The reality of perception…

Perception (noun)
per-sep-shuh n (according to
the act or faculty of perceiving, or apprehending by means of the senses or of the mind; cognition; understanding.
immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation, as of moral, psychological, or aesthetic qualities; insight; intuition; discernment
the result or product of perceiving, as distinguished from the act of perceiving; percept.

Without getting too philosophical, perception is an extremely individualistic concept.  We all view the world through a different lens, and two people from the same general demographic with similar life experiences can walk away from an event with totally different ideas of what happened.  Perception is part of what makes us unique.  Our perceptions guide our decisions, form our opinions and preferences, and ultimately impact our character and attitudes toward our world.

I was raised in rural America and did not have much access to many cultural experiences outside of my little area of the world.  My experiences as a child did give me the opportunity to understand that a snake may or may not have a poisonous bite, but if you aren’t certain, it’s best to avoid them all together.  Some snakes are very useful when you live on a farm.  They eliminate rodents that leave the cornrows and try to come inside where they do not belong and would do no harm to a human.  Having the understanding that there were helpful snakes near me did not stop me from killing the ones that looked like they were venomous.  I wasn’t willing to take the chance that they would bite me or another family member.

When I was in high school I became friends with a kid who had moved to our area from a city several states away.  His family had two pet snakes that they kept inside their homes.  I wasn’t terribly comfortable with the idea, but he was raised with them and seemed to actually enjoy having them slither around his arms.  I can remember thinking that folks from the city were strange, but I always refused to let one of those snakes crawl on my body.  I’d run my fingers across their backs, as far away from their heads as possible, but I wasn’t at all comfortable with the idea of giving a snake free reign to my body.

It’s been demonstrated time and again that our initial perception of something can change over time once more information is gained.  This concept spawned phrases such as “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” and “don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes”.  In our world of instant access to more information than we can thoroughly digest on an individual and intellectual level, we have began to allow talking heads on a television screen and social media to dictate our perceptions of the world.

I am growing tired of hearing the constant negativity surrounding law enforcement in the media.

I truly understand the concerns regarding the militarization of our police force.  I see how a citizen would be intimidated by cops who look like soldiers and are riding in vehicles that are better equipped than Vietnam era tanks.  A cop in full tactical gear can elicit the same response from a citizen as a snake.  Is it venomous or not?  It can be difficult to tell, unless you gain some extra knowledge and get an informed opinion.

As someone who has been there, I understand that the cops are inside those armored vehicles because they have a job to do and a family to return home to after the job is done.  Police officers are being shot at in an alarming rate in our nation.  If the armored vehicle or the other military-appearing equipment allows the officers to survive, I fully support it.  Then again, my perception is different because I’ve been in those shoes.

I understand the idea that a person’s race, color, sexual orientation, or religion can factor into their views of the world.  I also understand that people who do not have the same race, color, sexual orientation, or religion may have precepts about a person who is not like them.

I’m proud to say that I’ve never changed my treatment of a person because of their outward appearance once I’ve deemed them to not be a threat to me.  I don’t care if you are 5 years old or 90 years old, if you can pull a trigger you may have the ability to hurt me.  Are you venomous or not?

If you act in a manner that jeopardizes my safety, you force to react in order to remain safe.  If you don’t look like me but you are a victim of a crime or need assistance, I will do everything I can to make sure you receive help.  It has nothing to do with how you look.  Of course black lives matter, but so do all other lives, including blue lives.

I took an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States.  I happen to take that oath very seriously.  If you want to protest against the police, we’ll come and ensure your safety, just remember that only a “peaceful assembly” is protected under law, not a riot.  On a personal level, I’ve grown comfortable with the idea that someone’s opinion of me is none of my business.  I’m more than happy to let someone who sees me in uniform make an ignorant comment about me being a “pig”.  I was raised with the idea that sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  If you want to posture in front of your friends and have a loud bark like a little lap dog, go right ahead.  If you cross a line and enter the realm of criminal activity, I won’t insult you or your mother.  My bark isn’t terribly loud, but I can bite with the best of them.

If you carry a firearm for your safety, I’m happy for you, it makes my job much easier as long as you don’t point it at me.  I can’t be everywhere at once, and if you need to protect yourself from a lethal threat just remember to focus on the front sight and have a good trigger pull.

I’ll do everything in my power to ensure that if I need to search you, your home, or your vehicle, I’ll do so in accordance with your rights.  It’s not worth losing a criminal case to violate your rights.  It would be much easier if you told me that you had something illegal and where it was located so I didn’t have rifle through your collection of sex toys and porn.  Seriously, why is there always a dildo and some kind of porn right in the area where dope is hidden in a house?

If you don’t want to talk to me after I read you the Miranda warning, that’s fine.  I’ll develop the case without your explanation or statement.  If I can prove that you committed the crime, we’ll meet again.  I’ll be the guy with the handcuffs.

Perceptions can only be fully developed once you make an effort to educate yourself about something that isn’t in your comfort zone.  It’s always been interesting to me that people make ignorant comments about the police as racist, excessive force using bullies who make judgments based on groups of people because of their appearance or group affiliation can’t take a step back and hear their own words.  Do they not understand that they are doing the very same thing they are accusing the police of doing?

I’m not under the illusion that every officer at every agency in the United States is fully trustworthy and behaves in a manner that encourages the public trust.  I understand that there are those who are venomous that dress like me.  It’s true of every group of people.  I can’t think of one large profession that hasn’t been tainted by a rotten apple or two.  The same is true of ethnic groups, religious organizations, and any other demographic of people.  The majority may be great people, but odds are that somewhere in their ranks is a venomous snake in hiding.  It doesn’t mean that all who are somehow associated are then guilty of being the same.

I’ve been around the block once or twice.  I’ve been a world away in a foreign land for reasons I still don’t fully understand.  I met people there that immediately assumed that I represented good and I met people there that immediately decided I was bad.  Some were indifferent at best.  Some waved and offered gifts.  Some cursed me in a foreign tongue or used surprisingly clear English.  Some hurried away.  Some decided to shoot at us.  None of them dressed like me or looked like me.  I had to make assessments based on my perceptions of their behavior.  Were you venomous or not?  I can only assume that their own perceptions dictated their actions.

It seems as though we are in the same kind of environment now in the United States.  It’s not uncommon for me to receive a big wave and a smile as I patrol a neighborhood.  It’s also not uncommon for that wave to be a single-and decidedly less friendly-finger accompanied by a scowl.  I’ve had small children throw their hands in the air while yelling “don’t shoot”.  No little fella, I don’t want to shoot you, but I would love the opportunity to adjust the attitudes of your mother, father, or whomever it is that is teaching you that what you just did is appropriate.

Due to their intermingled nature, perceptions and opinions fall under the same category as asses.  We all have them.  Some of them stink.  Education and experience is to our perceptions and opinions as Zest soap is to asses.  If you get some and apply it properly, it won’t be so stinky.

Time to go patrol the Donut…





About donutcountycop

I am a husband, father, and coach who began a career in law enforcement at a very small agency in 2003. After a deployment to Iraq with the USMC reserve in 2004, I changed agencies and moved to a “donut county” that borders a major US city in 2006. My current agency is composed of about 50 sworn officers, and is the busiest agency in our part of the donut. I am currently a mid-level supervisor who is in charge of a night shift, and serve the department in many other areas that include SWAT, FTO, and primary instruction. I’ve been around long enough to lose the illusion that I have every answer to every problem and now fully understand that my experiences have prepared me for little else than a life of wearing a badge and pistol.
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