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Coolness in the Face of Anger Is Part of the Job : Police: Despite the mayhem they witness, officers should act professionally and with respect--or leave the force.

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I have seen my share of human misery, dead bodies, broken-hearted victims, recalcitrant juveniles and parolees just out of prison with no marketable job skills. Once during 10 years as a street patrol officer for the Los Angeles Police Department, I even saw one person shoot another in the head, right in front of my face.

I’ve also lived all my life in various parts of South-Central Los Angeles, and in some police assignments traveled only a few blocks from watch tour to home, where the helicopter noise didn’t stop, the sounds of gunfire didn’t stop, the sirens didn’t stop. I have encountered, in the local markets, people I once arrested. By living in South-Central, I sometimes even wonder if I am part of the “them” or part of the “us”.

I don’t fault officers who live outside the city--that’s a personal choice. What I don’t buy and cannot accept is the feeling that officers witness so much human mayhem that it hardens them and taints their ability to effectively serve the community’s overwhelming majority that adheres to the law.

The fact is, most of the time, that police officers get there after the homicide has occurred or after the burglar has left. We record the tragedies more than we live them. The possibility of a violent encounter involving an officer is unpredictable and very real, and I would never minimize the seriousness of those encounters. However, I speak from experience--what we face on daily basis is often the routine.

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We hear the argument that police have only two alternatives for crime prevention--either go in and do a job with no holds barred or don’t do anything. This either/or mentality should be rejected by every officer who has attempted to mediate, counsel, and problem-solve each encounter on an individual basis.

While working my patrol assignments, I attempted to use some method of conflict resolution for each arrest situation. When a person is stopped and arrested, I know that his initial reaction will be one of anger. During the encounter, the anger begins to subside. This is hastened if, during this initial period, the officer remains firm yet respectful. Once the anger has subsided, the arrested person generally goes through a period of reflection on the actions that led to his arrest. And after reflection comes resolution. The person realizes that it was something that he did to trigger the arrest, whether unpaid traffic tickets that went into a warrant, a family dispute that got out of hand or a planned crime. Problems and ill will between officer and arrested generally occur during the initial moments, especially when anger meets anger. That is when the professionals must remain in control of their emotions.

South-Central Los Angeles has myriad problems, as do urban areas across the nation. These problems are something that society, as a whole, must address. But the men and women who work as police officers in this city must not allow their own loss of innocence to interfere with their mature, professional conduct when working anywhere in the city.

My suggestion to any officer is that if police work has taken you to the point of wanting to punish the offender, then maybe you should try another line of work.

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