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Mike Hendricks

Mike at Night

Mike Hendricks recently retires as social science, criminal justice instructor at McCook Community College.

Cops don't get a fair shake

Friday, June 30, 2017

I watch a lot of police movies and television shows and read a lot of books about police work and it seems evident to me that screenwriters and authors are describing them from only one perspective and any one perspective boxes a person or a group in. This perspective certainly does because it portrays most police officers as being bad cops. They’re either on the take, looking the other way when crimes are committed, ignoring drug deals, participating in drug deals themselves and profiting from it illegally and just about any other criminal activity one can think of.

It didn’t use to be that way. The first police officer to make a name for himself writing about the police work he was actively involved in was Joseph Wambaugh, who wrote his first police novel, The New Centurions back in 1960 while serving as a Los Angeles police officer. He described cops and police work honestly and forthrightly but did not make the mistake of referring to them as being all the same because no group of people is all the same.

I saw no widespread graft or corruption during my five years of police work back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. But I can tell you it has always been a temptation for many because of the relatively low salaries of police officers in general. Larger cities are finally seeing the light and raising officer pay to a livable standard of living because they finally realize that acts as a legitimate defense about potential bad cops who could make more money illegally than legally. But medium and small police departments are still mired in low pay which makes corruption much more likely.

One of the most scathing attacks on police corruption was fact, however, and not fiction. It was called “The Seven Five and described how corrupt Michael Dowd was during his tenure as a uniformed police officer on patrol in New York City in the 1980s. The documentary revealed that Dowd reportedly made millions of dollars illegally while patrolling the streets, doing whatever it took to be paid by the bad guys while supposedly living up to his oath as a police officer to protect the ordinary citizens of his district. He was arrested in 1992, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to prison that same year. He freely gave up all information on himself in hopes of a favorable plea bargain but that was not to come.

So these are the stories we hear about and read about. And like so many people, a lot of people draw conclusions and apply those conclusions to all cops everywhere. If all we see and read about are bad cops, then it’s likely that a lot of people are going to think all cops are bad.

They’re not. Most cops are hard-working, civic-minded people who felt a desire to protect and to serve, the motto that is on police cars all across the country. But good guys don’t get headlines. So we tend not to hear about the kind and sacrificial acts made by police officers from coast to coast when one corrupt officer makes for such a better story. So we seek out the latter and forget about the former.

That puts at least a part of the public in collusion with the people who film and write about exceptions to the rule rather than the norm because the exceptions are a lot more fun to talk about. But if that’s all you pay attention to and that leads you to develop a negative attitude against ALL police officers because of your one-sided perspective on police work, then you’re on the side of fiction rather than fact.

I trust and believe in them enough to know that if there’s one person coming to help, save, or protect me, I want it to be a cop.

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