Police risk their lives daily … if not hourly

I had a chance this week to renew an acquaintance with a member of Amarillo’s police department. He’s now a captain, but when I first met him more then a decade ago he was employed as an officer on bike patrol. He rode a bicycle around high-crime neighborhoods as part of the city ‘s community policing effort.

I won’t tell you his name, because he doesn’t know I’m writing this blog.

The young man had some nice things to say to me about the work I did back in The Day, when I wrote for the Amarillo Globe-News.

But I want to take a moment here to restate what I’ve noted already, which is that police officers have no greater fan or friend than yours truly.

My very first full-time reporting job was back in Oregon, at the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, which was a small-town afternoon daily newspaper that published five issues each week, Monday through Friday. I would start my day before the sun rose visiting police department dispatchers, collecting information about the calls that came over the past 24 hours. I would look for possible news stories to report on for that day’s paper.

I developed good relationships over the years with cops, with chiefs of police, county sheriffs and dispatchers. I came to understand early about the dangers these folks face every time they report for work. One sheriff scolded me once for writing the words “routine traffic stop,” and he informed me that “there ain’t no such thing as a ‘routine stop.'” I got it.

Did I encounter some bad actors along the way? You bet. One sheriff’s deputy in Oregon City was caught stealing drugs from the evidence property room. A sheriff I knew — also in Oregon City — got entangled in a controversy involving arms deals in southern Africa. One officer in Amarillo detested me because I wrote editorials critical of the police association’s efforts to get a dramatic increase in pay.

But the vast majority of officers and their bosses did their jobs well, with dedication and with honor.

I was given a bit of an up-close look at police operations as a member of the Citizens Police Academy. I had written a column that was mildly critical of something I witnessed involving a police officer. The young captain I saw this week reminded me of that column and of the time we first met while I was attending those academy classes. One of the senior officers at APD read my column, then called me out, telling me in effect that I needed to get a more detailed look at police work. He invited to apply for the Citizens Police Academy; I did and got accepted.

Yes, I read news stories about police officers acting unprofessionally. I understand fully the anger among some communities about cops who harass citizens needlessly, or who demonstrate racial or ethnic bias against citizens. Many of these incidents end tragically and I generally am sympathetic with those who call for reforms within various departments.

However, my support for police remains resolute. My admiration for those who do their jobs well is as strong as ever. I’ve had the pleasure and the honor of knowing many of them over many years in journalism and, yes, I understand the inherent tension between cops and the media.

My professional experience with police in my chosen career has loaded with many pleasant memories of what I’ve witnessed. They have earned my undying respect.