To those who want to be a cop,
In 2019, when I was still a police officer, the Metropolitan Police Department named me DC Police Officer of the Year. I believe that I won that award because I understood that a badge does not make you a hero. If you are thinking about pursuing a career in law enforcement, I want you to understand that as well. To help you, here are a few of the most important lessons I learned about how to positively impact the places and people you serve.
First, you have to care about the community – not just when you’re working but all the time.
During the summers in DC, I’d buy a 24-pack of water for $12. When I was off duty, every few days, I would go to this location where I knew there were homeless people and many people who were struggling. I’d give out the water along with some food.
After a while, the people there started waiting for me.
One time this lady and her kids came out of a somewhat abandoned building and told me, “We only come out when we know it is you coming around. We know you have something for us.”
Secondly, sometimes you need to show tough love.
There’s a little crowd that hangs out on the 3800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Among that crowd are addicts and drunks and most of them I’ve had to call the ambulance for many times. A few, I’ve had to lock up, which often was for their own good.
After coming out of lock-up, many of them said, “Wow, Officer Brown, I was going through so much. I’m glad that I got locked up because it gave me time to think, or it made it so I couldn’t do drugs, which saved my life.”
Most importantly, you must show sympathy to the people you serve and protect.
A few years ago, there was an elderly couple and the husband died. The woman’s husband was lying there on the floor. It was so sad. At the time, I kept this charm with me. It was of an angel. At that moment, I gave the charm to the lady to comfort her. Two years later, she sent a letter to the police department for me. She wanted to let me know that she never forgot my kindness and she, along with her whole community, prays for me.
Lastly, make sure you take the time to understand people’s circumstances. Many situations may look one way at first, but often there is more going on than meets the eye.
For example, people might jump to conclusions and say, “Look at this, mom. She’s got five kids. It’s 11 PM, and she’s letting her oldest, who’s 15, watch all the other kids. She doesn’t care about her children.”
But how do you know that she is not out at 11:00 PM at night because she’s a single parent working for those five children and that late shift is the only shift that she could get?
That’s why it’s so important to listen to people and ask questions.
Police officers can change a community. And it can start with you. It may take some time, but if you show you care about the community, exhibit tough love when necessary, practice sympathy and never judge people, you will build trust with the people you serve.
When I was an officer, I would often get phone calls or text messages saying, “Hey, the guy that robbed this person is across the street in a black Toyota,” or “The guy that robbed the store. We know where he’s at.”
These people were telling me this vital information because they trusted me.
Right now, in our country, it seems like it’s cops versus communities. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you help people that are hurting, it should be and could be cops versus crime.
I don’t know what is next for me. Maybe I will work as a cop again, or perhaps I will find a completely different way to uplift communities.
But whatever I do, I will pursue it the same way I am encouraging you to pursue your career. And that is with the knowledge that what makes you a real hero is your heart.