The noble burden of police work
Sun Tzu said it is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.
Robert Peel, in his 7th of 9 Principles of Law Enforcement, wrote that "the police are the public and the public are the police". Referring to that notion as having been a historic tradition of policing itself.
The knights of England, and many other countries, were trained in war and worked in other pursuits during peace time.
So what is, or what has become, modern day policing?
Is it viral videos of entire departments dancing or doing the newest online trend? Is it that sneaky video a citizen took as an officer does some sort of mundane task for another like tying a tie or helping change a tire? Is it officers running their department's twitter or social media feeds to inform the citizenry of traffic incidents, crime, or other things?
Or is it more of what someone may deem as nefarious?
Is it that officer not properly using the authority given to them by the people they swore to serve? Is it the ability to use force? To take a life legally? To have the ability to have sway over another when backed by the government they work for?
Ask any cop and you'll hear them scoff at either list of things. You'll hear answers about how many think the happy-go-lucky things are stupid, or useless. They say the nefarious things when abused are what makes our profession look bad, that the rotten apple spoils the bunch.
At the heart of policing there is a crossroads I feel. Where the warrior spirit, the ideas of Sir Peel, Tzu's words, the chivalry of the knights of yesteryear, modern technology and social media, proper understanding of laws, and a strong ethical foundation and moral compass meet is where we get good police and police work. That takes a person of strong mind and body. Someone that is willing to confront the dark areas of society, yet be able to stand in the spotlight unabashedly.
Sometimes there is an unbalance in an individual. Perhaps more warrior than needed, or even more "of the people" than needed. Or even someone who is wishy-washy and unable to choose the type of cop THEY want to be and end up being someone who they don't want to be. I've heard it said that it takes more time and energy to be someone you're not than to just be yourself.
The unbalance can be similar to the difference between the Spartans and the Knights of England. The Spartans were warriors first and foremost, whereas the English knights were farmers, fathers, blacksmiths, shop owners, land owners, or what have you before they were warriors. The knight idea really drives home Peel's principle I feel.
I think Sir Peel's ideals of where the police come from is important. If an officer forgets their authority comes from the very people they stepped out from, that being the normal citizens, then they have forgotten who they are. While modern day policing has had to change with the times in regards to weapons, tactics, vehicles, and training, it hasn't venture at all from the Bobbies of England or the beat cops that walked the streets of Chicago. If modern technology hadn't changed, we probably would still have cops walking a beat with a baton and maybe a gun.
There will always be an inherent nobility to police work. That noble power comes from the knowledge that an officer carries a lot of responsibility. There is no other profession that can legally take the life of another when the justification is there. There is no other profession that can legally take the freedom, temporarily or permanently, of another. There is no profession that creates a separation between the depravity of humanity and the same citizens that the officer walked out from when accepting their role as a peacemaker. The nobility comes from that invisible line that the citizen steps over to accept the authority, burden, and calling that is police work.
That same line causes the issues that officer's face as humans. The stress, the constant hyper-vigilance, the mayhem they see, the death that sometimes seems to surround them, the horrors that are people inflict on each other. The burden that is the badge isn't just in the weight of the gear an officer needs to wear, or the bumps and bruises an officer's body faces over a career, but the burden is the very nobility of the job itself. That nobility can cause an officer to rise to the moment and be called a hero, like Chicago has seen in Bauer, Jimenez, Gary, and Marmolejo. It can also be the burden that drags an officer into the darkest places an officer's mind can wander, holding them there, and sometimes causing an officer to see no other way out other than taking their own life, as sadly Chicago has also seen.
The nobility that is police work is a double edge sword that the officer must carry every day. On- or off-duty; working in plain clothes, undercover, in uniform, on the beat, on a specialized team, or even in a community outreach capacity that sword must be borne. But that sword is not borne in vain.
I'm sure I'm like most police officers out there, but we hope we are never called upon to wield the sword against the same people we stepped out from to carry the burden of nobility. But if so, we are that warrior in a garden, that is garden of the public.