Behind the badge: An inside look at the professional lives of the Franklin Police

Published 11:20 am Saturday, November 14, 2015

A scene from Force-by-Force training. -- Andrew Lind | Tidewater News

A scene from Force-by-Force training. — Andrew Lind | Tidewater News

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series of stories intended to give readers an exclusive inside look at the professional lives of Franklin police officers.

The actions of police officers and the amount of force they use in certain situations is the subject of much media scrutiny today. Although the public has every right to form its own opinion about these officers and the way they handle these situations, how many people actually know what these officers go through on a daily basis?

Over recent weeks I got to see a glimpse of what life is like in law enforcement.

I have completed a Force-by-Force training that the Franklin Police Department goes through periodically. In this training they are put in real-life scenarios and are able to practice use of force. The scenarios are based off of real-life crimes that have happened or crimes that are potentially likely to happen. This training helps the officers practice decision-making involving the appropriate time to use force, the appropriate means of force and the appropriate way to handle non-compliant suspects.

Then, I participated in a ride along with members of the Franklin Police Department where a resident gets to ride with a police officer and see what they do and what they encounter during their shift.

Lastly, I conducted several interviews to try and grasp even a fraction of what these officers lives are like and what they go through in their profession. The interviews also brought to light the opinions of many police officers when it comes to certain situations.

This series of articles will be broken up into different parts, however, they will all be connected by the stereotypes and misconceptions that the public has of them, decisions to use force and why it seems they have to use it so often and how this profession has not only affected them personally, but has also affected their families.

To start off, what the public sees in the media are things that have been going on for some time now, but because of today’s technology it is more accessible to the public, which is what the officers believe has led to the increasingly negative perception that much of the public has of them. This new negative perception is strongly connected with the use of force, and the effect this profession has on the officers and their families.

Officers I spoke with said that because the public sees some officers doing wrong in the media, they automatically think that all other police officers are the same. They also said that although some bad police officers do slip through the cracks, just like in any other profession, not all officers are the same.

Sgt. Todd Lyons, who has been in law enforcement almost 12 years commented on the subject and said, “Let me tell you what keeps me professional, is the fear that I’m going to end up on CNN or MSNBC or The Tidewater News, that I said this to such and such. And what I have to think about in my mind when I’m standing there listening to this person and what they have to say to me, and when this does hit the newspaper, would I be proud of myself for how I handled it or would I be ashamed of myself. Would my parents be proud of me? Would my peers be proud of me? Would the public be proud of me? Or would they be ashamed of me?”

Cpl. Joshua Butts, who has been in law enforcement for 11 and-a-half years said, “It’s not that the video or the recording is taking place, it’s you have to be aware of your own actions. Am I presenting myself on that video or that recording that stands true to my character? Because we are human, everybody has a bad day. I think people tend to forget that, cops are human. We get in arguments, we have problems with kids and we have our own family stuff.”

The officers believe something else that leads to the misconceptions the public has of them is the fact that the public doesn’t fully understand the level of crime officers have to deal with.

“The average citizen underestimates the level of crime and sheer viciousness of the criminal mindset. To see these little kids victimized breaks your heart,” said Cpl. Chris Thomas who has been in law enforcement for 16 years. “People don’t understand we may have just left somewhere for a kid who was murdered and we walk into subway, and that’s on our mind. We’re thinking about that. The citizens may say hi to us, we may not have heard it. We are thinking about what we just saw and the citizen is going to think that cop is rude or is a jerk; he’s not talking to me. They have no clue.”

They said that one new stereotype that the public has of them is that the police should be feared and that they aren’t in this profession to help the community.

“There are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions of police officers,” Lyons said. “When I was a little boy I never viewed a police officer as someone I thought was a bad guy, a detriment to society. I always viewed them as these big, tough police officers, these guys that were honorable men, something that I wanted to be a part of.”

Butts said, “When I got into it, I originally started in Suffolk. I didn’t realize the thought process of some people. That if you don’t live in their community, or they don’t see you every day on the streets in their community, then the perception comes that you don’t care or you’re not involved in that community. I think people sometimes fail to realize we are invested as a career here, not just a paycheck. For us, this is a calling.”

Many officers feel that a way to stop these misconceptions and change the stereotypes that surround them is to help the youth see them as someone who is good, not someone they should be afraid of.

“I thought about it when I was getting to play with the kids out in the park the other day. I didn’t think it would make as big of a deal as it did,” Butts said. “I think each one us here given the opportunity that I had, would have done the same thing because we enjoy interacting with the youth element because it gives us a chance to break that stereotype. It’s a time when I’m just another guy and I can play just like you can play and talk just like anyone else can talk and it’s not in an authoritative role when I’m having to tell you what to do and you’re having to listen to me.”

Lyons added, “What drives me crazy is when you walk into a McDonald’s or whatever the case may be and a parent is standing there with their small child who may not even be acting up or being rude or anything. And they look at you and look at the child and say, ‘If you keep doing this, he’s going to put you in jail,’ or something to that effect. Your children don’t need to be afraid of me and fear me. I don’t want them to run from me, I want them to run to me.”

But, the police officers said they know that they will never be able to completely get rid of all the hostility because of the nature of their job.

“People don’t call me when they’re having a great day; people call me when they’re having a bad day. So generally the attitude is hostile more than it is vice versa,” Lyons added.

The next article in this series will be in Wednesday’s edition. In that article, you will get to see a first-hand look of the Force-by-Force training and the general thought process a police officer has when he or she is on the job.