Years ago, a beefy police dispatcher not so patiently explained to me the difference between a robbery and a burglary.
I was a beginning reporter, and had mistakenly called a burglary a robbery. In print.
A robbery, he explained, is when you threaten someone to steal something. A burglary is when you take something when they aren’t around. Big difference.
I never made that mistake again.
As a newsman, I’ve had plenty of dealings with police officers and deputies over the years.
– A quiet, sincere deputy I spoke to many times – as I recall he grew up on a local ranch – died in a small plane crash, searching for a snowmobiler lost in the mountains. The snowmobiler was later found unhurt, but the deputy and the pilot died in the search.
– In another town, a police chief took a dislike to our paper, and started calling everyone arrested John Doe, Mary Doe, Bob Doe, to be difficult. So we put the “Doe Report” on the front page of the paper each day, reporting on the ongoing woes of the Doe family. After a week of ridicule, the chief went back to releasing real names.
– Also in that town, a police officer who was on the school board, tired of what he considered unfair coverage in the newspaper, wore his bulletproof vest, on the outside of his shirt, to a meeting. To make a point. (Sensitive guy.)
– At the crash of a private airplane up in the mountains, I saw Highway Patrol officers and sheriff’s deputies loading body parts into body bags. Imagine your job including that task.
– A justice of the peace in one town had an ongoing feud with the sheriff, accusing the sheriff of making faces at him from the back of the courtroom. The sheriff said I should sit in on some court sessions to see the best show in town.
So I did. And one day, that justice of the peace allowed a state legislator to plead guilty, in private, to drunk driving. In the hallway afterwards, I repeatedly asked the justice of the peace why the plea was taken behind closed doors.
“Arrest that man!” the JP said to a a sheriff’s deputy, pointing at me. “I don’t see anybody,” replied the smiling deputy. Word that the JP tried to arrest a reporter quickly spread around the courthouse. When I got upstairs to the district court, the District Judge laughed and said if they had arrested me, he would have put me “on work release.”
– Once, when my brother was overdue getting to our house in Illinois from Ohio in a snowstorm, a friend who was the former police chief offered to get in his car and help search for him. (Turned out my brother was OK.) When I moved away, that former chief gave me a framed copy of Voltaire’s quote, “I may disagree with what you say, but shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.”
– A veteran police officer in Illinois was part of my coffee group at a place called “Common Grounds.” He liked the fact that I referred to him as “a friend who is a cop,” instead of “a cop friend.”
A talented woodworker, he had a beautifully restored 1950s-era pickup truck, and he loved to ride his Harley. When I moved from Illinois to Nebraska, he pulled a trailer loaded with my stuff, then helped me unload.
He told me once that he never had to draw his sidearm in all his years on the job.
I’ve seen plenty of law enforcement folks over the years – some great guys, some ornery, a whiner or two, a couple heroes, and one who drove 1,600 miles round trip to help me move.
Point is, making sweeping generalizations about “all cops” is just as wrong as lumping peaceful demonstrators with looters.
I’d bet that every officer mentioned in this column is appalled by that calmly homicidal cop in Minneapolis who choked the life out of George Floyd.
Some guys just shouldn’t be cops, but it’s my experience that those cases are exceedingly rare.
I know I never ran into one.