Many of you may not know, but this week is National Police Week. It’s a time when we are supposed to pay tribute to those who have fallen in the line of duty. These are the men and women who run toward those things that drive others away. They are the ones who risk everything to protect people they often do not know. They are the ones who work odd hours, are underpaid, and stand out in thunderstorms when the traffic signals fail.
They are also the ones who are often vilified, joked about, and stereotyped in fiction – and sometimes in real life. Part of this is because many of the interactions members of the public have with police officers are not considered positive ones. The most common is a traffic stop. Nobody likes being “inconvenienced” by being the subject of a traffic stop. Often, people think they are pointless and say, “I was just going 10 mph over the speed limit”. What they don’t realize is that each traffic stop is an important component of public safety.
When I was working patrol on midnight shift in Chesterfield County, Virginia, I could pretty much guarantee that out of every 10 cars I stopped, 1 would be driven by a drunk driver. I would also guess that 1 out of ever 20 drivers was wanted or had illegal drugs or guns in the car. And if you have never walked up behind a car at 3 AM, not knowing if someone is pointing a gun at you through a tinted window… then you really don’t understand the concept that there is no such thing as a “routine” traffic stop.
There are so many things that people don’t see when it comes to the police. They don’t see the resolution of a domestic violence call that happened behind closed doors. They don’t see the runaway child taken home to terrified parents. They don’t see the mentally ill subject who was safely restrained before he hurt himself. In fact, those “routine” calls don’t even make the news. These everyday calls for service are a blips on a radar that nobody seems to be manning.
And the one thing many people don’t see, because the statistics are spread out through multiple jurisdictions – they don’t see the 105 officers killed in the line of duty in 2013. Instead, they see the donut-eating cop being stereotyped on TV. The corrupt cop terrorizing citizens in the movies. The lazy cop shrugging off a distress call in a novel (because the author needs the non-cop protagonist to be the hero). The end result is that when we see a police officer having a cup of coffee at McDonald’s, part of us wonders if he or she is slacking off. Then, we go back to our jobs and take our own coffee breaks without a second thought.
This week… let’s not do that. Thank a cop.
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE and other works of fiction.
RESOLVE has been named a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization.
RESOLVE was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine.
His upcoming novel – Measure Twice – will be published by Assent Publishing