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Old 5 June 2018, 00:01
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A Cop Speaks the Truth...

I was thirty when I hit the street as a rookie cop. I had served a decade in the Army and traveled the world. I often felt somewhat unprepared to deal with the human/social situations I was trying to navigate on the job, but I knew I was a lot better at it than the 22-year-old kids I worked alongside. During my five years as a cop, one of my biggest issues was the lack of empathy I saw from fellow cops and the rest of the justice system.

Long-time cop Greg Ellifritz hits the 10-ring in this op-ed.

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Compassion & Life Experience in Law Enforcement
Greg Ellifritz

Iíve been working lately with a very young crew of cops. I usually work the street with up to four other officers and a sergeant. It isnít unusual to have the combined years of service of those five guys adding up to a number significantly less than the 23 years Iíve been working as a cop. Experiences with these guys have caused me to reflect on the effect that youth has on the police profession and society in general.

I bear no ill will toward the younger guys, and in fact, think that most of them are exemplary human beings. On the other side of the coin, I also think the relative youth of the officers we hire contributes to a lot of the problems we have in policing today.

We hire young guys and gals in their early 20s. They have essentially zero life experience. They possess a college degree and have generally lived a pretty smooth life. They havenít ever been arrested, they have no substance abuse problems, and they donít have an unreasonable amount of debt. We donít hire candidates with criminal histories, mental illness, drug use in their backgrounds, or financial problems. All of that shows poor judgement and we try not to hire candidates with poor judgment.

Our new cops have generally never experienced the crushing loss of a loved one or a friendís death. They donít know anyone who is addicted to pain pills or who drinks a bottle of vodka every night to keep the demons at bay. Theyíve never dealt with schizophrenia or autism or paranoia. Theyíve never been in a romantic relationship that has gone so badly that one party or the other resorts to physical violence.

What do you think cops deal with on a daily basis? Drug addiction. Alcoholism. Mental illness. Crushing poverty. Family problems and dead bodies. Lots of poor judgement.

Because our young cops havenít directly experienced such things, they lack a certain perspective when it comes to dealing with those problems. Without such perspective, they default to making arrests. Young cop sees a person breaking a law. Young cop arrests the law breaker. Problem solved, at least from the perspective of the young cop. In reality, arrests seldom really solve any problems. But it takes 15 or 20 years of arresting people before a cop realizes that fact.

I was the same way. I got hired as a cop when I was 22 years old. I had graduated college three months before and was still living with my parents. For my first few years, I led the department in numbers of arrests. I arrested every law breaker I found and thought I was doing the right thing.

I remember the first time I recognized that all my arrests might be less productive than I had originally believed. I had a couple years of experience and was working the midnight shift. I found two guys who were shit-faced drunk and staggering in the middle of a busy roadway at 2 a.m. I immediately arrested the two guys for public intoxication. They were legitimately in danger of being run over by a car in their drunken condition and I thought I was doing the right thing by pulling them out of the roadway and taking them to jail.

When I got them to the station, they told me their story. The two men were brothers. Their father had died earlier in the week. Their deceased father wished to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in a nearby river where he liked to fish. The sons wanted to honor their fatherís wishes, but didnít want to get in any trouble for scattering the cremains in the water.

They chose to do the deed under the cover of darkness when they were less likely to be seen. They passed the evening by drinking beer, talking about their dead father, and waiting for the level of darkness they needed to conceal their illegal dumping.

They were really drunk by the time they thought it was best to scatter the ashes. They didnít want to hurt anyone by driving in that condition, so they carried the ashes to the river on foot. They were walking home when they encountered the young cop who arrested them.

I remember the desk officer (who had about 25 years experience) looking at me after these guys told their story. He told me: ďYou made a bullshit arrest.Ē I didnít understand him at the time. I thought I was saving these guys from getting hit by a car. Now I realize I was being a dick. Those guys didnít need to go to jail. They needed to be treated with compassion during a difficult time.

It would be great to have cops over 35 years of age making all the arrest decisions. But police work isnít an old manís game.

