No better human being exists than a good cop, and no worse creature than a bad one.
The truth is, the good cop and the bad cop are often the same cop, at different moments, on different days, with different people.
Cops have saved my life and tried to arrest me. I have reported the deaths of half a hundred of them, including six suicides, and written about scores more—shot, battered, or in bad trouble. I have cried at their funerals and shared confidences with their widows, ex-wives, mothers, and children.
I briefly shared bed, board, and bank account with one.
People tend to forget it, but cops are human.
As a child, I was taught to look up to cops. They were strong, invincible, the people to turn to when there was trouble.
I think that is why I am always so moved when a cop cries — and they do.
They also break the law.
Cops are all too human, but they are not like you and me. Their job sets them apart and divides their world into us and them. Their mistrust of outsiders, particularly the press, is instinctive. They draw their wagons into a tight circle. Most cops socialize together; they intermarry; they buy houses in the same neighborhoods, on the same streets. The closeness makes them feel comfortable. Some small communities outside of Miami, particularly across the county line in south Broward, seem to be enclaves populated almost solely by police officers.
In the good old days, when life was simpler, the neighbors felt safer when a cop lived next door. Then things changed. The cop became the guy who was left out of backyard barbecues because somebody might light up a joint. If they did it in his presence, should he ignore it? Join the crowd and break the law? Bust his next-door neighbor or his brother-in-law? Or let the barriers down and look away?
Young cops almost all start out eagerly, with pure hearts and common goals, helping people, performing public service, and changing society. They fight the bad guys, but they see even good guys turn against them. They are engaged in constant conflict, almost always the adversary. The public resents authority, but the public wants to be protected. No wonder cops feel alienated.
No wonder they complain constantly about morale.
Miami cops are subjected to everything that is ugly or evil: drug smuggling, money laundering, mass murder, the Mafia, deposed dictators, foreign fugitives, illegal aliens, serial killers, street people, spies, terrorists, international intrigue, bombings, grave robbing, exotic diseases, bizarre sects, bizarre sex, animal sacrifice, voodoo, gunrunning, vast wealth, utter poverty, crazy politics, racial tensions, refugees, and riots.
After the riots in 1980, when the pressure was on to hire more police officers, particularly minorities, recruiters parked a trailer down on Calle Ocho, Southwest Eighth Street. They stopped young men on the street, saying, “You want to be a policeman?”
Some of the young Latins they recruited are outstanding, but among that group are most of the cops suspected in million-dollar cocaine ripoffs, murder, robbery, racketeering, and corruption—one of the most devastating police scandals in modern America.
It is tough to recruit good police officers. Once there was a vast pool of former military men, but the draft is long dead, and supervisors cope with me-generation rookies who refuse to cut their hair, want weekends off, and argue, instead of obey, when a sergeant issues an order.
Police officers have to be honest and honorable people, with good intentions. Giving badges and guns to people who are not is asking for trouble, which of course is exactly what we have.
We have young cops driving fire engine red Ferraris and Porsches and an occasional Lotus. Two young Miami cops, who drove to their deaths, crashed with cocaine in their blood.
Temptation on the street is stronger than it ever has been: big money and drugs. Just ten years ago street cops never saw kilos of cocaine and people carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars. They do now.
A big case, years ago, was a boatload of marijuana; a big worry was somebody offering a twenty-dollar bribe to escape a traffic ticket. Today, cops find closets, suitcases, trunks, satchels, and briefcases stuffed with drug money.
They are only human.
During the height of Miami’s crime problems, when the city was number one in murder, some people compared the situation to the frontier days in Dodge City. That is not accurate. We have more people shot in a bad week in modern Miami than were ever shot down in the entire history of old Dodge City. But people want to cling to the image of the wild West and the rough, tough lawmen of the movies. The man who wore the badge knocked the bad guys on their rear ends if he had to, to keep law and order. Most of today’s bad guys are far more violent. Yet the lawman of today must behave like a gentleman.
If a cop was spit on, he used to be able to do something about it. If some foul mouth cussed out his neighbors or was disorderly in the street, a policeman used to be able to take action and put him in jail.
Now we have community relations. Cops must constantly back off, back off.
Which is why everybody cheered Metro Officer Joseph Pesek. In Greater Miami, where dozens of officers have recently been accused of police brutality, this paunchy, middle-aged cop fought back. Bruised, battered, run over, and oft-abused, Pesek, 56, decided he was “mad as hell and not going to _ take it anymore.” He sued a man for civilian brutality and won. A jury awarded him $2500 for a single punch to his forehead by a drunk driver.
It was not the first time civilians had brutalized Pesek. An angry motorist, told he could not park illegally, deliberately ran him down as he directed traffic. A crazed drug suspect once chewed savagely on his fingers.. “Why should a cop have to take this crap”? Pesek demanded. It’s not easy being a cop in Miami. “People curse and swear at me. As far as they’re concerned, we’re the lowest things in the world. But when they need help, they sure forget what lousy so-and-sos we are.”