I love a good segue, and I’m not talking about that two-wheeled thing (Segway, right) although every time I see one of those I’m reminded of a certain crass joke (Segways are like fat chicks — fun to ride, but never let your mates see you on one) which I can’t quite remember and even if I did would not publicly endorse because, today, I don’t have the energy to repudiate allegations of fattism. Yep, there’s nothing like a good segue, and in this case it’s brought to you by none other that Dirty Harry Callahan himself. The segue being that he appears in my last post too! And while we’re in a qualifying mood, that’s Inspector ‘Dirty Harry’ Callahan, and not Flirty Harry I’m talking about. Dirty Harry wouldn’t be seen dead (or alive) in fuschia hotpants.
Refresher: Dirty Harry was a character played by Clint Eastwood in a series of four ‘rogue cop’ or ‘loose cannon’ or ‘vigilante cop’ genre-creating movies released between 1970 and 1988. They were all good, but the original ‘Dirty Harry’ (1971) was the best, and arguably even more career-defining for Eastwood than the so-called ‘Man with No Name trilogy’ he played for Sergio Leone in the late 60’s. In both series he snatched an opportunity to play the anti-hero, a role he’s made his own ever since. For an introverted kid growing up, Clint Eastwood was a god. His characters were the heroes we would be, if we had to be. And therein lies the problem.
They play ‘Dirty Harry’ in ethics classes at police academies around the world as an example of what not to do. Noble-cause corruption, a warning for new recruits that, sooner or later, they will have to make a particular type of career-defining decision. Bend the rules to lock up some shitbag (as we say here in Oz) or let him walk away. For the academic or civil libertarian it’s an easy call from the comfort of their padded office chair, sipping on their double-decaf soy latte. But for the rare breed that puts on a blue shirt everyday and runs towards the danger everybody else is fleeing, it’s not so easy. It is literally a decision they may have to make every single day of their careers.
So how do you align yourself to a system of ethics that are not necessarily your own? Like eating an elephant, you do it one bite at a time. Swallow it down even if it makes you gag. Because the price of wearing the uniform is that it isn’t you, Erik Kaisson (or whatever your name is) that Mrs Public is screaming at. You’re not even there. You were stamped out of sheet metal in a factory and animated into a crime-fighting machine, given a gun you mustn’t use, and told to turn the cheek when some bitch is spitting in your face and calling you a “f*cking copper c*nt” because you pulled her over for DUI.
Every time I counsel someone after Mrs Public rings to complain about an officer behaving unprofessionally or discourteously, I’m faced with the same demoralising conversation:
Did you tell this woman to piss off?
Yes, but only after she called me a f*cking pig to my face.
Well you know we can’t tell people to piss off, chose your words more carefully next time.
Yeah boss, whatever.
And you walk away knowing you’ve done your job, technically, but also that you’ve added to that officer’s cynicism and dragged their morale lower by one more notch. To them, I’m part of the problem, not the solution. So I have to remind myself every day, as part of my own ethical self-servicing, that some genius sitting in a padded office chair sipping his double-decaf soy latte, decided it should be called the criminal justice system and not the public justice system, let alone the victim justice system or (god forbid) the police justice system. It don’t have to like it, it’s just the price I pay every time I put on a blue shirt.