Sympathy for ‘the Devil’

Raynor Denitzio

Maybe I’m biased. In fact, I know I am. When most people see a cop, they see someone who ruins their fun. The police are the people who give you a speeding ticket, take away your beer or break up your party. For me, when I see a cop, I see my dad.

For 26 years, he was a police officer in my hometown. Since I grew up around them, police officers are very human to me. I know about the Christmases and birthdays and baseball games they miss because 9-to-5 hours are not an option for cops. I know about the gallows humor and the stress the job puts on their relationships. And I know something (although second hand, thankfully) of the horrors they see.

The Radnor and Lower Merion Police Departments are subjects of much scorn around this area. The common lament is that all they do is arrest drunk kids. Maybe you got caught trying to buy beer with a fake ID. Maybe they came to your house and broke up your party or gave you a citation for underage drinking or drunk driving.

For my part, I’m glad that Radnor and Lower Merion Police are able to concentrate their efforts on “petty” alcohol-related crimes. We live in a safe neighborhood, much like the ones from which many of us probably come. I wonder if the people who complain about this would like to trade places with students at Temple and La Salle, where the police have “real crimes,” such as murders and assaults, to investigate.

Furthermore, it is ignorant to diminish the severity of alcohol-related crimes. Each year, nearly 17,000 people are killed in drunk driving-related accidents, not to mention the thousands more who are seriously injured.

Who among us hasn’t been touched by a tragedy involving drunk driving? Mine came the day after I got my license when I got a phone call that one of my friends had been killed in an accident the night before. He had been drinking and wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, missed a turn and hit a tree. When these events occur, it is often up to the much-hated police to pick up the pieces. They are the messengers who deliver the news to parents that their child has just been killed. They are the damage controllers who respond to the unimaginable carnage caused by a lethal mix of alcohol and cars. Or in the case of my friend, they are the search party walking up and down a winding road in the rain at 2 a.m looking for a young man’s head.

Police officers deal with situations like this so that we don’t have to. Most of us will never come face-to-face with a man with a gun or deal with the cold reality of a lifeless body or have the smell of burnt human flesh in our lungs. Cops deal with all these things during their careers, acting as a thin blue line between us and the terrible reality that is often found in life. Cops are asked to make life-and-death decisions and are expected to be 100 percent correct 100 percent of the time; otherwise, they face the risk of prosecution – or death. If you don’t think this takes a toll, look at the statistics for alcoholism, divorce and even suicide among police officers.

I’m not na’ve enough to believe that all cops are good. But then again, would we as Villanova students like to bear the stigma of being obnoxious, spoiled drunks because a few of our schoolmates cannot control themselves? The vast majority of Villanova students, like the vast majority of police officers, are honest, decent and caring. However, the worst among both groups just happen to be more visible (and more destructive). Some cops are lazy, some are arrogant, some are obnoxious and, among the very worst, some are racist bullies.

But I also know that some are great. If you ever need proof, visit the National Law Enforcement Memorial Web page and read about cops like John Perry, an NYPD officer who was turning in his retirement papers on Sept. 11 when he heard the radio call of a plane striking the World Trade Center. Perry rushed to the scene and died rescuing people from the North Tower. There are many more cops like him (roughly one every other day) who die for a society that many times doesn’t appreciate them.

So go ahead and call them pigs or Gestapo. Curse them for ruining your fun or for the fact that “all they do is bust drunk kids.” But remember that when a gunman fired shots near Villanova’s campus, it wasn’t college kids who were taking those bullets.

It’s not the fact that the police put their lives on the line every day that makes them worthy of our respect; it’s the fact that they are willing to do so. And if you don’t appreciate that, try calling one of your frat brothers or sorority sisters instead of 911 the next time you’re in real trouble.

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Raynor Denitzio is a senior political science major from Scotch Plains, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]