The author who requested anonymity for this piece is a writer and police officer in metro Atlanta.
I have never bragged about what I do for a living. I have never talked about it, and I hesitate to tell new acquaintances what I do. I expect the worst response. I have wanted to hide what I do. I always I felt as though I was being judged unfairly because of it. I do not think I am defined by my profession, but that is sometimes a hard message to convey.
I am a cop. That doesn't sit well with certain people. But I enjoy my work and, as ridiculous as it may sound, I got into the job to help. I wanted to do something different and have a positive impact.
A lot of people's ill-conceived notions on how "all" cops are led me to believe it would be in my best interests to not reveal my profession. I've never had a rational reason not to tell people what I do — until now.
On Feb. 12, 10 police officers from various metro Atlanta police departments were arrested in an 18-month federal corruption probe. They had all allegedly used the power of the badge and their authority to protect drug dealers. U.S. Attorney Sally Yates claims some of them sold out for as little as $700. She stressed that the officers arrested represented a tiny fraction of cops. But this is how we, as officers, are often perceived in the public eye.
On a regular basis, we remove children from bad homes and take away domestic abusers and do not get any credit. We do not ask for it. The vast majority of us who chose to become part of this profession and have not soiled it neither want nor need the publicity. It is not necessary to brag about what we do, or what we will do next.
On a flight, I sat next to a stranger, as one normally does. After sitting through the pre-flight announcements, she asked what I did, and I told her.
This was rare for me. I usually make up a fake profession, such as something in customer service or a job that leads to few follow-up questions.
Her response? She hates cops. I'd heard this before, but it still resonated with me. I had just met her, and she already had negative feelings toward me based on how I make a living. What possesses a complete stranger to express their hatred for a general group of people? What goes through a person's mind when he or she tells someone they have never met how they really feel?
I didn't take offense. I never do. I continued the conversation as if nothing had happened, and acted as though I didn't care about her reaction. I had become accustomed to this. The reason I've stopped telling people the truth about my job is that most people feel they have been wronged in some way or another by a police officer, and they like talking about it. They mention traffic tickets they get. They mention how we slow traffic down on the interstates. They mention how they were yelled at for no reason.
After the recent arrests, I can't blame people for their initial reaction. These ill-conceived notions are highlighted whenever an incident like this, be it the Kathryn Johnston raid or bribery scandals, takes place.
They make the news, as they should. Corruption on all levels should be revealed. If an officer does wrong, especially to an extent such as that alleged by federal prosecutors in this case, the people these cops are supposed to protect have the right to know. I am not faulting anyone except the officers involved.
There were 10 of them. Ten officers whom authorities claim sold out to drug dealers and felt they had the right to put themselves over the job they chose. They allegedly threw everything away for some cash.
Every time an incident like this is reported, all the progress the rest of us have tried to make by acting responsibly and professionally gets erased. It only takes one corrupt cop to destroy everything the rest of us have worked for. One officer is bad enough, but 10 gives the appearance of an epidemic. It appears as though such behavior is the norm, and that people have the right idea by making generalizations about who we are as people and what we do for a living. And it reminds me why I can't tell people what I do.
I am not asking people to stop paying attention to the bad cops. I encourage investigations into wrongdoing. I am not trying to get people to ignore corruption in police departments. It is important to weed out bad officers and to make sure they get what they deserve.
But it is just as important to make sure a wide brush is not used to paint us all as the same. We are not all corrupt. We are not all bad people. We are not all using the badge for power or status. We are trying to make a living in a career that many of us as kids looked up to, in a job we've always dreamed of. We didn't choose this profession for the money or the notoriety. We chose it because it we want to do some good, because we have a passion to make a difference.