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I had an experience yesterday that brought something home that I’d had in the back of my mind for some time now. I was in my usual morning coffee shop picking up a couple of coffees to go, as my normal java partner had to work the desk today. I passed a table where two couples were seated discussing Barack and Hillary, while two children, boys about four or five played just outside the store’s door.
When they noticed me, I heard one of the men tell the others how funny it would be if, “the police officer,” were to go outside where the boys were playing, because it would startle the little boys. Standing, waiting for my coffee, the man caught my eye. He said, “I was just saying how funny it would be if you went out and accused the boys of trespassing, or something like that.” The two women and other man joined him, laughing.
I glanced at the two, cute little boys who were totally absorbed playing in the dirt. I looked back at the folks at the table and said, politely, “There are enough people in Seattle who don’t like the police, without my scaring little kids.” Faces turned immediately serious. They didn’t seem offended, but they looked as if I’d pointed out something they hadn’t thought of before.
After this incident, I thought about the two types of parents I’ve run into over the years as a cop. One parent respects and is grateful for what cops do and introduce me to their kids as someone they can trust and go to if they’re ever in trouble. The other type of parent, perhaps subconsciously, views the police as bogeymen, authoritarians, and cavalier abusers of rights. When they see a cop they tell their children, “You’d better behave or he’ll put you in jail.” These parents have come up to me to ask me to “talk” to their kids and threaten to put them in jail if they don’t mind their parent.
I brought the coffee back to the precinct and told my partner the story. He was reminded of an officer he saw many years ago, before he was a cop. He said he was in a diner when a parent interrupted an officer’s meal. She said her child wasn’t minding her and asked if the officer would speak to him.
The officer walked over to the child, who grew silent, gazing up at the officer. The officer greeted the child in a friendly manner, which put the kid at ease. The officer then pulled out his handcuffs and dangled them before the child’s wide eyes and said, “How would you like it if I put these handcuffs—on your mom?”