Police Officers ” Protect & Serve” the Public?

From the title of this, a reader may be thinking, "… of course they do.  That is the motto of most if not all departments, it’s written on their cars, it’s in their training materials." But is it actually true?

To begin, Mark Bennett’s Prosecutors Help People, But How Often? was the basis for this entry, as I have mentioned that my background involves me being both a misdemeanor prosecutor and a law enforcement officer.  So, I’ve done both.

As Mark pointed out above, another criminal defense attorney in Houston, Murray Newman, wrote:

… the thing I loved the most about being a prosecutor was helping victims of crime. There was a profound feeling of doing something important when meeting with the victim’s family on a murder case, or the surviving members of an aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or assault and telling them you would do everything in your power on their cases.

I’ve said things like that, as a former prosecutor.  And there is some truth to it.  Mark calls it romanticizing the job, and to some extent that is true, but as Murray points out the same feeling is present as a criminal defense attorney… and for the sincere clients (which believe me is not most of them), there is a real sense of gratitude that just makes me feel good, and by analogy and my hypothesis, other defense lawyers feel they are really doing important work.

Now for the nuance to this whole idea… some cops believe they are doing good work.  Below is a compilation of reasons people enter into law enforcement, and by no means is it exclusive:

Well, there’s the typical "I like to help people" which is bs for the most part. If that’s the case, then be a doctor or nurse. I personally like the rush. I hate being stuck inside, behind a desk, though there is a lot of that at times. Definitely not for the pay, that’s for sure.

Someone told my daughter, people become cops because they were picked on as kids, now they can pick on other people. Maybe that’s true for some, who knows.

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Personal reasons, family tradition, want to help others, want to make a difference, want to wear a badge, wan’t to be worn by a badge, benefits. There are a lot of reasons and everyones would be different.

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Helping, tradition, sevice, honor.

Lots of reasons. Soldiers are simularly motivated so are firefighters, medics, doctors etc.

Just as I have admitted, I probably said some of these things too when I was going through the application process, and looking back on that time in my life, I do not think I was being dishonest.  In fact, I know that I really did want to make a difference, but I very quickly learned that you cannot make a difference, except in those really rare and dramatic instances like Mark Bennett describes in his article.

In other words, simply making an arrest for any routine offense, be it felony or misdemeanor does not make for a better world.  Getting someone off the street because they had a single Vicodin or were driving on a suspended license does not alter the course of humanity.  Or, my personal favorite (understand there is cynicism and derision with which I say this) possessing a little marijuana….

To many officers, they truly believe they are making a difference and that they are helping the public by getting these people off the streets; however, when you get inside the system, you very quickly learn that it is not about protecting and serving, it is much more about ego trips and power hungry picked-on kids who have become adults bullies.  As an example, one officer that I rode with, who shall remain anonymous asked me,

In what other job can [sic] you drive fast and bust heads?

In sum, I do not believe that most prosecutors sink to this level of ineptitude and think that the majority of them, like Murray and myself, intended to do the right thing and really wanted to help people, but I definitely do not believe that of most law enforcement officers.

Please share your comments, experiences and of course… disagreements.