Don't let your friendships interfere with Police work
Written by Lt. James Lewis
I have often told new officers I've had to train, "If you want to know who your real friends are, pin on a badge." I tell them that if you do your job, even when interacting with your friends and acquaintances, the people that you thought were your friends will often kick you to the curb. I caught a glimpse of this while on a recent domestic complaint call.
The responding officer knew both parties well and found it difficult initially to effect an arrest. He was in conflict with himself and considered briefly whether he should just let the offender leave for the night rather than arrest him. A door was kicked in and the victim had swelling under an eye. It would be a nice bruise within a day or two. The incident also took place where two children, 11 and 5 years old, witnessed the violence. After standing by and interviewing the victim myself, I could see where the case was headed.
Since I was the supervisor on scene, I pulled the officer to the side and asked him if he wanted me to take over the call.
I am not knocking this officer, as I understand how difficult it may be to take enforcement action against someone you know. However, sometimes you have to do what you have to do. He declined, stepped up and took the necessary action. The response?
The offender couldn't believe it. "Man, you really gonna do this?" This brings an important point to mind. You never know who you are going to have to deal with being a law enforcement officer. A friend, relative, former teacher, or the guy you played football with in high school.
It always frightens me just a bit wondering if an officer will hesitate during that split second in the decision making process.
That one momentary lapse in judgment is all that is needed for the suspect, who could be under some extreme stress, to snap and suddenly the officer is also a victim.
I hear it from time to time: "Aahh, I know so and so. I grew up with them. He/she wouldn't hurt me."
I sincerely hope that isn't the last thing that goes through an officer's mind before they find out differently.
The problem is that we just never know when a person has just had enough in life, or in any given instance, and wants to lash out. Stress is a powerful antagonizing force, and anger is a raw emotion.
The simple truth is that we are not provided glimpses into another person's mind. People are affected by different stimuli and in different ways. We are most often limited to on-scene reaction to someone else's action.
There are plenty of examples of people we never thought would be capable of committing criminal acts, but nevertheless they did just that.
Underestimating someone is something I'm sure we have all been guilty of at one time or another.
The facts remain: when in an enforcement contact with someone, keep your wits about you. It does not matter if the person is your best friend.
Do not stray from your professional tactics, even while trying to support the person. Remember that you are probably having that contact because someone believes the person you know needs police intervention in some capacity.
Be responsible enough to know when you have just become the most unqualified person to handle that particular situation.
If resources allow, step back and let less-connected persons deal with it if you become compromised or ill-able to handle the situation.
Considering the circumstances of enforcement actions with acquaintances, friends and even family members, anyone should be able to see how difficult those situations can be.
If you decide to step back from being the lead officer, it's important to understand that unless you leave, you have become a support officer.
This can be a situational issue if an arrest is imminent and the suspect you know becomes combative.
As much as you may not want to go hands-on with the suspect, your partner will still need you to handle the situation accordingly. There will be time later for an attempt at mending the relationship with the friend or acquaintance.
Be a friend, but remember to be a cop as well. Let a solid work ethic, training and tactics determine outcome, not the status of a perceived relationship.
Lt. James Lewis works for the Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office in Louisiana.