In a week of hard knocks and jolting tragedy we are left to ponder the localized implications of a sexting scandal allegedly perpetrated by a California highway patrolman. That it follows days after a brother officer was arrested in Vacaville for possessing child pornography has been doubly hard to process.
Law enforcement is a unique culture. Steeped in tradition and pride of service the men and women who take up the profession abide by a lofty code, and are held to a higher standard by the rest of us. That they often prove human is unsettling, especially when they fall and appear to fail the people they are sworn to protect.
I’ll say at the outset that I’ve always liked police officers, count several as friends. The cop/reporter relationship is fraught with many inherent conflicts, trust among them, and while I was always ready to hoist a pint with the dog shift and listen to them decompress about a day spent wrangling power drinkers, air talkers and genuine bad boys with guns – I was always careful to let them know that I didn’t want to end up writing about how their handprints were found on the dusty roof of their cruiser after a hooker accused them of accepting backseat BJ’s in an alley while on duty.
Unfortunately, this has happened. An officer who shared one of the most vivid nights of my youthful life was later busted for knocking over One Hour photo marts. Another inexplicably drew his weapon in the investigator’s squad bay at the Hall of Justice and fired a grazing shot into his head. I had to write about it. It was hard.
But our roles are clearly defined and the expectations in place and while we may have questions about a person who keeps revealing or even lewd pictures of herself on her cellie, it is equally clear that an officer should not take steps to secure her password info and access those photos. This, apparently, has happened. Writing about it is hard. But then we are left to deal with the awful erosion of trust that develops when someone we entrust to uphold the law breaks it. Or several of them. And all those years of tradition, of badges passed father to son, of regimented lines of men and women and crisp salutes fall away and we are left with something less. Humans after all.
Contrived traffic stops. Off-duty drug sales. A baseball bat assault. Not to mention the usual “cop diseases” of alcoholism and marital stresses which I, at least, attribute to constant exposure to a world where truth is hard to come by and trust in anyone not wearing the uniform rare.
We ask a lot of these people and they fall sometimes. As humans we should probably expect it to happen more often. It doesn’t lessen the impact when it does occur, and we are left feeling diminished when it does. At least that’s the way I’m feeling today.
EDITORIAL NOTE: This piece was written prior to today’s shooting of three Sacramento area sheriff’s deputies, with two ultimately dying of their wounds. This piece will stand, but we are aware of this unconscionable act to our north and its impact on the deputies’ families. The founders of this site wish to express their concolences to them at this time.