Dec. 8, 2002: Police Criticism Unwarranted

In a recent column, I wondered out loud why police officers do what they do, given our lack of appreciation for them. That got me an invitation from Major Robert Sampson, commander of the Cobb County police department’s third precinct, to come experience a police officer’s day up close and personal. At the same time, I was sent a copy of an editorial from the student newspaper at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton entitled, “This country’s police force is a crime.”

In the editorial, the young author ranted, “It is my estimation that street cops and State Patrollers [sic] spend 80 percent of their time turning the blue light on everyday citizens for the silliest of reasons. As for the other 20 percent, five of it is filled by sharing jokes among themselves at the victims’ expense, 10 is consumed by their own infractions of the law and only an optimistic five is spent actually apprehending true criminals.” Those statements were some of his more rational comments. Either this kid was angry at receiving a ticket and decided to take it out on the police or he had failed Soybean 101.

Had he done some research before he jumped off the deep end, he would have found out, as I did, on my visit that the police don’t have time to turn on their blue lights “for the silliest of reasons.” They are too busy trying not to get killed. For example, the Christmas season brings on increased suicide attempts and is potentially the most deadly time of the year for police officers. Nine attempted suicides took place the previous weekend in this one precinct alone. If people are deranged enough to kill themselves, they have no problem taking someone with them, including a police officer trying to talk them out of it.

Unlike misinformed young journalists, officers go to work hoping they will survive and arrive home to their loved ones at the end of their shift. My host, Sgt. Barry Little, talked about how a routine call can suddenly turn deadly. When someone points a gun at you, that isn’t a laughing matter, which is why officers back each other up, just in case someone decides to blow one of them away. Lt. Mike Flynn had warned his officers earlier in the day about traffic stops, “Always remember there could be another person or weapon hidden from view.”

On patrol with Sgt. Little, we chased and helped apprehend a drunken motorcyclist, who was clocked at speeds over 70 mph and who managed not to kill himself or some innocent bystander before he was stopped. The arrest resulted in 14 pages of incident reports for the arresting officers.

Sgt. Little spent part of his shift directing traffic at a busy intersection while other police and emergency personnel hauled away mangled automobiles and injured motorists. I didn’t see any police officers joking about the victims. Sgt. Little stopped a car with an expired tag and issued a warning to another motorist who ran a red light after she confessed to being lost. He showed me the restaurant where the day before, two thugs had robbed and murdered the owner. (The suspects were caught the next day.) He pushed a couple of broken-down cars off the road. He drove me through an area where gangs are known to exist, making sure that gang members and law-abiding citizens both knew he was there. All in all, just another routine day on the job.

I found the men and women of the Cobb County police well-trained and proud of what they do, and I doubt their pride in their work is much different from any other law enforcement agency in the state. After spending the day with them, I still don’t know why law enforcement people do it. I’m just glad they do.

To Major Sampson and the men and women of Precinct 3 in Cobb County: Thank you for letting me see firsthand what goes on behind the scenes – from the ordinary to the scary. To the petulant young man at ABAC: It is not the country’s police force that is a crime, it’s your thumb-sucking attitude.