Last week, I wrote about a San Francisco police officer named Morgan (not the officer’s real name). Morgan’s observations were too numerous and important to share in a single post. Here in part two, Morgan relates challenges with which police deal every day. This may shed a new light on the childhood game of cops and robbers.
Any workday can present police with life-threatening danger. Once, Morgan and a partner chased two homicide suspects. The suspects were shooting at them. Real guns. Real bullets. “Most people run from danger,” Morgan says. “Police run towards it.” What was Morgan thinking? “We need to get these people.” Morgan is thankful for never having had to fire a weapon. Still, when an officer fires in a dangerous situation, says Morgan, people complain. They say the officer didn’t need to shoot or should have shot the suspect in the leg or hand. “They want to know why we can’t do what they do on TV. Reality is, we’re trained to shoot to stop the threat.” An officer who doesn’t is likely to be killed.
The media, according to Morgan, goes for the sensational. TV dramas and movies distort images of police. “They play up corruption, criminal activity, killing people. Unless you ride along with police officers, you can’t understand the actions we take, why we do what we do.” Morgan doesn’t watch much TV
San Francisco is a tough place to be a cop. “We’re sometimes called to be the touchy-feely police.” SFPD officers are taught to call people sir and ma’am, to be respectful and polite. While officers can escalate a number of levels of physical force, “The majority uses a great deal of restraint. We first try verbal persuasion.”
The Office of Citizen Complaints makes police wary. Some complaints are deserved. Many aren’t. A complaint was filed when Morgan issued a parking ticket right after 9/11 as if parking in a red zone should have been allowed as America sorted out grief and confusion. Morgan has faced more serious accusations, none true. “People can accuse an officer of anything. A drunk guy accused me of stealing his jewelry and calling him names. My partner and I had to tackle him and take him to jail. Actually, he was calling us names.”
People can skew a scene to their own perceptions. “I’ve been in situations that people are yelling that I’m hurting the person I’m trying to arrest, but they don’t know the whole story, what the person did, what led up to my action.” Complaints may be dismissed, but they still stay in an officer’s file.
Stress is high and ongoing. Morgan believes that the majority of police officers everywhere suffer from PTSD. “It’s like going to war every day. It’s traumatizing.” Unfortunately, few police can find a home in San Francisco. Police are well paid, but Morgan believes San Francisco to be “absolutely not affordable.”
Still, Morgan loves police work. “This is the best job I’ve ever had. I love the excitement. Every day is different. As a patrol officer, I have a lot of freedom. I enjoy that.”
There are many Morgans out there answering our calls when we need them. That’s worth thinking about.
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