Confessions of a Cop

Hollywood gets police work completely and utterly wrong. Here’s what it’s really like to do this job.

cop giving horse ticket
Eddie Guy for Reader’s Digest

People Are Serial Liars

Ninety-nine percent of everything people say to me is untrue. The most common: “These aren’t my pants.” We hear it during virtually every case in which someone gets shaken down and drugs or guns are found. Apparently there are ownerless pants just floating around, and people grab them off a communal pile before leaving the house.

We’re Cautious in Some Neighborhoods for a Reason

I always imagined it was because those places were littered with armed gangsters, but the reasons are much more complicated. I was cruising about one night and saw this drunken guy riding a horse, clopping into oncoming traffic. I turned on my lights and tried to pull him over. He galloped away on horseback, headed for that apartment building. Our protocols dictate any officer entering that building must be accompanied by at least three other officers.

He stopped the horse inside, possibly assuming no officer would follow him for drunk driving a horse. I leaped out of the car to grab the rider. The guy, in keeping with the old joke, immediately assured me, “The horse is sober.”

But the guy was not, and wacky circumstances don’t grant you license to endanger yourself and others while under the influence. I knew I wasn’t getting horse registration, so I started to book him, at which point this little old lady came up and asked why I was arresting Horse Guy. I began to explain that he was drunk driving and that horses do count as vehicles under the transportation code, when some random dude ran up and punched the old lady in the head.

Punching little old people is a felony, so my partner and I chased the assailant through the complex. He vanished somewhere in the labyrinth, so I made my way back to the car, hoping maybe the lady knew who he was. But she had disappeared too. As had the drunken rider. The horse, however, had been left behind. You would not believe how many phone calls I had to make to get that horse back to its rightful owner.

Read more about the hidden lives of police officers here.

Kicking in Doors Doesn’t Look like It Does in the Movies

I have kicked down way more doors than I ever thought I would. The movies get that whole action completely wrong. At no point should you ever stand directly in front of the door. Doors aren’t bulletproof, and if some bad guy behind the door hears you kicking at it, he’s going to shoot.

The goal is to stand off to one side with your back to the wall so that only your leg is in front. Then give it a good donkey kick, right under the knob.

One time, I kicked a guy’s door. Nothing. We tried a sledgehammer as an impromptu ram. Nothing. We borrowed the fire department’s pry bars. Nothing. The firefighters broke out the Jaws of Life, and we peeled the entire wall of his apartment away to get inside, only to see that all three hinges had been welded shut and the door locks had been welded shut, and he’d also welded a metal pole to a brick of steel behind the door and mounted that pole into the floor.

And after all of that? We didn’t charge him with anything. (We were there to stop him from harming himself, and fortifying your home isn’t a crime.)

The Sight of Police Lights Turns People into Idiots

Myth: Cops use their emergency lights whenever they want, often as an excuse to break traffic laws. Truth: Police vehicles log when an officer turns on the lights, so a cop abusing this will have to explain to an annoyed fleet sergeant why he keeps running down his batteries for no good reason.

While you’ll often hear complaints of police speeding just for the heck of it, in my hometown in Texas, protocol sets our maximum speed at 80 miles an hour. When we turn on our lights to get to an emergency, everyday commuters—who routinely exceed our maximum set speed limit—pass us on the highway.

In theory, a police car with lights flashing should be able to clear a path. Everybody knows to pull off the road, or at least clear a lane, when he sees lights and hears sirens. But some people see that left lane open up, and they rush over there, completely oblivious to the cop car racing toward them (yes, a lot of wrecks happen this way).

Even more puzzling are the accidents that happen when the cop’s vehicle is sitting still with the lights on. Despite the fact that our lights are carefully designed to be bright and annoying enough to get even the most jaded commuter to pay attention, people constantly crash into parked, lit-up police cars.

A Search Is the Slowest, Most Intense Game of Hide-and-Seek

I have the legs of an Oompa-Loompa, but chasing people is a surprisingly awesome part of the job. There’s a primitive part of the brain that makes us love chasing. If you’re a businessman or a barista, and you see some dude running down the street, you can’t chase him. But it’s socially acceptable for cops, and it’s just the best.

The slow, tedious version of this is a building search: We check every possible hiding spot big enough to house a human. Once we got a call from federal agents guarding an unnamed bigwig in my city. Someone had left a door ajar, and we had to go room by room, opening every cabinet, closet, and locker. It turned out that a janitor had left the door open by accident when he went home. We were still clearing the place when he showed up for work the next day.

I’ve found suspects hiding everywhere, from water heater recesses in the maintenance closet to ice chests in the break room. Here’s a tip: When hiding from the police, choose the nastiest place you can imagine. Dry-clean-only uniforms are a total pain (politely ask your cleaner if he’ll get out blood, feces, or fleas—see how that goes), so cops don’t really want to get disgusting unless they have to. It’ll definitely cut down your odds of being found. I’ve gotten fleas twice from nasty places I searched.

But if you are caught, surrender immediately. Procedure demands that we get you out of there. I’ve had to Taser people to get them out from under Dumpsters. One guy tried to lock himself in his car, which could have led to a SWAT call. We preempted that by dispersing pepper spray in the AC vents.

I Love Calls About Wild Animals

We once got a call that two men—one in boxers, the other a Speedo—were bothering some peacocks. Now, I have experience with big birds, so I suspected this would be a self-correcting issue. Sure enough, a new call came in: “Two naked males being attacked and chased by feral birds.”

Source: (January 6, 2014, and June 2, 2014), Copyright © 2014 by Demand Media, Inc.,

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