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Saturday, October 27, 2012

“You know, man, they just hate us.” 

In another city and time, my friend from “the Barrio” believed that. I didn't  I believed cops “serve and protect” all citizens. The “hatred” she saw, I thought, was anger at the crime, at the criminals; cops reacting to the deplorable living conditions they saw. But they didn't hate any of the folks they served and protected.

Perhaps they resented what seemed to be acceptance of crime and criminals in that community, and she viewed their resentment as hate. I was never able to convince her.

Serve and Protect

Cops serve and protect every single citizen in the City --always,” according to a police sergeant from that city and time.

Full disclosure; I spent a little time wearing the badge a long time ago; and I do believe that cops fall among the most honorable of men (and women, if that needs to be said). Their ethics tend be high, like those of nurses and small-congregations' ministers. And like them, there are a few bad apples in their ranks. But most embrace integrity and professionalism.

Now, in Costa Mesa, I've had a chance to meet a few cops, and to ride along with one, through the Citizens’ Academy. (That’s an educational program of CMPD that I recommend highly for anyone who wants to know what the department is really doing, and what cops really need.)

I still believe that cops serve and protect all of the citizens. But, after Thursday, I understood better what my friend from the barrio was trying to tell me. There are exceptions.

While at City Hall

I visited City Hall that morning with three purposes: I wanted to attend the CM Taxpayers’ press conference about the sign-destroying episode. If the time worked out right, I wanted to learn a little about a local cop during his retirement celebration (Passing of the Badge): School Resource Officer Jess Gilman has made a big difference in Costa Mesa. And, as a photographer I wanted to get some good pictures under high contrast conditions.

Unfortunately, the camera was DOA, and I learned something I didn't want to know.

Understanding cops

During the Citizen’s Academy we've learned how ethical cops have to be. Law Enforcement is one of the few professions (it’s like nursing) in which lying about professional matters, even once, is likely to end the job, maybe even the career.

Even private life difficulties can impact their jobs. Like nurses, a DUI or spousal abuse conviction can end a career. For cops, less serious infractions like a speeding ticket can be job threatening, too. Costa Mesa PD holds their sworn officers to high standards.

Prevent crime by knowing the community

And the Department takes community policing seriously. The officers know their beats and the people who live there very well, like the “old time” cop who walked a beat. But, they are still hated by some for being cops.

“Yeah, they just see the uniform and it dredges up all of their old resentments. It’s decreasing since we got the (skinhead) gangs pretty well out of here. . .crime went way down . . .new generation might even grow up knowing we’re here for them, too.”

Cops are professionals here

My classmates told of similar remarks they heard during their ride-alongs. We were universally impressed with the professionalism, devotion, patience, and integrity of the cops we rode with. Costa Mesa has professional street cops.

Cops serve and protect every single citizen in the City,” applies right now in Costa Mesa.

Back to City Hall

Fitzpatrick prepared for his CM Taxpayers’ press conference as members of the Department walked past, going to the ceremony in Council Chambers. Jim’s organization opposes the high benefits enjoyed by police officers, which is certainly a point of contention – and arguable (see Blog 4 Sep.). But, there’s no way he or his organization could be perceived as criminal.

Chief Gazsi demonstrated the professionalism we've come to expect from an exemplary leader, greeting Jim amiably as he passed. The Chief is under pressure from the City Council to perform, from the unions to conform, and from political factions to support their separate viewpoints. But he’s a consummate professional, and a leader, and he sets a good example for his sworn officers. His street cops follow his example.

While I was trying to resuscitate my camera, two tall officers walked by – frowns, barely civil in returning the “good mornings.” They were identified as senior police staff. Some non-sworn personnel passed, with variable courtesy. And an officer with a shaved head, another senior police officer, passed.


Suddenly he whirled, head thrust forward, “fighting face on,” one fist clenched: “What did you say?” he demanded through clenched teeth. His posture, expression, and face were loaded with anger and hate – yes, hate. Had Jim’s group been a bunch of “gangster wanna bees” from the South sector, there would have been cop baiting, arguing, challenging – perhaps an incident requiring backup from more officers, probably violence and arrests.

But he was confronting law-abiding citizens in business dress. So, we just looked at him, surprised into silence. (Including me, as his aggressive posture and pugnacious behavior had distracted me from camera malfunctions.) Someone replied with a benign, “we didn't say anything,” and the shaven-headed police officer turned back toward the Council Chambers.

“You know, man, they just hate us.” 

I've developed a new perspective on my friend’s outrage. Maybe she’s rightsometimes.

But, I believe that the majority of the street cops, and the Chief, in Costa Mesa, are here to serve and protect. And they do so with courage, honor, integrity, and most of all, professionalism.

No use nourishing hatred

I was reluctant to go watch the retirement ceremony: You know, man, they  . . . hate us. An atmosphere of hate wouldn't add much to my admiration for a great Police Officer or my respect for the department. It would just tempt me to hate back.

You know, man, they just hate us.” I understand now, Marcella.

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