Love them or hate them, use them or abuse them, the police are a strong presence in our daily lives. They are the vicars of the law and at times act as if they were the law incarnate. They give us tickets or beatings; trick or treat. They are—as Commissioner Gordon stated in “The Dark Knight”—“the heroes we need, but not the ones we deserve right now.”
Interacting with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) gives you a more accurate description than the two definitions shown above. Police officers are often misunderstood because most people fail to comprehend what it is that they actually are and do. Officers protect us from each other and deal with the situations we don’t want to deal with. They face constant danger and encounter situations that make them fearful for their lives and safety. These sentiments lead to abuse and over use of power and force; sometimes of the deadly variety. We want our cops to be brave yet benevolent, stern but sympathetic all rolled into one.
Often feeling disrespected and deserving of higher wages, police departments don’t always attract the kind of people you would like to watch over you. When we encounter them in the street or in our cars, we often feel nervous although we are innocent, afraid although we have nothing to fear. We mistrust them because we know that they are often cynical, prejudiced and sometimes dishonest.
Resembling the military more so than a troop of boy scouts, police departments have strict chains of command and rigorous discipline. Officers are sworn to uphold the law and that the public does so as well. For this reason, it is difficult to bring criminal charges on officers, even when it deals with the use of deadly force and both the justice department along with the FBI have compelling cases. Like the military, police departments subscribe to the “we take care of our own” mentality and prefer to conduct their own internal investigations behind closed doors; which only adds to our mistrust of them. California state law keeps the personnel records of officers confidential. When officers do face charges in court, it’s always a case of the “he says she says”; the officer’s word against that of a dead person.
Fear—our most primal emotion—is the culprit along with the officer who’s body it runs through. The officers rely on their natural instinct of self-preservation and either lie or are completely honest about not having violated a person’s civil rights during the incident that brought about that person’s death. It’s an occupational hazard or mala praxis, I suppose. Officers often use deadly force out of fear that the perpetrator may kill or severely injure them. To them, it’s a “dog eat dog world”; kill or be killed.
“To protect and serve” is the LAPD’s official motto, yet it sometimes fails to protect those that it serves. Unlike other service jobs, the police is the only one that is allowed—under “reasonable” circumstances—to kill its customers for not complying within the parameters of the services rendered. When you go to Starbucks, the risk of death for complaining about a trenti caramel macchiato with stevia instead of honey is very low in comparison to complaining to an officer about how they are treating you. You have, after all, the “right” to remain silent.
When a misfortune does befall upon you in which you have to dial 9-1-1, the emergency operators make calling Time Warner customer service feel like a conversation with Charlie Rose. The operators are dismissive, condescending and judgmental, immediately classifying whether your “emergency” is even worthy of police intervention. Once the patrol car does show up it’s like the worst Uber scenario possible. The only difference between Uber and a patrol car is that a grown adult has to sit in the back seat of a car, while having an uncomfortable and undesirable conversation with the driver about something that you’re probably not proud of with a slight chance you might get molested by the end of the ride. Wait! I guess these two really don’t differ at all. The LAPD seems to be a pastiche of all the bad services that people use. A bricolage of all the characteristics we hate about ourselves when the spotlight of introspective thought is shone on us.
Policing people is not an easy job. We argue like petulant children, mostly over trivial and mundane things like non-threatening strange people walking in front of our houses or neighbors playing loud music. When we feel powerless against our neighbors, we are swift to tattle on them and call our legal guardians: the police, or as I like to think of them, big blue mommy. Big blue mommy really takes care of things for us. She, like every mother in the history of the world, is always ill equipped to act as an impartial arbiter as she never has the incident’s details quite right, is easily swayed by her flared-up nerves—from us driving her crazy—to be diplomatic, by which point, she doesn’t “want to hear it.” When big blue mommy shows up in her black and white car blaring her ear-screeching-mouth-shutting siren, blazing blue and red lights that pierce through the glass windows and curtains that adorn them and hide the nosy neighbors peering through them, nobody moves. Everybody is guilty…until further notice.
Big blue mommy—let’s call her Ms. LAPiDus—like your mommy, also gets details wrong. All of the time. She buys you the pink shorts with the flamingo pattern in a large when you specifically asked her for the solid red ones in a medium. Similarly, Ms. Lapidus gives you a three-hour stand off with two dead when you originally called about a small domestic disturbance where the upstairs neighbors were yelling at each other a little too loud, disturbing your blissful enjoyment of your primetime TV shows. These types of situations are like bad jokes that go on for too long. Go on beyond the point of funny, a point that once crossed, brings about irrevocable consequences: an apoplectic friend that avoids your calls or texts for a week or a dead body belonging to a person who was just alive a few hours ago. Their blood still fresh and puddling on the asphalt.
The LAPD’s hiring campaigns adorn the inside of the subway like a Roman edict, next to public service announcements on how to reduce your chances of contracting liver cancer and cautionary signs trying to deter crime serving both a guides to those trying to commit them and those trying to avoid becoming a victim of them. This method of recruitment makes Craigslist look like LinkedIn.
The LAPD ad in question features three statements meant to be inspirational, all followed by the overt “LAPD is Hiring”: Choose Your Challenge, Choose Your Purpose, Choose Your Future. The poster promises three to four days of work a week and you must be at least 20-years-old; old enough to know how to shoot a gun, but young enough to not know you’re throwing your life away. You must also be in tip top physical condition so that you can chase after the runners and fence-jumpers, but only need a high school diploma or have passed either the California High School Proficiency Examination or the General Educational Development test.
The job posting doesn’t mention other duties such as dealing with difficult people, serving as arbiter to complainers complaining about other complainers, the ability to be comfortable with knowing the risk that you may get shot at and to be a person that doesn’t mind being called different kinds of nicknames, some more insulting than others.
The pool of candidates is comprised of people that would be less than ideal. Some Metro riders don’t posses the common decency to wait for fellow commuters to dislodge their bodies and extricate themselves from the packed train before trying to jam their own bodies in it packing themselves like sardines.These same people run towards the incoming train like the demon-possessed herd of pigs from Gadarenes, they run as if from a gun; as if flying. Why is the LAPD casting its pearls to the pigs? It makes you wonder who the real pigs are. Some of these people, who most of the time won’t even give up their seat for a person who really needs it, have the moral fiber of heritage whole wheat bread.
Most policemen are overworked and testy. Most of their workdays are a typical person’s “long day.” They are a tired mommy, who simply wants you to go to your room and leave her alone. The worst police officers face the worst case scenarios every day. They work in high-crime areas like Boyle Heights where situations escalate at a faster rate as does the use of deadly force when its use isn’t warranted.
We set the police on each other like angry dogs. We hate them for doing our bidding. We hate them because they are us, but with different clothes. We hate them because they do exactly what we would do in their shoes. I am them as you are them as you are me and we are all together. We are all wolves to our fellow man. We prey on each other.
Being a police officer is just another 9-to-5 job, which is left at a physical place and that people reimmerse themselves into the community they were serving and protecting—sometimes arresting and pointing a gun at. These people are regular civilians with fear of the unknown and of death, entrusted with protecting our streets from people we deem dangerous. They are summoned by some as the primary source of mediation and as the last by others.
They are equipped with instruments of death to keep the order in streets and neighborhoods where disorder is the order of the day, carrying in the back of their minds the old biblical adage “Live by the sword, die by the sword”.