Bruce Robert Coffin here, waxing nostalgic. I retired from the job on September 20th, 2012, twenty-seven years and one week from the day I was hired. People often ask me if I spent my entire law enforcement career with the same department. Of course, I respond. Some people display a look of astonishment on their faces, as if my service to the Portland police department were some rare thing. I suppose things have changed a great deal since the mid 80s when I first started. Not everyone sticks it out with the same agency anymore, some go federal, some move to larger departments seeking more opportunities for advancement and specialty training, some leave for better pension systems. It’s a different time for a different generation. There wasn’t nearly as much shopping when I started. Back then three to four hundred people would show up to test for a dozen openings. It was much harder to rise to the top in a pile that size. Once hired, officers tended to stay put.
During my first months on the job, I remember being told by a veteran officer that there were two kinds of cops, those who could cut it and those who couldn’t. “When will I know which one I am?” I asked. I remember him looking at me thoughtfully before answering. “Kid,” he said, “if you’re still here after five years, you made the cut.” If you left the job in the 80s it was likely to pursue an entirely different career.
Do I ever wonder if I made the right decision, becoming a cop? Nope. I know I made the right choice. I remember hating it when my days off arrived each week, fearing that I’d miss something. Some other officer might catch a burglar in the act on my beat and I’d miss out. I couldn’t wait to get back at it. Every code run, lights and siren, to a call was an adrenaline rush. Breaking up bar fights was scary and thrilling all at the same time. Chasing the driver of a stolen car. Breaking up a domestic. Catching a robbery suspect. I had a front row seat to the greatest show on earth. And each day provided new chances to help other people, often people I’d never met. With each day came opportunities to right the wrongs and put another bad guy behind bars.
Do I miss it? Every day. I miss the men and women I worked with, the camaraderie, being part of a group whose only job was to keep the peace and protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. I miss policing from my time on the job. But those days are gone. The job has changed. It isn’t the same. I think today’s cops have a much harder time of it, with all of society’s anti-cop sentiment. Everyone seems to know better than the police how their job should be done. I fear that the greatest danger, a direct result of all of this second guessing by the news media and an uninformed public, will be police officers hesitating. Afraid to act when action is what is called for. Afraid to do their jobs for fear of being crucified.
There is one thing that remains the same between policing in my day and now. Hesitation kills.