To Be An Officer

Often not credited, but invaluable.

Often not credited, but invaluable.

There’s been a lot written and said about policing in America over the past few weeks.

Everyday 780,000 police officers across our country put a badge on and go to work knowing they may face extremely dangerous situations. There is no such thing as a routine stop or a routine call.

Yet, they go to work anyway.  In most cases, the pay is low, the hours can be terrible, and there is sometimes little appreciation for what officers really do.  Yet, they do it anyway.

There’s a toll to the job: every year officers are killed in the line of duty. Usually between 100 and 200 officers a year, according to C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors) a non-profit.

Another 50,000 officers are assaulted, 14,000 are injured and over 300 officers commit suicide each year.  There is no other profession in the world, except the military, where you will find these kinds of statistics.

I’d never claim to be an expert on policing, but the one department that I feel I know fairly well is the Delray Beach Police Department.

I’ve seen the department transform from arguably one of the city’s biggest weaknesses in the 1980s to arguably one of its best assets.

When I moved to Delray in the mid-80s, the department was suffering from a major image problem. There were plenty of outstanding officers but the department had a fraught relationship with key neighborhoods and crime was a huge deterrent for businesses and residents.

I spent many nights in cruisers and vans as dedicated officers wrestled with the crack cocaine epidemic. I was a young reporter at the time and the crime story in Delray Beach was a big one. Entire neighborhoods were open air drug markets. At all hours of the night, you could find dealers on corners selling crack while sitting on milk crates. The dealers employed small children on bicycles—some as young as 7—to zip around the streets looking for the “jump out” crew, which was formally known as the Tact Team, a group of officers who travelled in a Black SUV  and were tasked with fighting street level drug dealing.

There were major dealers who were eventually brought down. One king pin actually used to impale the heads of pigs on street signs as a warning to cops.

I accompanied officers and detectives on raids, sweeps, stings, reverse stings etc., and saw sights that became seared in my brain. A teary and broken old man held hostage in his own home by dealers who were using it as a crash pad, a former high school football star who now weighed 100 pounds– his body ravaged by crack and AIDS–  people whose fingertips were burnt from cooking crack on roach infested stoves.

Thankfully, we have come a long way since then. Back then it would have been hard to imagine that the biggest debate in town would be whether or not a building should be 60 feet or 54 feet. Nobody was building anything in those days.

We have the luxury of these discussions about growth, investment and development because the men and women of the Delray Beach Police Department made it safe for people to invest in Delray Beach.

That is not to say that we don’t have serious problems with crime, drugs and violence in our community. We do.

A feud between families in Delray and Boynton has led to over 40 shootings in the past year or so, drugs and addiction continue to bedevil our city and we still log our fair share of serious crime.

But the neighborhoods are much safer and quieter than they were in the 80s and downtown feels much safer than those days. It took a village to bring about some positive changes, residents who spoke out, neighborhood associations, city and CRA investment, a land trust, churches, non-profits, schools and the police department all working together.

Over the holidays, there was a lot of press about a confrontation between police and 60-70 people who were gathered at a party.

For some of the retired cops that I still keep in touch with, the response was interesting. That sort of thing used to be routine and hardly ever made the news, they said. Yes, times have changed.

But the recent local incidents and the national conversation ought to remind us that we still have lots of work to do when it comes to crime, race relations, and the role of policing. Not to mention the importance of having great officers who can protect and serve in a world that is often violent, angry and dysfunctional.




  1. Patsy Westall says

    Well said Mr. Mayor!

  2. Bonita Telford says

    Greetings this day – great article Jeff. You said it all.

    With the right mix – recruiting, selection and hiring along with training and education, we can have a team of superb greatness. My own daughter was a Maryland State Trooper, but was injured on the job and had to leave the profession. She relocated to Florida and began a Real Estate business – I respect the men/women in uniform I applaud them for putting their lives on the line to protect the public. They too are human – we need to go back to basic to teach and impress on the young people to respect, it all begins in the home. It is now all of our responsibility to do this and make it work. Thank you for all that you do and have done.

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