Awhile back, a local homeless guy rang my doorbell and asked if he could do some lawn work for me. He asked me for $20.00 up front saying he needed to pick up some medicine right away. He assured me he’d be back to do the work later in the day. I assumed he was going to smoke up the twenty bucks, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Six months later, homeboy’s still in the wind.
I can hear you snorting, “you’re and idiot, of COURSE he’s gonna buy crack with your money!” My contention is that retaining some of the naivety we all (more or less) had when we started this career is a GOOD thing.
Policing distorts and narrows our world view. Two factors combine to produce this phenomenon. First, we’re exposed to a very small subset of society: criminals and victims. We work in waters inhabited almost exclusively by victims and criminals. The general public has no idea just how depraved, petty and vicious human beings can be. We do.
Second, the encounters we have with this “special” group tend to be emotionally charged, which imprints this into our brain. Stimuli we take in while emotionally charged tends to stay with us. The end result is that, as police officers, we become convinced we live in “reality.” We can be downright smug about our sense that we know what the “real world” is all about. We give many speeches about life in the real world to our adolescent children. But here’s the problem: we don’t know reality, we know POLICE reality. There’s a huge difference.
We see the world through different lenses. It starts in the academy. We’re given cop shades and instructed never to take them off. Seen through our cops shades, the world is a dangerous place, filled with malevolent evil-doers. Once a felon always a felon. People don’t change. Quick, neat boxes. Crack head, victim, asshole, parolee. We develop a decidedly pessimistic view of human nature.
The slice of “reality” we live in at work is just that, a slice. A very thin slice. Our exposure to this tiny segment of humanity renders us experts in it. The problem arises when we forget that not every scout master is a pedophile and that some drug addicts change their lives.
Here’s what you need to know: if you never take your cop shades off, you will inadvertently place your mind in a small cage. You may continue on with your smug belief that you live in reality, but really the existential joke’s on you.
Getting burned now and again is a small price to pay for maintaing a wide angle view of the world.
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