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Ode to the career patrol officer

The beat cop is the backbone of our profession and the backbone of every law enforcement agency

You know you’ve been there and heard it, you’ve probably been guilty of a few of these comments — always trying to “one up” the other one. I know I am.

“I’m SWAT” or “I promoted to Sergeant” or “I’m a motor officer now.”

For some reason, the emphasis to be ANYTHING other than a patrolman at some point in your career has gotten to be the norm.

Our Backbone
Don’t get me wrong — having career goals is a must, and setting the goals you want to attain is paramount in your career. But the notion that those officers who don’t want to do anything other than be a beat cop should not be looked down upon. In fact, I suggest to you that it takes the greatest courage and nobility to want to don that uniform and climb in that car day in and day out for your entire career.

Every day, every call could be your last. You are the one to get complainants knocking on the department door. Why? Because you are the one having to deal with all the idiots.

You are the one that may get shot at and you are the one that will be placed under a microscope for shooting someone.

You are the one that stands out in the pouring rain directing traffic, or hurts your finger or shoulder in a fight with a suspect and on and on.

The beat cop is the backbone of our profession and the backbone of every law enforcement agency, and the cops who do it for a lifetime hold more knowledge about crime, bad guys, and what’s going on in their jurisdiction than anyone sittin’ in an office, I promise you.

With the exception of a five-year undercover stint, the rest of my 20-year plus career has been in a uniform and a squad car. Even though I’ve been fortunate enough to promote through the ranks, I still found myself on the street in some form or fashion.

Which leads to a whole new dilemma — as an administrator and manager, I am also a street cop. I still see situations and scenarios as my men in the trenches see them, not necessarily how the suit and tie I answer to may see them.

Sometimes the veteran street cop in my mind would like to tell that suit, “If you don’t like it grab a uniform and gun belt and come do it yourself.”

But then the Lieutenant in me takes over and I am much more diplomatic in my approach.

My Heroes
So the next time you have the opportunity to talk to that old, retired patrolman you know, look at him in a whole new light. Listen to his stories; ask him questions about critical incidents and how he/she handled them and what they learned from their mistakes.

Don’t think of him as that beat cop that never promoted or did anything else — think of him as one of the few in our profession that actually had the guts to work the streets his entire life, and live to tell about it.

Because those guys are my heroes.

Lt. Hawkes is a 23-year police veteran. In addition to his years of highway drug interdiction, Lt. Hawkes has worked in patrol, K9, investigations, narcotics, and administration. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Dallas Baptist University and is a graduate of the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Justice Leadership and Administration from the University of Texas at Dallas. He has been the recipient of both State and Local awards, including the Medal of Valor. His book, Secrets of Successful Highway Interdiction, which can be purchased here, contains eleven chapters on Highway Drug Interdiction.