“Is that all you have to do? I need to have your job!”
Her tone was rich with sarcasm. The energetic woman looked about ten years older than me. I smiled when she went by, not because I thought she was funny, but out of an obligation to serve and protect. My service to her was refusing to be offended by her flippant remark, and my protection of her was hiding the horrors of my job that she knew nothing about.
I could have said, “Where were you when I was picking up the pieces of a car wreck that killed three women and a baby? or where were you when I was waiting on the fire department to bring a ladder to cut down a man that was hanging by his neck in an oak tree? or where were you when I was listening to the confessions of murderers, robbers, rapists, and thieves?” but I didn't. After all, I knew what to expect when I pinned on a badge over 25 years ago, and I, like many of my kind, took the motto “to serve and protect” to be more than a cliche because we believe we are called by God to do some of mankind's most difficult chores. If you don't think so, just try going to a mother's house at 3 am to tell her her child has died in an accident or controlling yourself when someone spits in your face. Those chores are somewhat routine
Historically, lawmen in the United States have been pretty good at protecting. We're eager to respond to danger, right wrongs, stop violence, and risk personal safety for the sake of others. Unique among all other public servants, we proactively strive to stop danger, abuse, and violence before it ever occurs. We search for unsafe motorists, drunk drivers, suspicious persons wandering in the night, and thieves who have the intention of taking your possessions, but ironically, our zeal to protect can be our greatest enemy if it is left unbridled. In our effort to protect, we sometimes make disastrous decisions and over stretch the limits of our authority. The things people remember most about us is when we overreact or do something stupid
LEOs must always remember to balance protection with service. An attitude of service helps protect us from ourselves. Most people think our service is nothing more than seeking justice for victims. Though this is partially true, it is not primarily true. A wise cop learns early in his career that his community service is displayed in four primary ways:
1) It is service that is non-judgmental. This is a difficult standard to apply because, by its nature, law enforcement requires discretion and judgment. Cops must objectively determine things like whether a call is criminal or civil, if a crime was actually committed, the identity and location of suspects, and probable cause to make an arrest. These are daily chores for us, and to make matters more difficult, experience has taught us that the average person is a liar. We make judgments on a regular basis, but when it comes to dealing with people, service dictates that we refrain from applying moral standards on victims, witnesses, and suspects.
2) It is service that listens with the purpose of understanding. This is the art of empathy. Empathy invokes sensitivity in the hearer and causes him to vicariously feel the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of the person he is listening to. Empathy has been described as walking in another person’s shoes or looking deep into a person’s soul. True service includes listening and understanding with empathy.
3) It is service that brings reason to others in the most difficult moments of their lives. Most people that cops come into contact with are distracted from reality due to a number of factors which include drugs, alcohol, anger, depression, anguish, envy, greed, mental illness, etc. Conscientious cops intervene emotionally to help change people's perspective on their circumstances.
4) It is service that does not take things personally. A wise cop recognizes that verbal attacks directed at him are merely attacks on what he represents. This attitude saves him hours of misery by giving him the ability to deflect all the verbal smut that is thrown at him. In this country, self-expression is deemed a right, and cops cannot justify use of force to protect themselves from words. Successful law enforcement officers learn to compartmentalize insults, criticism, and hatred. As a general rule, cops must remember that it does not matter what a person says to them as long as they obey the law.
When we get our service right, it enhances our ability to protect. The service of properly responding to people is our a greatest asset in protecting the public, and in addition, it results in people feeling truly protected. It also helps us respond properly to unsolicited insinuations that we are lazy and could be replaced by self-righteous busybodies.