Sunday, October 11, 2009

The faded thin blue line

Many years ago in the big city, there were police officers that lived on the edge of copper society. They did their duty and protected each other but there existed a fine line between the good guys and the bad.

Every one knew who took money from traffic stops. Some were blatant and bragged about it, others were more discreet. Some preyed on the immigrant population. They relied on the fear of the police in their own country to pay a bribe without complaining. An officer, rumored to carry large sums of traffic money in his socks, failed to come in at the end of his shift one morning. The entire day shift went looking for him, not concerned for his safety, but racing to find him first to clean out his "choke".

In those days drunks were tolerated, sometimes even protected. The legendary "blue line" actually existed. Police officers did not talk to outsiders about what went on within the job. The drinkers were just overlooked as long as they stayed out of trouble. Most often the new guys , the young recruits, had to take their turn riding with the drunks.

Young officers had no say in the matter. The problem officer was usually very senior to the young copper and would grab the car keys, telling the rookie, "I'll drive kid." The first stop was usually the liquor store or bar. The drunk would leave the rookie in the car, saying "I'll be right out." Several minutes later, the older officer returned with a bag. Afraid of getting in trouble with the job but also leery of being called a rat, the young kid said nothing.

These problem officers were professional drunks. They drove around all night, threw beer cans out the window, and usually managed to steer clear of danger. With an uncanny, although blurred eye, they were good at spotting trouble blocks away then going the other way. They even offered to share their booze with the partner (after the third or fourth can, of course). The young copper had no choice but to say a silent prayer and wait for the morning. Two shifts riding with the drunk was usually the limit. The guy making the duty roster was good about shifting him around.

Before the development of the random drug testing program, the dopers were also well known. These officers were more secretive and only gathered with other pot smokers. Police cars parked door to door in a vacant lot wasn't always officers discussing strategy. There were instances of drinkers and dopers riding together in an attempt to keep the problem officers out of trouble. They worked hard at avoiding assignments which meant other officers had to carry their weight.

Keeping track of ammunition was not always a high priority in those days. The gunfire heard at night wasn't always the bad guys shooting. The were rumors of officers carrying small caliber guns for hunting rats on slow nights. Officers responding to calls of "shots being fired" were sometimes met by other police who were "close by". Shots fired outside a bar sometimes were waved off as not bone fide when drunk off duty guys were suspected of putting out the street lights.

Police parties were famous for poker games at one table, dice games in the corner, and drunken bimbo's offering their services in the back. Of course wives and husbands were never invited.

Those days are long gone. The new breed of police officer won't tolerate the drunks. Random drug testing has gleaned out the dopers. Digital cameras and tighter weapons policies has cut down the gun play. The thought of losing the best job in the world because of a DUI arrest or the possibility of a nasty divorce has toned down the drinking, gambling, and womanizing. Cell phone cameras, squad car cameras, and the fear of going to prison has stopped most of the traffic bribes.

The large amounts of drug money that is out on the street has bred a new kind of police criminal. These crooks shake down drug dealers and terrorize honest citizens by planting drugs then threatening to arrest them. Federal authorities work along with internal affairs officers to put these criminals into prison.

The old way of protecting bad police officers no longer works. The thin blue line is faded, sometimes barely visible. Modern police officers are professionals and won't tolerate criminal behavior in their ranks. These are the men and women I am proud to serve with.


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