What is a Policeman?
By Paul Harvey (1918-2009)
A policeman is a composite of what all men are, I guess; a mingling of saint and sinner, dust, and deity. Culled statistics wave the fan over stinkers, underscore instances of dishonesty and brutality because they are news. What that really means is that they are exceptional. They are unusual. They are not commonplace. Buried under the froth is the fact, and the fact is that less than one half of one percent of policemen misfit that uniform. And that is a better average than you’d find among clergymen.
What is a policeman? He, of all men, is at once the most needed, and the most wanted; a strangely nameless creature who is “sir” to his face and “pig” or worse behind his back. He must be such a diplomat that he can settle differences between individuals so that each will think he won. But, if a policeman is neat, he’s conceited; if he’s careless, he’s a bum; if he’s pleasant, he’s a flirt; if he’s not, he’s a grouch.
He must make instant decisions which would require months for a lawyer. But, if he hurries, he’s careless; if he’s deliberate, he’s lazy.
He must be first to an accident, infallible with a diagnosis. He must be able to start breathing, stop bleeding, tie splints, and, above all, be sure the victim goes home without a limp. Or, expect to be sued.
The police officer must know every gun, draw on the run, and hit where it doesn’t hurt. He must be able to whip two men twice his size and half his age without damaging his uniform and without being brutal.
If you hit him, he’s a coward; if he hits you, he’s a bully.
A policeman must know everything and not tell. He must know where all of the sin is and not partake.
The policeman, from a single human hair, must be able to describe the crime, the weapon, the criminal, and tell you where the criminal is hiding. But, if he catches the criminal, he’s lucky; if he doesn’t, he’s a dunce.
If he gets promoted, he has political pull if he doesn’t he’s a dullard.
The policeman must chase bum leads to a dead end; stake out ten nights to tag one witness who saw it happen but refuses to remember. He runs files and writes reports until his eyes ache, to build a case against some felon who will get dealt out by a shameless shamus or an honorable who isn’t honorable.
The policeman must be a minister, a social worker, a diplomat, a tough guy, and a gentle man. And of course, he’ll have to be a genius, because he’ll have to feed a family on a policeman’s salary.