It's pretty unusual hear a police officer speaking candidly, ON THE RECORD, about the job they're paid to do and the people who pay them to do it... and about how some of the parts of that job might be a little bit unsavory.
Things like busting up protests. Dealing with young cops with egos. Overcoming ingrained racism. Catering, at least a little bit, to the wealthy. Wanting nothing more than to make it to the end of your shift without getting hurt.
So imagine our surprise when a kindly Blogtown reader pointed us over to local podcast Status Quo Overthrow, whose first episode was a lengthy interview (mostly) with a Portland police officer, one Paul Park. And imagine our further surprise as we listened to Park, prompted by host Michael Richeson, go on and tackle all of those subjects in an honest and bracing way.
Listen here, or read highlights below. It's revealing and interesting, and even a little sympathetic. Park speaks from some personal experience, especially when it comes to force cases—he was involved in the city's only Taser-related fatality and also was one of two officers who shot an accused carjacker holding a pair of scissors in 2003.
(Update 4 PM: Oh! And if you're the type who goes in for raunchy talk, fast forward to the last few minutes—when some visitors crash the podcast. I'll say no more.)
On homelessness crackdowns!
"A lot of that kind of stuff is generated by the Portland Business Alliance.... A lot of police work is driven by politics. All these street officers, they don't care. They don't want to deal with those kids.... We want to give them help, but a lot these kids want to be homeless."
"I found myself on calls where I found a black person, they're not being hostile, but there's an underlying current of nervousness within me. Why do I feel this way? It's stupid. They're just a human being.... Like now, even the gangster types, I just see them as a person until they give me a reason to be more concerned.
"That's the thing about all prejudice and racism. It's all ignorance. And ignorance leads to fear, and once you educate yourself and get clued in, you're no longer fearful."
On riot gear!
Richeson suggests riot gear all by itself can help incite a crowd, comparing protesters to baboons whipped up by the sight of a panther. Park, not really joking, suggests making riot uniforms more of a salmon color and dousing rowdy protesters with scented oils proven to have a calming effect.
"Your point is very valid about riot gear," Park says. "It definitely gets people riled up."
On a cop's mindset!
Losing authority or being challenged, especially for a young, green officer, "makes you look bad. It's an ego thing. it could endanger your safety. Or you think it might. Foremost is personal safety in police work. Because it's very dangerous.
"Everyone's a potential threat. That kind of stuff gets ingrained in you, and they're not able to separate that out from what's practical."
On enforcing evictions!
"That's the part of being a police officer I have issues with. It's like any other job, though. You don't enjoy every aspect of your job and you're going to have to do things you don't feel good about out. It's a small part of being a municipal police officer, though....
"Nevertheless, the plutocracy needs muscle.... It's unfortunate. and again, I'm constantly reminded of it. We live in an effed up world and it's about finding a way to at least improve my small circle and be the best person I can be."
On whether rich people earn better treatment than the poor!
Park says "people in general tend to treat them a different way. I find myself doing that, too." Then he tells a story about his recently developed habit of actually waiting for pedestrians to clear a crosswalk before making right turns ("Fuck pedestrians," he jokes) and how that different treatment plays out.
"If someone is one these street kids or a regular-looking dude, I'm slower to stop for them. If I see a well-dressed business man or lady, I stop. But I'm like, 'That's wrong. Why do I do that?'... It's programmed into my head."
On the use for force, including deadly force!
"We debrief major incidents.... You talk about it. Training studies it.... Sometimes, it's unfortunate. The thing about being a police officer is you cannot afford not to go home every night...."
People think cops are "supposed to fight fair. If you fight fair that's how you get your ass kicked. You can't take that chance. If you tense up your fists, I might beat you with my baton. It looks bad to the public, but it's absolutely justified....
"Am I going to kill you? Probably not. Why would I take a chance on getting injured. Why should I get injured when i don't have to."
Then why not shoot someone right away, Richeson asks.
"I don't want to use deadly force because I can use a lower level of force to take care of myself."