West Valley City Police Department is in the news a lot lately. Cops under investigation. Cops committing suicide. Cops acting out. Everyone has their own idea about why.
Here's mine: Police work isn't for everyone. Some cops shouldn't be cops. I know because I was one, and I shouldn't have been. So I quit.
I didn't always see it that way. I was really optimistic at first. I imagined myself a knight. The public was the princess who needed rescuing. Criminals and bad people were the dragon.
Five years later, I realized two important things: First, that I wasn't Ivanhoe. I was actually Don Quixote. Second, that the princess and the dragon were the same thing.
Five years was how long it took me to understand that I had far less to fear from criminals than I did from … well, you. It took me another six years to figure out how to leave.
A popular misconception is that cops become cynical because they spend all of their time dealing with the worst people. Cops actually become like that because they spend all of their time dealing with everyone at their worst.
Of the most terrible crimes I investigated as a cop, very few of them were committed by recognizably "bad" people.
For example, I arrested a woman for murdering her invalid husband by shooting him in the face with a deer rifle during an argument over breakfast. She wasn't a criminal before that. She was a grandma.
I also helped clean up the mess a mom made when she slit her 11-year-old daughter's throat and then shot her in the back over some screwy religious belief. We would have arrested her but she killed herself … after killing her husband.
Rape, murder, child abuse, torture, assaults, thefts, most of these crimes were not committed by gang career criminals. Nope, it was largely people who would have considered themselves staunch supporters of law enforcement.
I gradually changed my mind about who the real threat was to me. The stereotypical criminal and it's amazing how few of these there are proportionate to the population only wanted to kill me. That part was easy to figure out.
But it wasn't criminals who cut my wages, compelled me to work double shifts, drove with their heads in their asses, canceled my vacations because of court or blamed me because they were too simple to lock their #$%@ up and someone stole it.
When I arrested their kids, criminals didn't try to pin a lifetime of bad parenting skills on me. I can't recall a single criminal who left the keys in his car and then insisted that it was my fault because it wasn't there when he came back.
Eventually, I became far more suspicious of city council members, community leaders, academics, upstanding citizens and anyone else whose understanding about my job was based almost entirely on what they heard in a classroom or saw on TV.
Bad guys had a much more realistic view of what I did than the people who actually paid me to do it. It was refreshing to deal with people who freely admitted to being part of the problem. At least they were honest about that.
Long story short, you don't want someone who thinks like this protecting you from yourself. More to the point, I didn't want to be the one doing it.
All of this takes a toll on cops. After all, they're just people. Some handle it better than others. Some self-destruct. Others leave. And unfortunately some hang around long after they should have left.
Today, few things make me smile more than knowing that I don't have to get into a patrol car. I'm happy that we have cops in West Valley City, really good ones. But I'm even happier that one of them isn't me.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.