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7 things cops know that would scare most civilians

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A question posted on Quora asked, “What’s something a police officer knows that would scare normal people?” Dave Roberts gave his opinion on the topic, below. Check it out and share your thoughts in the comments.

After 29 years of working in law enforcement, here are some of my observations:

  1. Life is short/death is unpredictable.
    On all of the fatal traffic collisions and violent crime scenes I have been on, the victim never knew that day was their last day on earth. A normal person, like you or I, gets up and leaves the house. Then the unexpected happens and they are in the morgue.
  2. Life is unfair.
    The drunk driver, who can kill several people in a traffic accident, can walk away unscathed from the collision. Or, the 70-year-old violent alcoholic can be fit as a fiddle, yet I see young people with cancer.
  3. The Thin Blue Line is very thin.
    There are a lot fewer of us out on the street than you know. Take your local agency’s headcount, lop off about 20 percent for administrative assignments, then divide the remaining amount by three or four (shifts). Then subtract about a quarter for those on days off/sick days/limited duty/training/vacation.
  4. Victims can be idiots.
    Yes, I will blame the victim here. No, the FBI, foreign royalty, Lloyd’s Bank and soldiers on official business do not use Gmail accounts. And you are going to send them money on the strength of an e-mail? Please. Even highly educated and successful people fall for these scams. Also, using an ATM at 0200 hours near dark alleys, in a high-crime area, was probably not a good idea, in hindsight. Finally, when law enforcement verbally warns you that you are going into a very dangerous area, yet you go anyway, color me surprised when you are a victim.
  5. Crime pays.
    The old saying in law enforcement, “we only catch the dumb ones” is pretty correct. For instance, burglars can commit hundreds of crimes before they are caught. Let’s say we can tie them into five or ten of them. The prosecutor will take a plea on one. Then the courts tend to give probation. Even repeat burglars will be the first out the door after parole hearings. I have investigated murders, arson, and bomb-makers. It is hard to get convictions. There are ways to steal and even kill that are very hard to prove. Also, remember that most prosecutors are holding onto hundreds of cases at once; they are looking to dump cases with really good plea deals. Every crime laboratory is overworked, which means many crimes are not adequately investigated.
  6. Victims are never made whole.
    You know those invaluable items that were stolen from you? Sadly, we almost never recover the property. Cash is converted almost immediately and any item that can not be quickly sold will be thrown away or broken. Criminal Mischief? That is a very hard crime to solve unless there are witnesses - we can’t fingerprint rocks. If we catch someone and the court orders restitution, good luck ever recovering the money.
  7. The Blue Wall is not how Hollywood portrays it.
    While many officers have very tight friendships with fellow law enforcement officers, law enforcement agencies do not necessarily work well together and jurisdictional issues create friction. Here is a quick story: a traffic accident occurs. There are troopers in the area, but the sheriff’s office is in the middle of a spat with them. So, since all of their deputies are busy, they request me to respond (from the next county over) instead of the troopers. While I am racing across my county into theirs, there are secondary accidents caused by the first collision. Agencies that won’t work with others is not that uncommon; many agencies refuse to share information with other departments. Even within departments, officers do not get necessarily get along.

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