A meditation on being the daughter of a cop.

Recently there have been a number of discussions regarding the police and their role as enforcers. The general timber of the argument is that cops are oppressors who use the power of the badge and the system to be unethical, to pull you over when you weren’t doing anything wrong, to search you without your consent (or to find ways to coerce your consent, you know because they can get the justification on warrant based on your lack of consent), to otherwise intimidate you with their absolute power.  I am not even saying that these things don’t happen.  Abuses do, all the time.  How much and how often is debatable, mostly people seem to focus on the possibility and the fear it strikes.

My bias or my stake in this issue is that I am a daughter of a police officer.  A man who had made his bread and butter in law enforcement for the entirety of my life.  I’ve known many cops personally and a good deal of my father’s closest friends were cops.  My complication is that outside of this association, I also tend to dress and generally appear either poor or counter cultural.  I have been pulled over far too many times for no reason other than the violation of driving a beat up Honda Civic through a nice neighborhood.

This contradiction of worlds was never more clear on the night of my Dad’s retirement party.  That night, I was hanging out with the nice men and women of the police force for the bulk of the night.  I went out to a coffeehouse afterwards and went for a walk in the park at midnight, only to be confronted by a police officer trying to kick me off the land.  To be cared for and harassed by the same entity depending on how well you were known smacked of hypocrisy.

Either way, I have been entrenched in cop culture for the most of my life.  I have heard tons of stories from the officer’s perspectives.  I asked my Dad about his career often.  Of course he wouldn’t tell me the ethically dubious things if there were any, so there is bias again.

He told me that a lot of his early police-work involved conflict resolution more than anything else.  He would be called out to neighborhood conflicts to deal with one neighbor’s issue with the other, whether it be a too loud stereo, people trashing other people’s lawn, or otherwise infringing on people’s sensibilities and space.  This would all be going on the poorer neighborhoods and he said that cops were used as conflict resolution when richer parties would probably have just sued.  Barring financial access to lawyers, there be cops.

Other aspects of the community interaction with the cops dealt with crime solving.  It is amazing the number of crimes that get solved when one person is mad at another person and turns in a tip on that person.  It is not an ideal way to solve crimes, but it is fact of law enforcement life.  It is another way that the community makes use of law enforcement.  A good amount of his time went into sifting through the claims to see if they were actually pieces of evidence or just someone trying to make trouble for someone else.

He ended his career as a homicide detective, which feels to me to be the antithesis of the power hungry megalomaniac.  He tried to give many families some closure on why they lost their loved one.  One can want to imagine the absolute corruptness of a cops and how they probably just plant evidence to blame it on whoever is convenient, but there are a lot of eyes looking over homicide cases and there is a high expectation of clean protocols so that the case won’t get thrown out over a technicality.

I know his work as a detective was appreciated by at least some aspects of the community. One case in particular involved a woman who was slain by her husband.  My Dad worked very hard to solve that case and eventually travelled to Mexico to extradite the husband and bring him back to justice.  For at least 10 years, her mother sent my Dad a Christmas card that thanked him for bringing justice to her daughter’s murderer.

I think my relationship with law enforcement will always be a complicated one.  I have felt pushed around and bullied when I was on the wrong side of town.  I have also felt cherished and welcome by friends of my father.  I hate for force to be used inappropriately and corrupted and at the same time I appreciate the deep care given to investigations.  You never appreciate cops when being pulled over and you never want them more than if you are a victim of a crime.

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