The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly About Policing In America

For those who don't know me, I'm a 41 year old white male. I was raised in an upper middle class neighborhood in Montgomery County, Maryland. I had some interaction with other races in high school but it was minimal. Growing up, all my friends were pretty much like me. I went to college at Georgia Southern University and again, became friends with guys like me. White, from middle class working families.

I joined a small city police force in southeast Georgia in 1998. The first time I set foot in what my training officer called, "Black Bottoms," - two streets with shacks that were barely standing, sagging front porches with older couples sipping beers, ovens that were also the winter heaters, anywhere from four to as many as eight people living in the three and four room shacks - I was scared shitless. 

It was so foreign to what I knew as a person, so unknown, so un-relatable, I was right to be scared. My training officer explained that the name, "Black Bottoms," comes from the people that live there, and that as patrol officers we never go there by ourselves. That probably scared me even more.

Since that time I've moved to a different department, and am now a shift Lieutenant, still on patrol. I've seen an awful lot over the last eighteen years. I've never shot at anyone, but I've come awfully close a few times.

With the Black Lives Matter movement, and then the events in Dallas, everyone and anyone is discussing policing. I've been a cop for a long time, and the last thing I want to do is launch into a post about my personal opinions about incidents I wasn't a part of.  Instead, I'd thought I'd let you all know what policing is like in America. And the truth is, it can be good, it can be bad, and it can be ugly. These are all from my own personal experiences and memories of things I will never forget.

I'll always remember the first time I gave CPR. She had a heart condition, was in her early fifties, and was in line at the bank when her heart stopped. I was pulling to a stop at a red light and this guy came running up yelling. I gave her CPR for what seemed like forever until the paramedics arrived. I went to the hospital and her husband and kids were there.  Then we found out she had been revived. The husband was thanking the doctor and he pointed at me and said, "Thank him. If she recovers it will be because of what he did." That guy hugged me, his kids hugged me and I felt amazing. I went to see her in the hospital a few days later and found out she had passed away. I sent a card to the husband offering my condolences and learned the hard way that I needed to disassociate myself and my personal feelings from the people I deal with at work. It was a hard lesson, but one that if you are going to do this job you better learn quick.

The guys in the department I first worked at still to this day call me Super Fly. They do because one night we were breaking up a party at the college and a female officer went to arrest this kid. That kid straight out punched her, another officer took him to the ground and the fight was on. I was still brand new, in training, but wanted to prove myself so much to the older guys, I jumped right into the fight and started hitting the guy. It was the first time I ever punched someone in the face. The guys all said I flew through the air trying to get into that fight, hence Super Fly.

I'll never forget getting woken up four hours early by a dispatcher. "David you need to come into work. Two deputies have been shot, we are covering the city and the county and the Lieutenant has requested all officers to come in." One of those deputies, Wilbur Berry, didn't make it. The guy that shot him had wrestled a gun away from another deputy and shot both of them, before a third deputy killed him. Later that night, the lieutenant asked me to go with him to do the death notification on the suspect who lived in the city. His family was understandably upset, but then one of the family members pulled me aside and asked me why we couldn't have just shot him in the leg or something. I was in shock. This guy had killed one cop, shot another and he didn't know why we couldn't have shot him In the leg? I didn't answer him.

On a family vacation with my extended family, my Aunt Dede told me about how she had watched on the news a bank robbery suspect come out with a hostage and the SWAT team killed the guy. Then she talked about how one of the SWAT guys had kicked the suspect when he was down and she kept saying, "It was just so violent." For some reason that really stayed with me. I thought about it for weeks, and wondered what my family would think of me if they had see me do some of the violent things I've done. I wondered if they would think less of me. It took me a month to realize most people go through life without ever seeing the violent things we encounter every day, and even fewer ever apply violence as part of their job.

On two occasions I've had to pull officers off suspects because they were taking it too far. One time a guy was already in handcuffs and an officer went to kick him. I never reported them though. And a complaint was never filed by either of the people that had been arrested, even thought that doesn't make it right.

