5 Insane Things I Did As A Cop (They Don't Show On TV)
Our collective attitude toward the police is weird. The exact same guy who will upvote a Facebook post calling police a bunch of murderous stormtroopers will then happily enjoy an action movie about a rogue cop who plays by his own rules. Whether we want to abolish the police or throw them a parade depends entirely on our mood and what news story we read last.
In an effort to demystify the profession, we have been interviewing some police officers to get a look at the weird everyday shit pop culture tends not to talk about. We heard from two ex-cops ("Bill" and "Sam"), who said ...
Lying Is Both Legal And A Necessity
Here's a fun fact: The police aren't required to tell you the truth. That may seem shitty (and it certainly can be), but a talent for telling thunderous falsehoods is vital for police work. One of our ex-cop sources, Bill, explained how helpful he'd found bullshittery in his career:
"I've told folks with active warrants that they weren't under arrest, that I was a special escort for a meeting with an elected judge, and that they only had to wear handcuffs because it is department policy. It's far easier to lie someone into cuffs and jail than it is to fight them or chase them, no matter how funny some chases get. I've even convinced a man high on PCP -- while stark naked, of course -- that he was actually playing a video game and he gets a triple score if he puts on leg cuffs. I've never seen someone get both feet in the cuffs at once on the first try before, nor since."
The other source, Sam, also knew the value of creative mendacity:
"One of my favorite tactics was one my partner used. 'I'm just trying to clear out this report,' he told the suspect. 'I promise you're not going to jail tonight; I just need to know what happened.' So when she confessed to the crime, he filed a warrant and she was picked up a few days later."
Technically, he told the truth; she did not go to jail that night.
Now, the right to lie doesn't extend to acting on that lie. A cop can say he's within his rights to search something, but he can't actually go for it without probable cause. Many cops try to get around this via the simple loophole of waiting for you to agree. Bill explained: "If he says he has a right to search something, but then asks permission, then he's making it up. That's a crucial distinction -- some officers are just polite, will ask, then walk right by you. If he actually has the right or obligation to search, then he will and you'll be unable to stop him."
"Someone's been skipping leg day."
So the next time you're out on the town, lying to a cop about how much you had to drink or where you were the night Boss Tito was gunned down in his private airfield, keep in mind that the cop might be lying right back, and it's totally legal for him or her to do so.
Cops Have Drug Problems (That Are Largely Ignored)
Data suggests that as many as a quarter of all police officers abuse alcohol, which is about twice as high as the rest of the population (though if you were going off of movies, you might have assumed it was approaching 100 percent). But what the movies tend to downplay are the cases of drug abuse, which are more common than you might think, and for the same reasons -- sky-high job stress and a huge stigma against getting help. Also, note that many departments only do drug testing at the hiring stage. That means addicts can fly under the radar for as long as they are able to hide it.
"Perfect, thanks for covering for me."
So what does it take for an addict to get caught? Sam relayed one story:
"One of our best and brightest showed up at a crime scene higher than ... somebody who's really super high? Obviously my drug metaphors need work. At least the detective in question was instantly fired after the investigation revealed that he was addicted to, and constantly using, illegally obtained prescription painkillers. Oh wait, no he wasn't. He was booted back to patrol, but only because it was his third detective strike."
Sam tells us the former detective was fired shortly thereafter, "but not before he was given a glowing commendation medal from his command staff. The final straw for this guy happened after he backed me up on a call while higher than a ... yeah, I still got nothing. I made a complaint to my acting supervisor, who was actually a detective pulling overtime on patrol, and the drugged-up cop was fired at about 1 in the morning."
Unfortunately for him, pill-pushers do not accept IOUs.
If you're wondering what finally made his addiction an untenable problem for the department, well, the answer is nothing: "His addiction was viewed as a medical condition ... he was fired after his command staff quarantined his cruiser and searched it. A duffel bag full of cocaine and stolen narcotics will typically ruin your police career because, you know, they have to draw the line somewhere."
Cops Play Insane -- And Absurdly Dangerous -- Pranks On Each Other
"I can't remember how many times I've been tasered (each cartridge costs about $30, by the way) by a fellow cop," says Sam. "A fellow academy graduate of mine pranked his supervisor by pepper-spraying his car's air filter (not recommended for professional advancement). And a squad working opposite of ours had this really weird shit-throwing fetish ..."
Officer Bonzo later made sergeant.
And, sometimes, the pranks move beyond the level of Jackass-style frat house chicanery and graduate to some real creative territory that can only be described as "borderline domestic terrorism":
"It was the end of my night shift, and I was filing some paperwork before going home. I closed my filing cabinet and saw that there was a piece of trash stuck in the gap between the cabinet and the drawer, so I yanked it out. And it exploded." The night shift supervisor, a former bomb squad guy, had built a tiny IED out of shotgun shells and stuck it in Sam's filing cabinet ("you know, like a fucking terrorist"). The explosion sent one officer diving beneath his desk and another racing into the room with his gun drawn.
