“Cop Of The Week,” Reconsidered

(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.

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posted by: wendy1 on November 14, 2017  2:05pm

Many local police officers, both friendly and unfriendly, have heard me say they are overworked and underpaid, not to mention scapegoated both by the city gov. and the public because they are asked to do an impossible job; clean up society.  I believe young, frontline officers need to purge their thoughts and feelings without fearing retribution or any sanctions.  Older cops write books.

Like nurses, cops have great ideas sometimes that should not be quickly dismissed as some of my ideas were.  One of the best chiefs we ever had in the city (now dead) wrote a textbook for the police which stated that street cops at the bottom of the heap should be consulted and listened to in order to improve policing.  I read that book long ago.

posted by: Bill Saunders on November 14, 2017  2:17pm

I just hope that for all of this ‘good copitude’ that Officer Bruckhart is feeling, that he doesn’t ‘stand down’ when witnessing abusive policing practices…

posted by: smarcus on November 14, 2017  3:19pm

Officer Bruckhart, thank you for what you and the New Haven Police Department do on a daily basis. Thank you for protecting our neighborhoods, and to policing in general… Also, separately I always appreciated reading Cop of The Week.

posted by: dew21 on November 14, 2017  5:11pm

Love this, Officer Bruckhart! Thanks for all you, and your sisters and brothers, do to keep our city safe and moving toward forward progress. You’re appreciated!

posted by: alphabravocharlie on November 14, 2017  6:58pm

And there you have it, in the comment of Bill Saunders.

posted by: Hill Resident on November 15, 2017  8:56am

Thank you to the women and men of the NHPD, for your service, your committment, and your bravery. I appreciate you.

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on November 15, 2017  9:25am

@Bill S
Really? That’s your comment?
My parents taught me to assume everyone you meet is honorable and good and treat them with respect- at least until they show they do not deserve it.  You might not know Officer Bruckhart and know that he is one of the many, many good cops, but you should give him (and everyone you meet) that respect.

posted by: DavidK on November 15, 2017  12:38pm

Well said - I nominate Chris for mayor in the next election!

posted by: thecove on November 15, 2017  2:21pm

Bill S.

I’m sure you dislike the police….until you need them, of course.  Sometimes when you have nothing nice to say….you know the rest.

posted by: challenge on November 16, 2017  6:14pm

Surprised this officer thought this editor was anti cop. He is anything but.