Who wants to be a cop?
Have you ever stopped to look inside a vacant one-room schoolhouse? I did on a recent trip to Moorhead. Usually the windows and doors are broken and the owners are just waiting for the entire building to collapse.
This particular building in the Winger area still had the bell tower on top and slate blackboards on the wall. The exterior was completely void of any white paint that used to adorn its wood siding giving it a homey look. It now had the appearance of a sad looking old shed rather than the quaint building once filled with the happy noise of chattering children.
Inside there was a place where the stove sat and there were some hooks remaining where the children hung their hats and coats. A few barn swallows had made their nests inside and they were swooping in and out the windows on this breezy sunny day happy to use it as their home.
I envisioned the room filled with kids murmuring about one thing or another. Some were talking about kittens recently born on their farm. Some were talking about how this weekend their father was going to take them fishing on a lake in Bemidji. Others were reciting their spelling words. A few boys talked about who they wanted on their side when they played softball at recess.
Two other boys were talking about what they were going to be when they grew up. One said, “I’m going to stay on the farm and help my dad.” The other boy said, “I’m going to be a policeman.”
As I drove off, I was wondering how many of today’s boys and girls want to be a policeman or in today’s more acceptable language, “a cop”? If the life of a cop back then was similar to what they experience today, do you think the boy would still want to be a cop?
I suppose in many little towns like Winger and Ada and Twin Valley, a policeman in the days of the one-room schoolhouse may have gone through his entire career without ever having to pull his pistol from his holster.
Although his job was still dangerous, most of his time was probably spent with disorderly conduct arrests, telling teens that it was time to go home, dealing with domestic issues and keeping order during any town celebrations. Shootouts were not common in the good ol’ days and he didn’t have to worry about anyone being armed with assault weapons.
No doubt some of that is true, still the life of a police officer then was as dangerous as it is today. In doing a little digging I found that the 1920s (prohibition years) was the deadliest decade in law enforcement history, when a total of 2,437 officers died, or an average of almost 243 each year. The deadliest year in law enforcement history was 1930 when 304 officers were killed. That figure dropped dramatically in the 1990s, to an average of 162 per year. Today it’s around 150.
What was the deadliest day in law enforcement history? Right, it was September 11, 2001, when 72 officers were killed while responding to the terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.
Considering deaths per one hundred thousand people, those in the fishing and logging industry have the most dangerous jobs. But those people don’t have to worry about people who carry guns.
My meeting in Moorhead took place in Lommen Hall on the campus of what used to be called Moorhead State Teachers College. During the era of state teachers colleges, each college in Minnesota had a laboratory school including Bemidji. The laboratory school at Moorhead was in Lommen Hall.
The lab schools were k-6 schools or k-12 schools and were intended to give student teachers the opportunity to practice their craft before going out into the field to teach. They were a good idea and it’s too bad colleges no longer have them.
As I walked down the halls of Lommen Hall, like the one-room schoolhouse, I again imagined the chattering of students coming and going. There was the usual talk about the Friday football game and who is taking who to homecoming and “Did you do your homework?” Then I heard a boy talking to a counselor about what it was like to be a police officer.
I hope the counselor might have said something similar to what California Senator Barbara Boxer once said, “Law enforcement officers are never ‘off duty.’ They are dedicated public servants who are sworn to protect public safety at any time and place that the peace is threatened. They need all the help that they can get.”
Ever since 9/11 I have been more diligent about thanking police officers for what they do when I have an occasion to talk to one. Over the years I have taken many teachers to visit police stations to not only learn about what they do but also to learn what the average citizen can do to make their job easier. In all cases, the officers have been very congenial and cooperative.
It’s not easy being a cop. We all know that. Their purpose in life is to help us feel and stay safe. Think about it. We have someone on duty 24/7 who is dedicated to keeping us from harm. Cops are our guardian angels.
I do hope boys and girls today consider becoming a cop. It’s an honorable profession, one that deserves our deepest respect and thanks.