"I found out years later that the terrorist in question had emptied a full shotgun shell's worth of gunpowder into his IED. Then, because it didn't look like enough, he added half the powder from another shell to top it off. Had I wrapped my whole hand around the device before pulling it out, I could have suffered permanent damage."
"C'mon man, it was such a sick burn! You gotta grow thicker skin, bro."
And speaking of unexpected on-the-job dangers ...
Equipment Is Often Horrifically Outdated
It's true that some police departments are loaded down with free tanks and armor courtesy of the Department Of Defense. But otherwise, it's just another job funded by cash-strapped municipal governments. So there are far more officers out there who have to make do with the law-enforcement equivalent of hand-me-down clothing. Sam described his standard-issue gear with something less than fond memories:
"The very first [bulletproof] vest on the rack was definitely way too small. Oh, and it was covered in blood. It took me a few seconds to realize that the vest carrier wasn't actually made from reddish-brown fabric, but had been custom-dyed by the officer who was wearing it when the vest clearly failed to stop a fucking bullet. In the end, I decided I'd rather go commando instead of taking a vest with the custom nine-millimeter vent in the middle, until the department decided that I would cost them more money dead than it would to get me fitted for a new, blood-free bullet-stopper."
And they threw in "actually fucking works" absolutely free.
Despite the fact that the vest was literally stained with blood, it still took Sam more than half a year to get a new one. And it's not just the vests:
"The VHS recorder for my vehicle preferred to eat tapes rather than record to them. When the VHS actually worked, the audio wouldn't. The patrol rifles they issued were literally used in the Vietnam War, and the barrels were so worn out that the bullets that it shot spun on a vertical axis instead of the customary horizontal one. That gives you about the same amount of accuracy as a quarterback would have if he decided to throw the ball end over end instead of in a spiral. My baton fell out of its flaccid leather holster 30 seconds into my first foot pursuit, and I still carry scars left behind from the issued taser biting into my skin."
Their new line of economy cars weren't much better.
Even large departments wind up coping with unbearably shitty equipment. If you've been to Los Angeles lately, you'll notice that despite watching over a city with an approximate population of every human being that has ever existed, plus two cars for each of them, the LAPD is essentially driving around in Flintstone-mobiles. Many of their patrol cars stay on the streets more than twice as long as they should.
Not many suspects will agree to a 15 mph chase because your engine melts at 20.
Most Cops Never Fire Their Weapons On Duty
On one hand, it's absolutely true that American police shoot suspects at a shockingly higher rate than police in other countries. But it's also true that, statistically, most officers will never shoot (let alone kill) another human being in the line of duty. Most, in fact, will live their whole lives without firing their weapons at all outside of a shooting range.
If you saw a TV show about a grizzled NYPD street cop, you'd expect him to get into at least two shootouts per episode, gunning down a bad guy every 20 minutes or so. In reality, in 2011 there were about 34,000 officers on duty in New York, and only 62 of them fired their weapons, killing nine suspects. That means that, statistically, shootings are almost as weird for cops as they would be for an investment banker or an Uber driver.
That's what's so easy to forget in the wake of a highly publicized police shooting -- the odds are overwhelming that you're seeing the first and only time that cop will ever use their gun on another person in their entire life. Hell, they may not even have any cop friends who have used theirs, either. If the officers in these incidents seem to be acting out of knee-jerk panic, that would be why. This is also why nearly half of police officers involved in shootings develop PTSD (even when they were the ones doing the shooting). As Sam pointed out, it's not like they get years of training for that eventuality:
"During our 80-hour firearms section in the academy, our instructors beat one thing into our heads: 'You are not weapons experts. You're being certified to carry a gun. That's it.' They stressed that there was no training they could give us beyond technically proper repetition that would prepare us for a real encounter. You fall back on your training in these instances. Even then, you'll never perform at 100 percent of your range performance."
Easy solution: Make all civilians wear bright orange body suits at all times.
There's just not enough time or money to turn every beat cop into a Navy SEAL. The best most departments can do is make sure that their officers are at least capable of drawing their weapon correctly when they need it. As Bill explained: "When I was in the academy, every hour on the hour we'd draw our pistol 10 times. Every hour, eight hours a day for eight months. That's because when everything goes wrong, thinking about drawing is too slow."
The same line of thinking that made Jackson Pollock famous may one day save your life.
Bill told us about one terrifying encounter he had while trying to track down a hit-and-run driver. "We instead walked into a drunk man pointing a .45 [caliber handgun] in our faces. I still don't remember drawing my gun -- It was just there. And it was still too slow. The guy retreated back into his house by the time my gun was out. If he'd had the inclination, he would have shot us both."
Robert Evans runs Cracked's personal experience team. He's never walked a beat, but he has rocked a tweet. Follow his Twitter here.
For more insider perspectives, check out 6 Realities of Buying Drugs (While Wearing a Wire) and 5 Insane Things I Learned About Drugs as an Undercover Agent.
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