An interview with a police officer – Radley Balko.

The officer says:

I had an awakening. I remember it very well. I was doing narcotics work. And so I was spending a lot of time doing surveillance in a van, or in some vacant building. You have a lot of time on your hands with that kind of work. You’re watching people for hours at a time. You see them just going about their daily lives. They’re getting groceries, running errands, going to work. Suddenly, it started to seem like an entirely different place then what I had seen when I was doing other police work. I grew up in Bel Air[, Maryland]. I didn’t have exposure to inner cities. And when you work in policing, you’re inundated early on with the “us vs. them” mentality. It’s ingrained in you that this is a war, and if someone isn’t wearing a uniform, they’re the enemy. It just becomes part of who you are, of how you do your job. And when all you’re doing is responding to calls, you’re only seeing the people in these neighborhoods when there’s conflict. So you start to assume that conflict is all there is. Just bad people doing bad things.

But sitting in the van and watching people just living their lives, I started to see that these were just people. They weren’t that different from me. They had to pay rent. See their kids off to school. The main difference is that as a white kid growing up in my neighborhood, I was never going to get arrested for playing basketball in the street. I was never going to get patted down because I was standing on a street corner. There was no chance I was going to get a criminal record early on for basically being a kid. As a teen, I was never going to get arrested for having a dime bag in my pocket, because no one would ever have known. There was just no possibility that a cop was ever going to stop me and search me.

When you watch people for hours and hours like that, you start to see the big picture. You start to see the cycle of how these kids get put in the system at a young age, often for doing nothing wrong, and how that limits their options, which pushes them into selling drugs or other crime. You start to see that they never had a chance.

I missed this the first time I read the article. The officer talks Prohibition:

I’m 100 percent against the drug war. I’d legalize drugs tomorrow if I could. What we’re doing to people to fight the drug war is insane. And the cops who do narcotics work — who really want to and enjoy the drug stuff — they’re just the worst. It’s completely dehumanizing. It strips you of your empathy. I just think it had a different effect on me because I started watching the people.