The Less Glorified Side of Police Work
In the booming age of technology, it is easier to be informed than it has ever been in the past. Between apps like Twitter and people recording their experiences twenty-four-seven, society has become inundated with surveillance, making it nearly impossible to do anything without being “seen”. This is especially true for police officers. Everything they do is recorded and scrutinized, so a lot of footage has surfaced over the years of men and women under the badge doing something mistakenly, unprofessional, sometimes even illegal, and out of context, it’s not surprising. However, what doesn’t get reported are the less exciting, monotonous calls these individuals respond to on a daily basis; the mundane, inglorious things that keep our communities safe.
After a ride-along with Officer Vazquez at Bakersfield Police Department, I became acutely aware of how inglorious, yet necessary the regular duties of a police officer are. He didn’t pull his gun or go rushing into a burning building. Instead, he responded to numerous “keep the peace” calls to help mediate familial discourse, which, according to him, is the bulk of the work he does day to day. So on we went, from one domestic disturbance to another. Those people weren’t in any immediate danger, but Office Vazquez quickly offered them what help he was able to and tried to diffuse the situation from spinning out of control.
A call came in about an RV for sale sitting in front of a church, so Vazquez, his partner Officer Gomez, and I hurried to the scene to have the owner move it, which they did with no problem or hesitation. As we laughed about the obscene price and drove to the next “Keep the Peace” call, I found myself immensely grateful for the lack of action we were seeing—not just out of self-preservation, but because I knew he and his fellow officers were going home to their families, though the possibility of that changing lingered every time we got out of the car.
Movies like “Bad Boys” and shows like “Cops” depict police life in a very exaggerated light; there are always bullets flying and cars to chase and while those things do happen in a quiet little town like Bakersfield, the majority of calls during our ride-along required Vazquez to just connect with members of the community. As an officer who works for the explorer outreach program, finding a connection with the people of Bakersfield is something he has become adept at. I often thought that some of the calls were a waste of time and taxpayer dollars, but Vazquez explained to me the importance of being a presence in the daily lives of the people of Bakersfield—that merely being there when people call sets minds at ease.
The overall message was clear: Police Officers like Officer Vazquez and his partner Officer Gomez are always around to make us feel safe, no matter how benign the situation might be. Any of the calls we responded to could have turned violent, but with the combination of diffusion from the officers and the compliance of all the people involved, there was no need. Even when emotions were running high and there was he could do to help, not once did I doubt his intentions.
Despite all the awful things first responders see in the span of their careers, they handle the mundane with grace and, frequently, a good sense of humor. From where I was sitting in the passenger seat of the police cruiser, the more appropriate name for the men I encountered is “Peace Keepers”, because even in those more action-packed calls, their main priority is just that: keeping the peace.