Unfortunately, the police academy doesnít teach compassion. That can only be learned through a lifetime of experience and practice. The police academy teaches young recruits how to arrest criminals so thatís exactly what I did.

Now if I encountered the same dudes in a similar situation, Iíd probably give them a heart-felt hug and a ride home instead of a set of steel bracelets. Thatís the value of a couple decades worth of perspective.

A lot of our societal problems would be better handled by cops who have a little more life experience. It would be great to have cops over 35 years of age making all the arrest decisions. But police work isnít an old manís game. By the time most good cops reach this level of experience, they are off the street and working in administrative or supervisory positions. That leaves the young guys to call the shots on the street.

I see all the smart older guys leaving the job in a mass exodus as soon as they are eligible to retire. Itís getting ever harder to find quality younger candidates who even want to be police officers. I donít see things getting any better in the future.

Greg Ellifritz, Active Response Training
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Old 5 June 2018, 00:14
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Good article.
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Old 5 June 2018, 01:58
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spot the fuck on...
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Old 5 June 2018, 06:29
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That was a great read. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 5 June 2018, 06:31
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Great post gavin. There’s the “letter” of the law and the “spirit” of the law. It takes experience and a desire to understand the given situation to figure out which one to side closer with.
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Old 5 June 2018, 07:54
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Thanks for sharing this. There’s two words young Police Officers don’t have in their vocabulary, compassion and scared.
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Old 5 June 2018, 08:08
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Good article. Sounds like there needs to be a course st the Avademies titled "Don't be a dick".

Many states, such as Indiana have an age cut off of 35 for hire. Maybe needs to go the other way - need to be at least 35 to get hired.
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Old 5 June 2018, 08:14
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Not everyone who breaks the law needs to be arrested. Sometimes, just getting caught is enough "punishment." Many young officers simply don't want to take the time to find out the motive behind the crime, but simply arrest, arrest, arrest. After all, it's the *stats* that count.

Arrests are life-altering events for a lot of people that puts a black mark on them for the rest of their lives. It's a serious action that needs serious consideration before being acted upon.

Good article with a lot of valid points....
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Old 5 June 2018, 08:22
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Have good friend, over a year ago arrested for DUI. Two combat tours in Afghan. Purple Heart. Has Purple Heart license plate. Had a few too many, he was feeling depressed - anniversary of a team mate killed. Got pulled over a mile from his home at 3:00 am. Blew a 0.10 (0.08 is the legal limit). Arrested for a DUI. Now out several thousand dollars, could not find a job for a year, etc. Not excusing a DUI, but instead of an arrest a good ass chewing and a ride home, and a promise to the officer to go to counseling would have been a better outcome.

He is a good man. He has since recovered and through a mutual friend who was best friends with a local bank president, now has a good job as a bank tellers. But he still carries a black mark that excludes him from some of the other jobs he was considering and would have done well at (police officer himself, firefighter, border patrol).
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Last edited by leopardprey; 5 June 2018 at 08:29.
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Old 5 June 2018, 10:11
8654maine 8654maine is online now
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It's all about compassion and empathy.

And occasional boot up ass.

Like any other job.
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Old 5 June 2018, 10:38
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Life experience and compassion is always a good thing but I tend to roll my eyes any time I hear about how younger officers don't get it, etc. That's a story as old as time. I work with young guys that hit the ground running and older dudes who have sucked for twenty years. I believe it's the individual.
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Old 5 June 2018, 10:56
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Good article.
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Originally Posted by Massgrunt View Post
Life experience and compassion is always a good thing but I tend to roll my eyes any time I hear about how younger officers don't get it, etc. That's a story as old as time. I work with young guys that hit the ground running and older dudes who have sucked for twenty years. I believe it's the individual.
I agree. Old guys always have and always will complain about young guys.
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Old 5 June 2018, 11:48
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Massgrunt View Post
Life experience and compassion is always a good thing but I tend to roll my eyes any time I hear about how younger officers don't get it, etc. That's a story as old as time. I work with young guys that hit the ground running and older dudes who have sucked for twenty years. I believe it's the individual.
I had the opposite experience. Granted, I was only a cop for 5 years, but I never worked with a young cop that "got it" unless that young cop came from a pretty fucked up family/social background. In my personal experience it has nothing to do with "getting it" and more to do with having lived longer and having made some mistakes of one's own. I worked with a bunch of old cops that never "got it," because empathy is not automatic.

