This nation has had seven law enforcement officers killed in 2019. Reading this headline from Alabama this morning got me thinking as I sit here in disbelief.
I don’t know what to say anymore. I am struggling for the words.
Perhaps a thought on why some of us made the decision to work in law enforcement. I obviously cannot speak for everyone but I suspect my story is similar to many.
I wanted to be a journalist. I actually wrote sports articles for a couple of local newspapers for a few years. I was fairly sure this was going to be my career path. Who knows perhaps I could of been the next Miguel Almaguer or Dan Green.
Something happened when I was kid in grade school. I saw one of my friends getting bullied on the playground with racist remarks, shoving and general harassment. I stepped in front of the bully as if it was my job and backed him off (with a right cross). I don’t know why I did this, but I felt the need to protect him.
My Uncle Jim went to the police academy when I was 11. I remember smelling the leather from his “Batman” utility belt and seeing the super cool uniform on. He was a police officer with the City of Fowler, Paso Robles, San Clemente and retired from Orange County Sheriffs Office.
When I was just an adolescent I worked in Fresno at a video store. My Dad’s cousin Ed would stop by my work occasionally. Ed was a Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Deputy. He was a professional, but he was also very approachable. Ed would sit and chat about his work with me. It sounded amazing. Ed survived multiple officer-involved shootings and later retired from injuries sustained in a on-duty collision.
I also went to college at this time, but my business major didn’t feel like a right fit. I felt like I was just plodding along and not really living. That was until I saw an advertisement for the CHP. I read the ad and was intrigued. I didn’t tell my family or friends. I just applied. To my complete surprise, I was successful throughout the process.
At the end of the background process the local CHP recruiter had a meeting with me. He was talking about the CHP academy start dates and getting my affairs in order to prepare for that. I felt I needed to talk to my family. I called my parents and spoke to them. To say it was not my mothers first choice for her firstborn’s chosen career would be a bit of an understatement. My parents have always been supportive of all of their kids, but this was a leap. She eventually came around, btw. She suggested I call her brother, my uncle Jim, a police officer, and ask him for his thoughts.
I called my uncle. He was apprehensive but supportive. He had been a police officer over 10 years and knew the dangers. I know how he felt. Its because when I am asked now, I feel that same apprehension and need to explain and quantify my thoughts on the subject.
My uncle said, “Always be honest and watch your partner’s back.” My dad’s cousin Ed said the same thing essentially, but with more, shall we say colorful metaphors. Ed’s sort of like that.
Both my uncle and cousin Ed asked me why I was choosing law enforcement. I told them both the bully story. I told them I was intrigued with the idea of helping my community and the people living in it. I liked the fact that there was no routine to the job at all (there is in fact no such thing as a routine traffic stop, folks). I said I wanted to do something that would actually make a difference (I theorized then, and still do, that an arrest can certainly be a positive change).
My uncle asked me why I hadn’t considered the regular police academy. I did not have an answer. I had never considered it. He said, “The CHP academy is great, but I do not know if you want a job chasing tail lights all the time.” Again I had not even considered it. How would I know?
So the solution for me was to go on some ride-alongs with police officers. I had been on several in the past — however, never with the thought of actually looking at it from the perspective as a career choice. I arranged several with the local police, sheriffs and CHP.
I had a blast for the most part. When I rode with Fresno PD and Clovis PD, it was non-stop call to call all night long. It was exhausting yet exhilarating to see these professionals work and actually make positive change to people’s lives on that level. I remember coming home and not being able to sleep after. The ride with CHP was fun as well. Less activity, but the stuff we responded too was big, complex, and a few were just horrific (1 fatal and 1 major injury collision).
I re-evaluated and decided that, because I did not know what I wanted to do in this career (because I did not know enough about it yet), I probably should opt for the police academy. I remember meeting with Sgt. Keller (RIP) at the Fresno Police Academy. Sgt. Keller had previously trained Cousin Ed and Uncle Jim.
Sgt. Keller was a gruff, tough old cop. He had a heart of gold, but he did not put up with any nonsense. He asked about my relatives and then literally said he wanted me to report to the academy Wednesday evening at 5 pm with a haircut and uniform on, and excused me. He handed me an entrance application (stamped approved prior to my filling it out) and told me to get to work.
Sgt Keller, and later a TO named Ron Graham (Monterrey County SO retired), shaped us all at the State Center Police Officers Academy (Class 46). There are some cool stories from the academy that I wont get into now, but suffice to say, I graduated and was hired out of the academy.
I suspect that my fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement have similar stories that parallel my reasons for working in this field.
This is not hyperbole: it has been a very fulfilling career. I start my 29th year in law enforcement in just a few weeks. I can say I have had a lot of fun. I have felt happy, fulfilled, scared and depressed sometimes all on the same shift. I am proud to continue to serve you all.
They say that the assignment of patrol in law enforcement can be described as 11 1/2 hours of boredom followed by 1/2 hours of terror. On some days, that is pretty accurate.
Sometimes the media picks up on a story that has racial or ideological negative undertones in relation to a law enforcement action. I do not deny that that possibility exists. Police officers are human. Police officers are not infallible.
I have not seen much or really any of this stuff in my career, however. I guess it’s probably always going to be about perspective, so I do not doubt folks when they say that when they see something, it upsets them and when I see the same thing, it seems completely fine. I do not look through their life lenses, so I choose to listen, to understand, and not to judge their words.
My point today is to understand these law enforcement professionals and their motivations. We have had seven officers die in the line of duty in 2019 thus far. It is only January 13th — that is one every other day on average. Unfortunately this number will rise.
I do not pretend to know the answers. I just know I am scared for our future, both for our nation’s law enforcement officers but always also our communities, cities, and their people.
I do not think you can arrest your way out of it (but it helps). I do not think you can legislate it. I think it all happens in our homes with our children. Parents, we need to do a better job of setting the example we seek from our children as adults.
Police Chiefs/Sheriffs/Majors/Commissioners/Supervisors, we need to do a better job in communicating with those we serve. We need to show folks that we are exactly like them. We have the same fears, some hopes, our kids go to the same schools, we celebrate the same holidays and go to the same parades and events. We are the folks we serve, 100% of the time.
But that is just my opinion.
Please say a prayer our maybe just a positive thought for the safety of our communities, their people, and of course all of those that serve in the military and public safety.
Be good to each other,
This post was originally published on January 13, 2019 at Chief Westrick’s blog.