Des Moines Public Safety Officer 911

Police Work

By Dave Brown, Retired Sgt. DMPD

The job that I enjoyed so much for nearly thirty years, would be made so much easier today by all the experts out there telling me how to do my job.  Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI), the ACLU or just anybody who has become an expert in law enforcement from watching marathon episodes of either COPS or Live PD. There is always someone out there today willing to step up and tell you what you did wrong and how you should have done your job better.

When I went on the police department in 1974 I was fortunate enough to be trained by, and work with some of the best officers on The Des Moines Police Department.  And one of the first things that I learned that was beneficial to my career was the importance of being proactive instead of reactive in the performance of my job –which you, as citizens were paying me to do.  In other words if I actively and aggressively went out on patrol and looked for problems I could ultimately deter them before they got out of control. Now that meant everything from watching for traffic violations in high accident prone areas, to robberies, burglaries, auto thefts even rapes in areas I was responsible for patrolling.  Being proactive made the job exciting and made me feel like I was really doing something good for this community.   Fortunately the majority of the officers I worked with were of a similar work ethic and mind set when it came to doing our job.

However, there was also in existence the other side of the coin. These were officers who chose to be reactive instead of proactive.  Literally these officers would come to work –just like the rest of us, but instead of looking forward to going out on the street and trying to catch a burglar that had been hitting buildings in their area, or as in one case I remember someone abducting and sexually assaulting female paper carriers on the west side of the city.  You know, things you might as a citizen worry about just before you go to sleep at night. Instead of going out on the street and yes as bad as it sounds; “looking for trouble,” these officers would come to work equipped with a harlequin romance novel or some other literary work and go out and park behind a warehouse –way back behind the warehouse, where some passing citizen could not see them and be tempted to pull in and ask them a question.  Then they would settle in and hope that the dispatchers did not call them.  If by chance they would be called by the dispatcher, more than likely they would have to be called more than once.  Either they were so immersed in their reading, or they were actually hoping the dispatcher would call someone else in their place.  

The irony of that situation is twofold.  You have two officers being paid to do the same job.  One is trying to do the right thing to “protect and serve.”  Watching over businesses, residences and citizens that he/she has sworn to protect –TO EVEN DIE FOR YOU IF NECESSARY!  The other is out there having a social experience and doing nothing more than worrying about getting a paper cut from turning the pages in the reading material. The sad part here is that both of those officers were getting paid the same amount of money.  One officer took their job very seriously and the other was taking the city (that being you) for a ride.  Secondly, quite often some of the administration often said of the second group “he/she is a good officer, he/she never draws a complaint.”  REALLY?  In order to draw a complaint you have to have generated some sort of interaction with a citizen, stopping a traffic violator or checking out a person in a suspicious situation.  The police are supposed to be on the lookout for things like that.

“The law does not apply to me” has become a prevalent mantra when getting stopped by the police. Frequent claims of mistreatment by the accused occur in spite of the fact that this person has likely placed themselves in a compromising legal situation.  We need aggressive, yet respectful officers to serve us.  When officers feel continually threatened by legal consequences for doing their job, morale becomes low and they are hesitant rather than decisive to perform the necessary action.