I'll never forget the time I gave CPR to an infant during our horrible ice storm in 2014. The deputy that had been dispatched to it, his wife was pregnant and about ready to give birth, so James and I rushed over there. We didn't want him to have to deal with that with an infant on the way. James was giving compressions, and I was giving breaths where you cover the kids nose and mouth. Every time I breathed into her, when the air expelled, it came back out making her sound like she was sighing, almost giggling. I would look at James and he kept saying, "That's just the air coming back out."  She didn't make it.

I'll never forget the look on my daughters face when I went to her school for career week. She was so proud that her daddy was a police officer.

Probably the closest I ever came to shooting a guy was after a brief car chase. I was training a rookie and we were looking for a DUI. We pulled a car over for a tag violation and as I approached the drivers side I saw blood on the door. The suspect took off and we chased him into the next county. He crashed and jumped out and ran into a back yard where the rookie I was training tackled him. We were fighting with the guy, trying to get him handcuffed, and he bit the rookie pretty good and was able to get away from us. He ran back out front where I caught him again and tackled him. It turned into amateur boxing night in that front yard, and while I've probably punched five or six people in my life, that suspects jaw was by far the cleanest I have ever hit anyone. I cut my hand on his teeth. I remember thinking that I had hurt him, he was maybe five-seven, one hundred sixty pounds. He spit some blood out and said, "Now it's on," and walked toward me. I drew my handgun and said, "If you take one more step I'm going to shoot you in the fucking face." We stood there for a second and he took off running again. I gave chase, but was pretty much scared and out of gas. The car was stolen and he's never been identified. He was unarmed and had he taken one step closer to me I would have killed him.

One of my proudest moments was making the SWAT team. It took me a few tries, the tryouts are pretty tough, the shooting portion is really tough, and I was so proud I made it. Then six of us were sent to Fort Lauderdale to SWAT school for a week, and making it through that was an even prouder moment. Fifteen hour days, getting exposed to tear gas and pepper spray every day, killer workouts, fifteen minute lunches because, "we could be training during that time," and some amazing instructors who had been there-done that. The six of us from our department were doing the Seinfeld bet. The episode titled, The Bet is all I'll say about it. The instructors knew we were doing it and were making fun of us. Then, right before the written test on the last day we were in the Fort Lauderdale Police Headquarters. We all ran to the men's room real quick and I waited a few minutes after peeing. Then, I walked back to the room where we were taking the written test and put a five dollar bill on the table and said, "I'm out!" The lead instructor, a pretty bad-ass dude was at a loss for words. He was like, "Wait...hold on...you did that in our headquarters?"

I'll never forget the time a brand new female officer on my shift caught a kid breaking into a car. She rolled up on him, caught him in the act, and secured him right away. She was so proud. I asked her, "That feels good, doesn't it?" She smiled from ear to ear, "Hell yeah it does!"

I could probably go over every car chase I've ever been involved in. I've experienced a lot in my forty one years, but there is only one thing more exciting in life than a car chase. Thankfully, none of the ones I've been in have caused an accident with a bystander. I might feel different about them if that was the case.

Shortly after I made sergeant, my lieutenant and I were sent to an accidental shooting. A fourteen year old boy was playing with a revolver and killed himself. I was the first one there and I'll never forget the kids friends latching on to me when I ran up the driveway. They wouldn't let me go, they were screaming, and I kept yelling, "I have to see if I can help!" I finally peeled myself off them and when I got inside there was nothing I could do. Later on that night, my lieutenant was on the phone with his wife. She asked him what was going on and he said, "You don't want to know." That was it. He doesn't drink and I was baffled on how he would deal with the investigation we were now overseeing. I knew I was going to have a strong drink when I got home that morning just to help me sleep. Several years later I figured it out. And I can sleep good now no matter what happens at work. And to be honest, that kind of sucks. Sometimes that scares me more than anything.

One night I arrested this drunk guy for slapping his wife. When I got out of my car he walked up to me and said, "I hit my wife, I need to go to jail." Once my backup got there, that was pretty much what I did. I was taking him to jail and on the way there he started saying all sorts of crazy stuff like, "I know you want to take me to the woods and shoot me." Then he got real quiet and just stared at me. At the sally port at the jail I got him out of the car and bam, he head-butted me square in the nose, breaking it. I also ended up taking seven stitches. The deputies at the jail had taken him to the ground, he was already in handcuffs, and I was about to kick him in the head. Someone nodded to the camera in the sally port and I backed off.

