Q: As a police officer, do you ever get scared during the course of your duties?
A: Your question is very interesting and can be answered in many different ways. The easy answer is yes, but it can also be explained in greater detail. I think all of us, at one time, have faced situations which caused us to be afraid or scared. When I sit back and think of those words, I don’t think they are the best ones to describe the feelings we have in certain situations. There are times when I definitely have concern for my safety, but I wouldn’t say I was scared.
As a police officer, you get too busy concentrating on the incident at hand to think about fear. Plus, we try our hardest to never show our fear. While our jobs can be dangerous, even life threatening, we are trained and equipped to deal with these situations. Our training begins in the police academy and continues throughout our career. Police officers are taught to maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn, or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others.
In the academy, recruits are expected to memorize the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. It is a guide for conduct expected of police officers while on and off duty. It is a 24/7 commitment and one the police academy takes very seriously, as well as every police chief, sheriff, and police commissioner. Not everyone is willing or able to adhere to this code and some make the decision to resign before their career even begins.
Here is the first paragraph of the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics:
“As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice.”
Before I started my career as a police officer, my thought process was a little different than it is now. For example, if I heard gunfire around the corner, I would turn and run for safety in the opposite direction. This is normal survival behavior. Now, as a police officer, if I hear gunfire, I run towards it. This behavior may not seem normal to most, but it is normal behavior as a police officer.
We have learned to manage fear so it doesn’t interfere with our mission — to provide safety and service. Running towards danger, like the sound of gunfire, sounds heroic and courageous, but that isn’t why we do it. We do it because innocent people could be trapped in an area with no escape. We do it because someone innocent may get killed or seriously hurt. We do it because it may be one of your loved ones in that situation. We do it because it is our job, and we are sworn to do it.
It is up to us to uphold the values of the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. To do that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel fear; it’s that we go anyway. We have to trust ourselves, our training, equipment, and most importantly our partners. If we don’t do what we can to defend the defenseless, then who will? We have a sense of selflessness sometimes that might not be in the best interest for our personal safety, but it is our job, duty, and nature to see the danger in front of us, and to go out and meet it without the option of failure.
Q: I get scared when a police officer pulls up behind me. Is that normal?
A: You are not alone. I have seen a lot of people react this way, and most of the time it is without reason. This is totally normal. I even get nervous myself! I think it has to do with the way we were raised and the powerful effect of an authority figure.
Do you think you would work differently if your boss was looking over your shoulder? The response you have to an officer pulling up behind you is similar. You believe you are doing everything right and suddenly you are unsure because you feel that someone is now watching you.
Hopefully if you are following the rules of the California Vehicle Code, it shouldn’t bother you. If you are not, another reason could be because you know a citation will put a strain on your finances. We are in tough economic times and no one wants to pay a hefty fine for a traffic violation.
If a police car pulls in behind you, just relax and drive safely. In most cases, we are probably responding to a call for service and you just happen to be in front of us.
This column was prepared by NRO Scott McGee (Beat 5: Montana Avenue to north city limits, Ocean Avenue to 26th Street). He can be reached at (424) 200-0685 or firstname.lastname@example.org.