Cliches are only cliches because they are generally true. I don't roll my eyes when folks talk about it being a bad idea for young soldiers to marry strippers, and that one is also as old as time...
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Old 5 June 2018, 12:03
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leopardprey View Post
Have good friend, over a year ago arrested for DUI. Two combat tours in Afghan. Purple Heart. Has Purple Heart license plate. Had a few too many, he was feeling depressed - anniversary of a team mate killed. Got pulled over a mile from his home at 3:00 am. Blew a 0.10 (0.08 is the legal limit). Arrested for a DUI. Now out several thousand dollars, could not find a job for a year, etc. Not excusing a DUI, but instead of an arrest a good ass chewing and a ride home, and a promise to the officer to go to counseling would have been a better outcome.

He is a good man. He has since recovered and through a mutual friend who was best friends with a local bank president, now has a good job as a bank tellers. But he still carries a black mark that excludes him from some of the other jobs he was considering and would have done well at (police officer himself, firefighter, border patrol).
The PH plate should have been worth the "professional courtesy" I'll bet he would have received had he been one of that cops fellow officers.....
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Old 5 June 2018, 12:06
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bobofthedesert View Post
The PH plate should have been worth the "professional courtesy" I'll bet he would have received had he been one of that cops fellow officers.....
Not necessarily, as far as cops not arresting other cops. In my experience, young cops will arrest another cop in a heartbeat...besides, PH recipients don't rate anything special. PH just means you were the slowest gazelle that day.
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Old 5 June 2018, 12:11
Gsniper Gsniper is offline
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As Joe Citizen I wish "beat and release" was still a viable punishment option. I'd rather get scuffed up for minor infractions than get jammed long term. When I was about 17-18 a deputy snatched my drunk ass buddy out of the back of a pickup for getting mouthy and shook him around like a rag doll for about 2 mins and told us to take his loudmouth drunk ass home.

I know, I know, that dog won't hunt in today's LE environment.
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Old 5 June 2018, 12:29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gsniper View Post
As Joe Citizen I wish "beat and release" was still a viable punishment option. I'd rather get scuffed up for minor infractions than get jammed long term. When I was about 17-18 a deputy snatched my drunk ass buddy out of the back of a pickup for getting mouthy and shook him around like a rag doll for about 2 mins and told us to take his loudmouth drunk ass home.

I know, I know, that dog won't hunt in today's LE environment.
Unfortunately, the current nature of civil liability drives much of LE policy. If a cop pulls over a DUI veteran with PH plates, and decides to leave the car parked, and give the drunk vet a ride somewhere other than jail, the cop (and his agency) incur liability if the car gets stolen or the drunk decides he's good to drive after the cop drops him somewhere. If the cop drops the drunk vet at a friend's house, and the drunk leaves and gets run over...lawsuit.

Arrest the drunk, tow the car incident to arrest...no chance of lawsuit.
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Old 5 June 2018, 12:36
Gsniper Gsniper is offline
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Yeah, I get it, I'm just pining for the old days.
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Old 5 June 2018, 12:43
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Yeah, I get it, I'm just pining for the old days.
When I was a cop, I got chewed out for not complying with policy quite often when it came to who I didn't arrest or ticket. I was trying to be the kind of cop my great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and step-father were. The difference between "Enforce The Law" and "Keep The Peace."
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Old 5 June 2018, 12:47
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Today's "Professional" LEO's need to go into the profession realizing that if they do what is right, it may be a lonely road to walk down and if they aren't willing to do so, they need to find something else to do.

Often times, when one does the "right" thing, they find resistance. It can be frustrating if they don't have the internal drive to be able to do it without a lot of support.
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