On Becoming A Black Cop



As I young boy I found myself fascinated with red lights and sirens. I would stop peddling my "big wheel" at the sound of a siren and would not start up again until it had passed and vanished into the distance. It did not matter if they were on a big red truck, a medic van, or a police car. Regardless of which vehicle those men and women were driving, it represented something truly powerful to me. I want to be careful about using the word “powerful” so let me qualify it. The sight of those vehicles speeding through the night was powerful because it meant that relief was on its way; someone in need of help would soon be at ease. I remember thinking to myself -- probably because it’s what I saw on the movies -- some young child would be pulled out of a burning building, or a bank robber would be soon be arrested.

Mostly, I remember realizing that I wanted to be a part of this special knit of people who are willing to shed blood and give the ultimate sacrifice for others that they do not even know. I wanted to be a police officer. What I did not realize however, were the challenges that would surface through my journey to becoming a police officer.

Family Acceptance

I first told my parents that I wanted to be a cop when I was in ninth grade. My dad, being the caring and loving father that he is, practically flipped out in his efforts to change my mind. His concerns are not taken lightly either.

My mother told me that she would not be able to sleep at night; she told me that I was too smart to be a cop; she asked me "why not be a doctor?" It hurt me to listen to my parents then and it hurts me to know that they will live with an unsteady anguish in their stomachs due to my career choice.

Perhaps the hardest person to gain acceptance from was my big brother. I’m not even a cop yet and already I’ve been called a “pig” or “sellout” more times that one could bear in a lifetime. And my boys? Some have broken the law from time to time. So often I’ve been told to put the “ear muffs” on prior to their sharing of a story.

So, why be a cop?

These challenges made me really think about why I want to be a cop. The answer is easy for me. I feel that I have been put on this earth to serve. The manner in which people serve is different for everyone though. I want to serve by keeping your mother, daughter, sister, and grandmother safe in our world that's full of turmoil. I want to serve by committing myself to people and to improving the quality of life for each member of the community. People deserve to feel safe in their neighborhood and to have someone at their side when someone else creates fear in them. I want to be that person.

It is no secret that police departments house illegitimate, racist, and flagitious officers that ruin the upstanding name and character that the majority of their colleagues deserve. In order to change the flagrant behavior of those few, it is essential that there are people who recognize, object to, and confront these behaviors. I feel that I am the perfect candidate to do just this -- to change something, you must become that something. So next time you see a uniform, particularly a brother or sister, don’t be so quick to think, “pig” or “sellout.” Instead, I challenge you to think about the reasons that man or woman chooses to put on that uniform. Perhaps they’re dedicated to serving you, protecting you, and changing the wrongs that have been brought against you. That’s my reason for putting one on.

Although they were slow to do so at first, my family and friends have become my biggest supporters in my journey to become a cop. They all realize what it means to me to be able to put on that badge and swear under oath to protect and serve. I will always remember their reservations and concerns, their comments and jokes, because these will act as my personal checks and balances. And in the event that I am ever unable to adequately defend my reasons for wanting to be a cop, at that moment, I will turn to a different career.

Schooling

Police officers only truly need an Associates degree. I chose to get a bachelor’s degree, however, because of the benefits that come with getting four years of education. Some departments only hire people with four-year degrees, federal agencies often require four-year degrees, it may be useful during promotional times, and if an employer is trying to decide between two equally qualified candidates, only differing in their years of education, the candidate with the four-year degree has a large advantage. And if you find out that this is not the right field for you down the road, the education you received in four years should aid you in attaining a different career. I wanted to bat on the safe side.

I went to a small private school in St Paul and in four years got a degree in Criminal Justice. I took courses in Juvenile Delinquency, Law Enforcement, Minnesota Criminal Statutes, US Constitutional Rights and Liberties, Criminology and many more. I feel that these classes gave me the knowledge necessary to truly understand the criminal justice system, state and federal laws, and crime policy and prevention.

In April of 2002, I was blessed with an opportunity to work for the Minneapolis Park Police. In this unlicensed position, I’ve been given the chance to work hand in hand with police officers throughout Minneapolis, learn about the department, enforce state and city statutes, and prepare for my future as a police officer. In this extremely competitive field, any volunteer work and related experience is crucial.

Training

In addition to the academic part of training that we learn in college, there are many other areas that a police officer needs training in before starting work. I attended my skills training in Alexandria, Minnesota. The intense ten week program there is one of the best in the country. College gave me the understanding of the law and procedures. Skills training, on the other hand, taught me the “hands on” aspect of police work. Week one introduced me to traffic law and the first of ten ongoing weeks of firearms and defensive tactics training. Some students had never fired a firearm, or entered a squad car. By the end of week one, however, we were all quite familiar with the Glock model 17 and proper patterns of movement for a physical altercation.