A few Christmas' ago I caught the now famous booby bandit. This guy, he would go to Wal-Marts or other stores, walk up behind women and grab their breasts. Then he would run out of the store. We knew who he was, and I had been looking for him since he had grabbed a few that week. It was almost two in the morning and I saw a car in the Wal-Mart parking lot that didn't look right. It was running and unlocked. I checked the tag and sure enough, it was the booby bandit's parents car. He had switched up on us. He came running out and this guy is a lot taller than me, but I went to arrest him. Bam, the fight was on in the parking lot. He was able to get to his car with me pretty much on his back, get the door open and inside and able to start pulling off, dragging me in the process. I let him go, but another deputy was pulling up just as that was happening. We chased him and he crashed into another deputies car. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.

The first time my daughter rode in the police car with me was pretty cool. She is so innocent, isn't blinded by all the madness that surrounds us adults. She just knows her daddy is a police man, and is so proud of that. She loved it.

This past weekend, between Facebook posts and all the support we received from the community, it's a weekend I'll never forget. Because five officers in Dallas were killed our community banded together and there was more food dropped off at our sub-station than during Christmas. Pizza, cupcakes, cakes, cookies, sandwiches, all sorts of stuff. And then, my friend John posted a picture of me on Facebook and talked about me as a cop, and it was shared fifteen or twenty times. To top it all off my staff sgt and I attended a community rally at a local park, and that was also shared and commented on a good bit. The attention has been overwhelming at times. The support gives me hope.

I did a brief tour with the Crime Suppression Unit and part of my job was to keep track of a local gang. I ended up getting to know all those kids, and really worked with some of them trying to keep them on a good path. One kid in particular, I even offered to have him over so I could help him with his homework. It didn't work. He was probably the most talented basketball player I had ever seen, but because he couldn't keep his grades up, he wasn't allowed to play. One night the gang in question was at a community center for a party and a fight broke out. We were called and as soon as we pulled up shots were being fired into the air. I ran into the crowd and saw these kids fighting with another group. When they saw me they all ran and I gave chase. I tackled one in the middle of a four lane road, knocking my cell phone off my belt in the process. One of his buddies picked up my cell phone, and called 911 the next day four times threatening to kill the president of the United States. That still makes me laugh to this day. All the work I put in didn't help. They ended up robbing a dollar store and were all sent to prison.

Last summer I had come home for a bathroom break when my front door was almost knocked off its hinges by my neighbor screaming my name. Her granddaughter had drowned at our community pool. I raced over there and her grandson had the two year old out of the pool but was on the phone with 911 and didn't know what to do. I pushed on her chest pretty hard a few times and the girl expelled a good bit of water. I gave a few rescue breaths, but as I did I realized she was already breathing on her own. I held her in the recovery position until the ambulance got there. Then I scooped her up and ran with her to the paramedics. As I was running I noticed my good friend Michelle holding hands with members of our community and leading them in prayer. I was yelling at the kid to keep fighting. Later, after she was taken by the paramedics we had to close the pool down and call for investigations in case the kid didn't make it. My boss was standing there and was like, "Good God what stinks?" Well it was me, I had come home to use the bathroom and hadn't had a chance to clean up. They still make fun of me about that. The kid made a full recovery and I changed my shorts before I returned to duty.

I could keep going. Just now I'm thinking of nine or ten other memories that I could put here. But, like I said, policing in America is good. It can be bad. And it most definitely can be ugly. I hope I provided a good representation of what it's like to be a police officer. I would say that most of us, the majority of cops, never come to work looking to hurt someone. And, the reason we are quiet about some of the incidents is because we know what it's like to have a split second decision dissected, scrutinized, and opined on. But, in the same breath, with all the scrutiny maybe there will be some changes made, some policies revised, some answers to appease all sides.

But, that stuff doesn't really matter to me. I'll be going back to work Friday night. I'll make sure my gun is ready, and hope I never have to use it.