You can’t have your cake and eat it too. A common saying that applies to policing more perfectly than people may realize. Most of society probably isn’t aware that there are basically two “kinds” of police officers, proactive and reactive. They have their pros and cons, but both are important to have a successful and effective police department.
As a police officer, you have the ability to decide which kind of officer you want to be. The “pro-active” police officer is the one that answers calls for service, but prefers to actively pursue the criminal element or find a person with an active felony warrant, illegal guns or drugs, and put them in jail. A pro-active officer comes into work early and reads all of the crimes that took place over the past few days. They note vehicle license plates taken at gunpoint in the latest armed robbery, they note the homes that were broken into and what was stolen (in case they come across someone with two televisions, an iPad, or wrapped Christmas presents with the name “Suzy” on them), in essence they pay attention to crime trends and possible suspects they may encounter over their shift.
This is what I call a pro-active and diligent officer. One that gives a damn, sticks their neck out a little more than the rest, by actively seeking to find and arrest the criminal element, more so than the other kind of officer, the “reactive” officer. I say “stick their neck out” because inherently when you’re actively seeking the criminal element, the likelihood they “get into something” as police officers say, goes up. The likelihood they get into a fight, car chase, or shooting, increases exponentially because they are actively seeking those in society who are violent and are committing violent crimes. Subsequently, those violent individuals tend to have more to lose. If caught, they are likely headed to a cell with a roommate they don’t get to choose for an extended period of time. This isn’t good for the pro-active police officer. This likely means more complaints from internal affairs, more injuries, and more chances to get hurt or killed themselves. These incidents take a toll on you as an officer and can affect your pay, or promotional eligibility. Some officers start out “proactive” then eventually become more “reactive” as they age. Or lately, more officers are becoming “reactive” as it is safer physically and they are less likely to end up in the news, be accused of wrong doing, using excessive force, being racist, or any other number of accusations that have become popular in the “post Ferguson” era of policing.
On the contrary, the reactive officer is sort of like a fireman in a police uniform. This isn’t a knock on firemen, all jokes aside, they’re heroes and amazing folks. A reactive police officer will get in their police car and basically go wherever the dispatcher tells them to go, answering calls as they come in. This kind of officer is a necessary member of your team, as they allow the pro-active officer more time to do what pro-active officers do, actively search for the criminal element. I’m not saying reactive officers are bad, in fact, they’re good because they embody the “serve” aspect of “protect and serve”. They are more “customer service” based as a quick response time is something everyone wants when they call police for help. So these officers are essential for a balanced and effective police department. These officers are far less likely to get into a fight, car chase, or shooting, because by nature, responding to call for service is REACTIVE in nature. The crime already happened and they are being called to the scene to take the report. Again, vital to police operations, but don’t count on these guys to make multiple traffic stops and recover those stolen Christmas presents or get the felon with two pistols and some heroin off the street. They’re too busy heading to that next call about a stolen checkbook from a vehicle, than to make a traffic stop and catch a “bad guy.”
The sad thing about our society is they “want their cake and to eat it too” when it comes to police officers. They want the reactive and consoling officer to show up in a quick and expedient manner when called. But they don’t want to see an officer speeding to get to that call, putting people in danger. Drive normal and cautiously, but hurry up and get here! They don’t want to see police officers fighting anyone or possibly hurting anyone, let alone shooting anyone. But at the same time, society wants crime rates to be low, response times to be short, and the bad guys caught and held responsible! But in the process, no one can get hurt, little to no force should be used, and certainly nothing should be done that puts anyone at risk of injury or death, especially members of society who aren’t committing crimes. Trust me, police officers want this too.
Well, guess what? That’s rather altruistic and basically impossible. If you are chasing the violent felons and members of our society that have chosen a life of crime, the odds of bad things happening are unfortunately high. They’re certainly much higher than taking the reactive police officer application of policing and simply showing up AFTER something bad happens.
When a proactive officer sees a suspect that has taken a car at gunpoint, or confronts a drug dealer known to be armed, the common sense person has to see that the likelihood of a foot chase, fight, car chase, or shooting, are higher. It’s just the unfortunate truth about policing and confronting violent criminals. If you are a more “reactive” police officer, your shifts will be generally uneventful, if all you’re doing is speaking with crime victims to take their report. In essence, the “reactive officers” mostly deal with the “good people” in society. The proactive officers assigned to “Gang Units” or narcotics task forces head out each day with the goal of being the “cat” and the bad guys are the “mouse”. This is a long running game that has rules that only the cat has to follow and usually ends with the cat winning and the mouse going to jail. But this game isn’t without consequences, sometimes deadly ones. In my opinion, this is where society has begun to get it wrong, by blaming the cat for the actions of the mouse. Yes, there are rules. Yes, the cat has a duty and responsibility to be diligent and operate in a safe manner and not put people in harm’s way unnecessarily. But lest not forget, ultimately the mouse decides what to do, whether to fight, run, or produce a weapon. The cat merely reacts and does their best to catch the mouse. The cat can’t force the mouse to make bad decisions, the cat just hopes the mouse complies and everyone goes home safe.
So the next time you see a news article or video on the internet, ask yourself, who caused this to happen? The cat or the mouse? And then also ask yourself, what kind of police officer do you want protecting your city, county, and country a proactive or reactive one? Maybe a mixture of both?
Ultimately, all police officers are REACTIVE to the decisions made by the people they encounter. They can’t control whether the “mouse” decides to run, fight, bite, kick, or shoot at them. We need to change the lens we use to view these incidents and recognize that policing isn’t always pretty, but in the end, it really is up to the “mouse” to decide if the outcome is peaceful or violent. A tough job for sure.
Thank an officer today.
The Officer Next Door