I was riding along with a cop, about 20 years ago, which is something reporters do from time, to time, especially if they want to understand more how law enforcement really operates out on the street.
On several occasions during the course of that night this young, slender officer made car stops, all of which thankfully resulted in perhaps the issuance of a ticket, but no further drama. I noticed something that he did when approaching the driver of each stopped vehicle. While walking toward the operator on the driver’s side, he would touch his hand flat on the subject vehicle’s trunk. During a break that night I asked him what that was all about. Was it a good luck kind of thing?
No, he told me.
“It’s so that if something happens to me, my hand print is on the car,” he said, in a matter-of-fact fashion.
This knowledge served as a reminder to me of how truly different the jobs of those in law enforcement are from the work almost any of us do. This officer — and plenty others — are reminded each day in many different ways how the work they do can affect them in terms of their mortality. The gesture, so simply done, is an acknowledgement that perhaps on this night, someone may not be coming h home, and it makes for chills.
It is some understanding of this that has caused many people here locally to talk about how they “back the blue.” In a manner that sometimes defies logic, the adherents to the phrase will doggedly support a police action even when it is clearly wrong.
But that is not the real topic of this discussion.
There was a lot of talk over the past few months about a proposed sales tax that would have given police officers raises, and also, according to Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, provided for assignment of resource officers to every school in Terrebonne Parish. The proposal went down in flames. Larpenter, the next day, went back to work with a sharpened pencil, faced with the Solomonesque task of deciding which of his programs or services, or people, he will have to cut to make his department’s financial ends meet. The task is not enviable.
In the days following the election I talked to police officers about the election, and pretty much they were accepting of what the public decided. They weren’t all that happy about it. But they weren’t unduly resentful either, even though most of those I spoke with had not been given raises for many years.
“We knew that there was a chance it wouldn’t pass,” said Deputy Julio Escobar. “From where myself and some of the guys I work with see it, we agree that regardless of that we are going to do what we do every day, put on the badge and go out on the street. That’s what the Sheriff expects of us. That’s what we are. You can tell he does feel bad for us. The Sheriff really does take good care of us and he does have a lot of compassion for the deputies. It would have been nice to get a raise. It would have been nice to have the peace of mind to know that there was one of us in every school. But the next day we all still got up and got dressed and went out and did what we had to do.”
Deputy Escobar is not a department spokesman. He had no idea I would be asking him about the election for the tax. These were the words that came out of his mouth naturally and with no kind of prompt.
And they are among the reasons why I understand how it is that people can and should, whenever possible, back the blue.