My dog is a Briard, an ancient herding breed. We have no flock. She gently herds small children at campsites who run away from their family’s camper, insists our home’s visitors sit down and sit still, and seems puzzled at pigeons that fly off – after all, she wants only to contain them for their own good. We have found no city-suitable sheep, so she has made work for herself that does neither her nor us nor others any harm.
As a patrol officer, I ask you now to consider how like sheepdogs are modern cops. Because our work is so much what and (as much as) we make it, we often find ourselves looking in on civilians. Rather than being valued for looking in alleys and asking pointed questions, they feel we make nuisances of ourselves in creating our jobs where – like a busy dog – no work or attention from us is wanted. We are the unwelcome intrusion or distraction simply because we feel we have no choice, we are doing the work we are supposed to do!
We are blamed when children bring guns to school, for not catching them before they crawl through holes in fences at the river and drown. When the bad guy gets away, when anyone’s feelings are hurt, well then, why didn’t the police “do something”?
So we drive around and spy and “pry.” We break up loud parties for anonymous next-door neighbors who are afraid of retaliation. We give advice that is sullenly received, unwanted (and sometimes unheeded) orders. Like the Briard, we do no harm, but we are seen, at the very least, as an annoyance.
Yet the public says it does not want the police to pay such close attention. Police are constantly hovering, looking, inquiring as to “What’s going on here?” If it’s true that our presence is resented – is a sea change possible?
I have a suggestion for those who would gladly deprive us of the guard-dog role that the public itself participated in thrusting upon us.
You, John Q. Public, must agree to be more responsible.
If you don’t want the police at your door the next time your party gets loud, listen to your weary neighbors and trouble them no more – you won’t have to see us. There should henceforward be no more suing the City because you were looking at the tall buildings, some entertaining ad, or a street performer instead of where you were going, when you then tripped off the curb and got an owie. You agree that no judge will hear your “defense” of “I got hit by that car because the cop didn’t tell me not to walk against the light”, especially when the officer couldn’t possibly have noticed you because s/he had his/her hands full controlling vehicular traffic. You will agree not to make excuses when you make a preventable omission in judgment. You agree you are responsible for your own actions.
Can you be counted on to do this very simple thing? If so, we will all benefit. Taxes should go down when there are fewer lawsuits, or they can be used to truly improve and beautify towns.
You as citizens will agree to pay attention to where you walk, where your heads approach tree limbs or poles or street signs. Where possible, parents must keep their own, and each others’, children from harm – by telling them to throw stones at targets only, or not letting them play on age-inappropriate structures, for example. And if the neighbor chides your child, you and your offspring must take it in stride.
When we finish at the firing range, our instructors say “Police your brass”. This means that each picks up his or her own shell casings. In other words, clean up your own mess.
Therefore we must all monitor both ourselves and our neighbors, willingly and in a spirit of cooperation. Look first to the good of the community, and sacrifice your own interests for it. This could mean you won’t blow off fireworks, since your neighbor just had a baby, or the people across the street had an elder move in with them, or the cop (or nurse or undertaker or firefighter) at the corner has to get up in one hour for work. If you’re told your teens are loudly revving their car engines while you’re away, despite being asked (once) to please be quiet, when you return you’ll take away the keys or other privileges.
It will take awhile for the word to get out that this is how it should be, and this is how it can stay. And it will take awhile for law enforcement to follow suit. Though we will never relax completely, I promise, when it’s safe, we will try.
Be the leader. Show the rest of the human pack how to be aware, how to do the right thing, how to enjoy quiet and calm activities. Brush the (real) dogs, take a walk, play chess. Lead those of us in law enforcement not into unnecessarily looking at you or making work where none was needed.
When the people lead, the leaders will follow.
And the sheepdogs can nose around elsewhere.
(This was originally published in 2007 in a now-shuttered Chicago paper, Inside)