Call it a sixth sense, but for 24 years I have felt the gaze as I enter public places. There is usually at least one set of eyes that lock onto the police uniform and refuse to disengage. Even as my senses alert me to the activity, and I identify the exact person engaged in the stare down, they refuse to unlock the look that screams, “Policeman.”
It can make you very uncomfortable. It can be intimidating. It can be downright frightening. I’ve known officers who ignore it, others who avoid places where these eyes gather, and others who understand the “Ticket” concept.
The uniform is an automatic ticket to greet people and introduce yourself. It is the honor of assuring the elderly that their concerns are your concerns. It is an opportunity to encourage a young person to do well in school and at home. It is an invitation to kneel and interact with a child in the store, playground or restaurant.
Those peering eyes as you enter a room, are the same eyes I saw police officers through as a child. Usually accompanied with a wide open mouth and a hesitant smile. Officers become larger than life to tykes who roll their plastic police cruisers along their mother’s hardwood floors.
This is the Ticket concept of policing. That uniform blesses you with an awesome opportunity and obligation to initiate the communication. I always encourage our officers to appreciate the amazing chance they have to make a memory for a child with a simple handshake, or interaction. I still recall those officers from my childhood with great fondness. They did not pull me from a burning car, or shield me during a gunfight; they simply showed kindness.
Civilians would think it should be an easy and natural part of the job. Unfortunately, officers are conditioned to separate themselves from society for maintaining an objective observation of threats to the public good. Adversarial contacts with citizens requesting police intervention in everything from child custody disputes to suicide attempts are the steady diet for a tour of duty.
This is why we focus on the community policing aspect of public service. Walking the beat, bicycle officers, tent talks, bicycle rodeos, reading to children at schools and in the library, and inviting kids (and their parents) to stop by the police department to visit. It’s funny to watch the parents looking over their kid’s head asking us, “Really?”
Some of my most wonderful memories while serving as the Chief of Police will be the impromptu invitations and visits by the kids, stopping our Mardi Gras parades while I run into a crowd of kids to say hello and snap a few pics, and high-fiving those tykes with one hand while they hold their favorite plastic police car in the other.
Officers do have a ticket to ride, and that should include reaching out and meeting as many people as possible. Not while issuing a citation, or taking their arrest booking information. When there seems like nothing better to do at the moment, use that ticket to gain entrance into a conversation with a stranger and make a friend.
The uniform makes it easy; they already know who you are and what you do. Use your ticket to ride.