Recently I had a conversation with an older sergeant in my department. He spoke to me about how he believed there exists different types of police officers. He said,
"There are cops and then there are peace officers. Which one are you?"
I wondered what he meant. He told me about when he was a young man and was more inclined to chase down everything, go after everyone, and generally be a super cop. As he got older and more experienced he related to me how he changed and developed the ability to slow down and let certain things go.
"The mark of a true warrior is knowing when to slow down or stop when the situation dictates," he said.
He mentioned that the difference between a cop and a peace officer is not just a cut and dry, black and white division; rather, it is more of a continuum. He asked me to think about what it means to be a peace officer vs a cop and to figure out where I'm at on this continuum. As I was walking out of his office, he said to me,
"You'll always be a cop. You're a cop down to your soul and you always will be. A peace officer is something truly special that every cop can become."
I respect this sergeant immensely and love listening to his stories about policing in the "old days." He has done just about everything in his career and has the respect of all of the officers in our department. I think about our conversation every night as I try to figure out what it means to be a peace officer and a cop. I have found that when I think about the idea of a peace officer, I am less inclined to take things personally and more patient. This does not mean that I am more willing to give people inappropriate leeway. I think I'll always be a "cop," as this sergeant has said, but I find myself striving for something more now. I want to be a better person, a better police officer, a better husband, father, brother, son, a better man.
In the academy they told us about the brotherhood that we would be joining if we made it through. I just never realized that it would be this special and this powerful. I'm still so new and the job is really intense for me each night, but I'm having the time of my life. I'm still trying to figure out what this sergeant was telling me as I try to define what a peace officer means. I have a feeling it's going to take a while but I look forward to more conversations with more "old sergeants," for many years to come.