifying to “why is this a police issue??” We get sent to everything, it doesn’t matter. We are who you call when you don’t know who else to call and we’re always open.
Occasionally, someone somewhere recognizes a particularly good job, but it never seems proportional to the number of good jobs out there which go unseen. For every negative story about the police, I can think of countless acts of bravery, mercy, compassion, kindness, and humor, that I’ve seen from my sister and brother officers. I’ve been a police officer in two departments over the past nine years, and I’ve seen officers buy food for the homeless with their own money, organize gift drives for families for Christmas who couldn’t afford anything for their kids, contribute money and time to each other’s causes, run into burning buildings to check for people who might be trapped, put their own safety on the line to protect someone they’ve never met, or just exchange a kind word with the broken people living in the shadows that society has shunned and rejected. I’ve also laughed my ass off more times than I could remember, sometimes because it’s all you can do to keep from crying, other times because it is truly hilarious, one-of-a-kind stuff. If you ever want a good laugh, get a couple of cops together and listen to the stories, every cop has at least a few.
So I welcome back the “Cop of the Week” and I hope my fellow officers continue to participate in it. I also hope we do more to recognize each other. We do too much good work to not have at least some of it recognized. Yes, the media will continue to report on our mistakes, sometimes fairly, other times in ways that we find misleading. The freedom of the press is a constitutional right, and we support it unequivocally, even when the story is against us. But we do ourselves a disservice when we keep quiet about the good we do when it far outweighs the negative.