Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Am The Law

When I was in college, I had a job with the Student Patrol. It was a nice gig, doing a bunch of things that it didn't make sense to have a state policeman (the campus police were a detachment of the state police) do. One evening, I was "walking my beat," tramping across the campus in the falling snow (a gentle snowfall can make even a concrete jungle look amazing). To be out in the weather, I was up on top of the concrete causeways that traveled across the campus, about a story off the ground. Nothing much was happening, until I heard a man's voice below me, going on about how he had a temper, and she'd wish that she hadn't made him angry, et cetera. I listened for a bit, then looked over the edge, and saw a man walking along under the edge of the causeway. I took a bit of time to commit some of his details to memory, then retreated to the center of the causeway, out of sight, and radioed back to the dispatchers at the police station, with what I'd heard and a description of the man. Of course, given that I was on the radio, the officers could hear me, too, and within a couple of minutes squad cars were converging on my location. But while I was talking to the station, the man I'd been following disappeared. Because he was under the causeway, in an area sheltered from the snow, he hadn't left tracks, so I had no way of knowing where he might have gone. The officers started fanning out to look for him, figuring that he couldn't have gone far on foot. Not long after this, there was a call from the administration building - one of the officers had caught a man fighting with a woman there. Everyone rushed to the scene, including myself. Sure, enough, it was the same guy. He'd turned around and headed back the way he'd come and gone back to punch out his (ex-?)wife who worked in the building. Given that the police were already looking around for a man matching his description, he didn't manage to get back out of the building before being arrested. A couple of the police officers were really happy that they'd caught the guy, and commended me for calling him in. I, however, was crushed.

Some people get into law enforcement to help people, but some people get into law enforcement to get the bad guys.
Jennifer Granik ("The Shout" 4 September, 2005)
And some people get into law enforcement to help people by getting the bad guys. It's an easy formulation to make. I was bitterly upset that I hadn't managed to keep tabs on the guy before he'd gone back to the administration building.

I recall this episode every time I come across a story about the police, and the fact that people are unhappy with them for having done this or that. With a little careful reading, I can usually see how the officers in question had become focused on getting the bad guys, and how things got out of hand from there. I think that if I'd gone on to become a police officer, that maybe I'd be another one of those types who believes in making the world a safer place through clearing the streets of riffraff. I don't know. But I do understand that in the real world people don't do bad things because they understand that they're doing a bad thing. They're either doing a good thing or a necessary thing.

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