Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Being a Hero

Thursday, August 13, 2009 |

Today's cop can only dream of being a hero.

The desert sun beats on my dark uniform, its rays reflecting off the shining badge on my chest. My hand remains poised above the gun in my holster. The dusty street is quiet as the showdown nears its climax ....

I can never cross the invisible line from plain citizen to lawman without an acute sense of transition. My personality changes, and my mind detours somewhere deep into the folklore of western America, creating legends of heroic stature.

As I walk the streets of Albuquerque I sometimes picture people saying, "Oh, here comes the town sheriff with his gun." Then all of the sudden -- I can just see it, you know -- some big bad guy wearing a pair of six-shooters on his hips emerges from a bar and says, "OK, sheriff, draw!"

I'm fully conscious that this is a fictional misrepresentation.

Police work very seldom reflects the heroic romanticism so frequently portrayed in television, movies, and books. To find the true nature of a cop's work, one must go beyond the superficial portrayals and the myths.

Only Dirty Harry has his lunch break interrupted by armed robbers. The fact is the average police officer never fires his weapon in self-defense in 20 years of duty.


Most police work does not involve the use of deadly force, but that doesn't mean it's not dangerous.

The potential for deadly confrontation follows the officer wherever he or she goes. Suddenly, the fictional image of the bad guy becomes tangible.

The officer responds to call after call ranging from a minor misunderstanding to a major catastrophe. That simple squabble between family members could very easily escalate to a lethal conclusion. That routine traffic stop may involve an armed felon just waiting to ambush the unprepared officer.

There is nothing routine about police work. The cop must always remain aware that an ordinary arrest or the "routine patrol" might, however infrequent, become a deadly battle.

It has been said that police work is 99 percent boredom punctuated by one percent sheer terror.

Yet while police work is dangerous, it often goes unrecognized. Satisfaction with a job well done lasts only until the culprit is in jail. There's little acknowledgment unless the victim actually thanks the officer at the scene, a rarity, indeed.

When I was a rookie, my training officer once tried to illustrate how expectations of job fulfillment and public appreciation fall short of reality.

He said: "Listen here, Alex. Good police work is like wetting yourself in your dark uniform -- you get a warm feeling, but nobody notices."

At the time I had laughed, not really grasping the significance of his words -- not until later, when my naive notions were altered by experience.

Now many times at the end of my shift my only sense of achievement is still being in one piece, something most people take for granted.

While the fictional lawman is dramatized as a hero, a valiant and brave warrior, the real cop subsists in the unadorned realities of adversity and un-praised labor. While the lawman of yesterday has become a legend, the cop of today can only hope to become a legend in his or her own eyes.

I take great pride when I wear my police uniform. Yet as I examine the tasks before me, I can't help but aspire to the stature of Wild West lawmen and knights in shining armor.

For the public to grasp the true role of a cop, it takes a certain amount of sympathetic understanding and an open perspective.

From the time cops step out into the streets, their ideals are shaped by the attitudes they encounter in their work environment.

Cops are human beings and are greatly affected by the people they police.

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