July 05–A routine traffic stop can go wrong in an instant.
A driver was speeding, maybe just five or 10 miles over the limit, and is now pulled over on the side of the road as a police officer approaches the driver-side door.
A gun is raised from within the vehicle, pointed at the approaching officer.
A shot rings out, and the car speeds off.
What seemed to anyone else to at first be an innocuous, even dull bit of police work ended in tragedy.
And this scenario plays out every day.
It happened in summer 2016 to Officer Jose Chavez of the Hatch Police Department.
It could happen to anyone who wears a badge.
When police approach a suspect, or even a person who appears in need of help, they don’t know what they’re going to get.
Some officers liken the experience to opening Christmas presents, albeit with a much greater, darker risk.
No matter the metaphor, no one knows what that risk and fear truly feels like except those who don the badge, and swear to protect their neighbors.
Through eight weeks of educational sessions and demonstrations with real Carlsbad Police Officers and their tools, I and a group of fellow Carlsbad residents attempted to learn just that.
We wanted to learn the inner-workings of the local police department, to see first-hand what police are capable of and equipped to do.
We were also there to see what kinds of struggles — both on the streets and in their minds — officers deal with every minute of every day.
The hands-on lessons, ranging from the intriguing fingerprinting session, to the explosively fun SWAT night, to the not-so-fun Taser demonstration, were all intended to show us that cops are people just like us with a job to do.
We walked the line that so many drunks have when pulled over after spending an evening at a bar — but we didn’t have to keep walking into jail.
We toured the evidence locker, gasping at the children’s toys — even a crib — that was material to a murder investigation.
The SWAT team taught us about several non-lethal methods of force, and we got to meet the two-dog K-9 unit.
We watched as the dogs charged and leaped six feet into the air, before sinking their teeth into a well-armored volunteer.
Thankfully, the class was surprisingly hands-on.
But even the most “electric” demonstrations didn’t teach me as much as the conversations I was granted with law enforcement officials.
I heard their stories, their struggles.
It’s not just that the humanity of the police is forgotten by a resentful public. It’s that even for humans, police must wield a massive amount of compassion, patience and acceptance alongside their cuffs and guns.
The justice system is very much flawed, and many of the cops I met would be the first to say so.
But we’re all in this together, and they agreed to take on the responsibility of dealing with us, the public, during our worst possible moments.
I don’t know many people who would want that.
From now on, when I get pulled over, I vow to at least understand the terror that the officer could be going through.
To comprehend the spontaneity of crime. The randomness of it all. And know that the police put their lives on the line every day, despite the stigma.
There will always be a few bad actors in any field of study.
But I don’t believe it’s part of the routine.
To see the writer get tased (he’s okay) go to currentargus.com.
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