Sunday, February 9, 2014
In the early months of the year 1987 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on Affirmative Action in police agency hiring practices. This ruling stated that for every white person hired or promoted there is to be one black person hired or promoted as well. This ruling was to combat law enforcement departments overt and defiant acts of racism in hiring.
The police department I was working for thought they had the answer to the Affirmative Action law to have black employees in the patrol division of the Department by encompassing the employees who worked the jail. Many of these were Black or of Latin descent. With the new ruling this would no longer suffice.
I grew up in the Seattle, Washington area of the northwest and discrimination was not practiced so I did not understand the reasoning for the omission of blacks or other minorities from being hired. You can imagine my surprise to learn that I was considered a minority just for being white and female!
Treating people like people was and still is my mantra. The color of their skin has no bearing on it!
As a Field Training Officer, I was given the responsibility to train the first black patrol officer. I knew from past experience that there were those that had hoped he would not pass the training. BUT they failed to recognize that I also was aware of these same feelings from them when I went through the training process. In my heart I felt that come hell or high water he would make it! It seemed ironic that a minority officer would be training a minority officer candidate.
Officer S began his formal training for the first 3 phases of the training program with male officers. He became my responsibility in the 4 phase which was also the longest phase. I started his training by getting to know him and his aspirations. He was very determined. After a few days it was apparent to me that he had no fear in the face of the citizens he was sworn to protect. He had fear alright but it was of me as I held the power to make him or break him in this job.
I knew I had to convince him that I had no such power, he was responsible for his own destiny. I could teach him the fundamentals of the job but he had to make the job his own. I further told him that he had to know that pinning the badge on his shirt did not make him anything or anyone special. He would still be himself. He had to make the badge mean something to others. Being true to the meaning of the badge and the job by your words and actions will be what makes you or breaks you.
Halfway through the training phase I let Officer S be in charge of our unit. He did all the driving and he would be the initial officer of contact. When we'd arrive at a call I would hang back a little (as I was well known by the citizens) to see how he was received and how he handled it. At first he was met with angst and disdain by white citizens. I noticed it but he never acknowledged their ignorance and he provided them with answers and assistance as if they were his family. Of course, there were times where no matter what he said he had to prove that he meant what he said. In these times we more often than not ended up in a physical confrontation. We often ended up on the bottom of a 'pig pile' and had to be rescued by other officers but we always did it as a TEAM. He had my back and I had his.
At the end of the training phase Officer S would next enter his final phase of training. I closed my 4 weeks of training with him by telling him that from the very beginning there was never a thought in my mind that he would fail. I want him as a fellow officer and only he, himself, has the ability to make it or not. Fulfillment as a police officer or a human being comes with sacrifice and service. The decision is up to each of us.
Officer S went on to become one of the most revered officers in the police department. He retired about 2 years ago and during a trip to Texas in 2013 I was able to see him again. Officer S told me that it was my confidence in him and my encouragement and unconditional belief in doing what's right that solidified his successes. Even in my absence he'd recall my passion for helping others and making the badge mean something. He wanted me to know how much I had touched him in 4 short weeks that lasted for 25+ years.
I feel that without the Affirmative Action law I would not have met Officer S. The Lord works in mysterious ways and I believe He had a hand in this as well. This door was opened for a reason and the salvation of our fellow man, no matter the color of our skin, was the purpose.