If you want a reactive police department than this is what we should do, first of all let’s send the entire police department home.  Tell them to kick back in their easy chairs, have a cup of coffee, work the crossword or whatever, “we’ll call you if we need you.”  Now that’s not 100% practical because someone has to be at the police station to answer the phone, maybe we can ask the janitor to pickup.  So anyway in a nutshell there is nobody minding the store.  Now when the burglars, child molesters, robbers, drug dealers and other undesirable characters hear about this and finish doing their cartwheels in the street, they go to work.  So you come home and find that someone is in your house and taking everything that you have worked for.  What do you think should happen?  Well golly we most certainly don’t want to warp their psyche by having them have an encounter with the police, who will undoubtedly fail to promote a fuzzy warm feeling with the criminals.  So you wait until they have everything they want and you pray that they don’t beat you half to death just because they feel like it before they leave.  Then you can call the police to report what has befallen you.  So now the police department can spring into action.  They can call one of their officers at home and see if they might be available to come down to the station and get a police car and go out to your residence and make a report –provided of course that they are not concerned about the possibility of upsetting someone with the presence of a marked police car in the area.  By that time there should be no danger at all of encountering anyone other than the victim(s) involved in this incident.  Now if there is any type of viable description of the suspect(s) and suspect vehicle the reporting officer can put that in the report and eventually that report will make it up to the detective division where an investigator can look at the report.  Then to make this long story short, if any type of suspect information is found that might lead to a positive closure of this incident.  The investigator can make contact with the suspect and see if it would be possible to set up an appointment –of course at the suspect’s convenience, for the suspect to come down and talk about this situation.  We most certainly do not want to infringe on their rights or more importantly cut in to their social hour.  Because after all, they were only just doing what they wanted to do, so what’s the harm in that?   

Here’s another thought, just like at the grocery store or practically any other place of business now, let’s develop a UPC type bumper sticker that will tell us the ethnicity of the of the owner of the car, their sexual persuasion, their political affiliation, their marital status and if they have the right to be carrying a concealed weapon.  Scanners will be built into police vehicles and when a police car pulls up behind a vehicle all of that information will be readily available to the officer who encounters said vehicle.  If the UPC bumper sticker indicates that this vehicle is occupied by some “protected spices” it will indicate so to the officer and the officer can let the car go without hurting the feelings of the occupant(s) of the vehicle.

Recently I heard a news report in which some police officers out east somewhere stopped a car because they were informed by two citizens that there were two black males in the car and they were robbing a white woman.  The police caught up to the car and stopped it.  They ordered the black male that was in the passenger seat out of the car, I could see that one of the officers had his pistol in his hand but was not pointing it toward the man who came out of the car.  As it turned out the female in the car was the man’s grandmother –she happened to be white.  Unfortunately the police did not get the names of the people who reported this incident to them.  Now if someone stopped me and said, “HEY! THE WOMAN IN THAT CAR IS BEING ROBBED” my first thought is going to be, get that car and get it stopped.  There is no video of the initial encounter with the reporting people.  Police cameras do not run all the time.  The battery life is not that long.  If someone walks up to an officer in a car more than likely that incident will not be recorded.  Usually those cameras come one when two things take place, the officer gets out of their car or the emergency equipment is activated.

Now the two people in the car, Grandma and Grandson and anybody else who can get in front of the camera is screaming racial profiling. They are saying the officers made up the story about the alleged abduction/robbery.  Maybe it’s just me, but that situation reeks of a set up. Everybody wants to jump on this band wagon and go after the fatted cow (city hall or whoever has the deepest pockets.)

In a case like that, if the initial report to the officers was true, which of these headlines would you like to read in the paper?


OR                                                                                                                                                                                            ELDERLY WOMAN’S BODY FOUND IN DITCH, BEATEN, ROBBED AND SEXUALLY ASSAULTED WITH BROOM HANDLE.                                                                     

Graphic? Horrible? Well you know what?  That type of thing is exactly what goes on out on the street everyday in this country.  And the police, god bless every one of them, are the only thing that stands between you and that type of activity.

When I joined the police department, one of the things that always stuck with me was a philosophy conveyed by Sergeant Pete Rounds relayed to our class.  He said, “You should always try to treat people like this is the only time in their life that they will ever deal with the police.”  I thought Wow! What a great concept.  A terrific way of thinking of people and how they should be treated.  Try to make a positive, lasting impression on the people you are sworn to protect, and yes even die for.  That is until you walk up to one of these fine folks and they spit in your face, pull a knife or a gun on you, tell you they just visited your wife and are on their way to your daughters.  Maintaining that work thought was not an easy task.


David F. Brown (Retired DMPD Sergeant)

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