Because I was once a police officer, an editor wrote a note today asking about threats from someone like Christopher Dorner.
When I was a robbery/homicide detective there were occasions when threats were issued. These people were dangerous, so we were more cautious in our daily activities. Of course in those days, the crooks had more courage, and wouldn’t think to go after an unarmed girl and her boyfriend just because her dad was a police officer. This will be the new definition of a coward. Threats will always remain a part of the policeman’s life.
Every day a police officer goes to work, there is a chance he or she will not return. I have finished my day in an Emergency Room bed thinking there must be a better way to make a living. This is no different than a person who works in a bank, a library or from a home office. Things happen and when it’s your time, it is your time. We choose our careers based on our skills, training and preferences. Every job has its ups and downs. Police Officers ask for the job, nobody makes them do it. It is very competitive and many who wish to pursue the career are not selected. So something like Chris Dorner going after a police officer, while it will certainly get their attention, it is not a life/career changing event. There will
be changes in how they safeguard their families.
Chris Dorner is justifying his case, claiming police are corrupt. Reading blogs in the last 24 hours, this seems to be a theme many people believe. One blogger even compared the police to a gang where the code of silence was the order of the day.
As a police sergeant, I had experience in handling cases of police officers going off track. Despite what you see in the movies, on television and from attorneys trying to make money for a client who screwed up, the administrations always took immediate and definite actions.
In 13 years of service, I never saw an agency shy away from taking the correct action, even when it involved higher ranking staff. When you make a mistake in business they make an entry in your permanent record, when a police officer makes a mistake they get days off without pay.
Police are held to a high standard and most have an even higher moral standard. It was always easy to investigate wrongdoing by a police officer. While a crook would deny, hedge and lie, a police officer generally admitted his transgressions.
There is one act that is more fearful than a mental case with a gun, and a grudge for perceived wrongs. Lawsuits can ruin an officer’s life and doom them to financial ruin.
In my personal experience, I was home in bed, asleep, on a night off, but one of my officers was involved in an altercation which resulted in a lawsuit.
In a normal civil action, if the officer is found to have disobeyed the law, or agency procedures, the government agency pays the loss. However, in my case they alleged punitive damages. Punitive damages are not allowed to be paid by outside sources, and must come from the officer’s personal assets. In this case, it was a $5 million lawsuit alleging negligent hiring, failure to properly train and failure to supervise.
For the next three years every time I filled out a financial document, a security clearance, or anything else it was necessary to list there was a $5 million lawsuit with me named as a defendant.
Nobody asked if I was guilty. It did not matter. It was a fact that loaning me money was dangerous because if the case was lost, I was bankrupt. This case had no merit and was eventually dismissed. There was no reimbursement for the three years of stress and embarrassment.
This is one reason I left law enforcement. It was a good decision. Today’s law enforcement not only faces criminals, they face civil action, political action and special interest groups. In the final analysis, we always end up with the law enforcement we deserve.
So the answer to the editor's question, about how it affects police officers when they are hunted by a madman, is that in the long run it doesn’t.
They will be a little more cautious, a little more on edge and a little less trustful. All this comes with the job. If Dorner really wanted to get revenge he would have involved punitive damages for his alleged wrongs.