Week two introduced the many state and department report forms that are necessary in documenting the various incidents that police officers respond to. By the time week three rolled around, I was investigating accidents, learning the elements of a DWI stop and the proper way to conduct the stop and arrest, and searching large buildings with suspects inside. Week four included arson investigation, drug laws and symptomology, confident informant management, and undercover narcotics work.

Week four was also the beginning of simmunition practicals. In these practicals, students were provided with a replica Glock 17, which fires paint rather than bullets. We would then do various scenarios that forced the student to decide whether or not deadly force was necessary. This was great training because the bad guy had a gun and in the event that the student made an error, there was a chance he or she would be shot. For instance, my partner and I were called to a bar to apprehend a suspect with a warrant. When we arrived, were unable to control the suspect and the various other commotions that you find in a bar. Our suspect decided to run from us and as I gave chase, I ran right into the suspect’s line of fire and took one round in my side.

Had I relied on my training and the proper way to round the corner of a building, I would not have been shot. It was frustrating because had this been real and not a scenario, someone would have had to knock on my mother’s door and explain to her that I had been killed at work. The pain that she would endure would be the result of a mistake that I made. I’m glad we did this training because after being shot by that simmunition round, I can guarantee you that I will never make that same mistake.

More training

Domestic abuse and search warrants were the topics of week five. The school hired actors to role-play domestic abuse scenarios and I would arrive, hear the facts, and make a decision about how the scenario should be treated. Some scenarios called for arrests, others merely required the student to send one party to their mother’s house for the night until things calmed down. I was evaluated based on my use of discretion. And as I learned about these new areas, I still spent hours at the gun range and in the gym learning defensive tactics every day.

In the next couple weeks, courses included search and water rescue, collection and preservation of evidence, drug interdiction and vehicle searches, responding to terrorist bombings, fingerprinting, and crime scene investigations. In addition to receiving lectures about the mentioned lectures, I did practicals to show my understanding and proficiency in each area.

Week eight was by far the longest, yet most intriguing, week. The two main areas of focus were entry into a building likely containing a wanted suspect and high-risk felony traffic stops. A team of five would make a quick entry, simmunition guns drawn and clear an entire residence in between eight and thirty seconds while apprehending between one and three suspects. The suspects also had simmunition guns. They were trained to shoot us if we made any mistakes. The stress level was quite high during each entry. Each time that a team made an entry, their time would get a little quicker and their tactics were a little tighter.

The high-risk felony stops were prefaced by mentioning that the suspects have committed a violent crime and are dangerous. Again, each stop raised stress and adrenaline levels. Two of us would have to pull over a car, verbally talk each occupant out of the car, back them to our location, search the suspect, and place them in custody. After all occupants were in custody, a search of the vehicle was conducted. In addition, these stops were done at nighttime, which forced us to utilize the lights on our squad car in a tactical way. We were not allowed to leave until we were proficient in both the dynamic entry and the high-risk stops.

Week nine consisted of DWI practicals in which Minnesota State Troopers evaluated us as we made DWI arrests on actors. I also spent two days in St Cloud at a driving school with courses that included evasive driving, forward and reverse serpentine, evasive braking, skid control, and a perimeter track that students had to complete in less than two minutes and thirty seconds while avoiding cones and remaining on the road.

In the final week, I had multiple physical tests that I had to pass in order to complete the program -- a 1.5 mile run, an indoor and outdoor obstacle course, bench press, squat thrust, pull ups, dips, 500 yard run, sit ups, rope drag, and lat pull-downs.

In addition to the various things mentioned throughout the weeks, I was exposed to mace, chemical gas, and an electricity shock from a taser gun. It is intended that if we're exposed to these less-lethal weapons in training, we will perform better if we are exposed to them in the line of duty. What better way to know the effectiveness of these tools other than receiving them yourself?

The weeks were long and hard. We sweat, ached, and bled as a cohesive unit. After it was all said and done, I look back at those ten weeks as being the backbone to the remainder of my career. My goal is to go home alive after each shift. I believe that the tools, skills and tactics that I learned in those ten weeks will aid me in achieving my goal.

After skills tests, I have to pass the Minnesota peace officer licensing exam. This test is a compilation of test questions used by teachers in various schools throughout the state. After I take the test, I hope to get hired by a department that shares my philosophy in policing; a department that is characterized by commitment, compassion, integrity, professionalism, and hard work.

I think I’m ready

I am not getting into this career to beat people up or for the power that comes with it. Rather, I want to be committed to serving you; committed to getting that child molester, rapist, and murderer off the street so that he or she cannot victimize people's loved ones. I believe in the law and the preservation of man -- I am willing to risk my life for it, for you.

{liberatormagazine.com exclusive feature}
by Salim Omari
{The Liberator Magazine 4.1 #9, 2005}

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