Appellate court justice makes case for how tough it is to be a police officer today
Editor’s Note: The grand opening of Golden West College’s Criminal Justice Training Center (CJTC) was held April 10. The keynote speaker was the Hon. Associate Justice William W. Bedsworth, Fourth District Court of Appeal. The video was provided by GWC.
BehindtheBadgeOC.com is publishing Associate Justice’s Bedsworth’s speech in its entirety, along with video. His speech perfectly captures how today’s law enforcement officers have to be vastly more equipped than their counterparts in the past.
Here is a slightly edited text of Associate Justice Bedsworth’s speech:
I know those of you in uniform probably feel like you’ve already had to listen to me too much in your career. I have both good news and bad news. The good news is they’ve only given me 10 minutes. The bad news is they’ve given me 10 minutes.
I’ve been given the honor of joining all of you today and I want to use those 10 minutes to make some points about the need filled by this spectacular facility. I was born in 1947. I was a boy in the ’50s. John Murphy, my next-door neighbor and godfather, was an LAPD sergeant. His equipment consisted of a .38 special revolver, a billy, a flashlight, and a pair of handcuffs.
The people who are trained here will be equipped with a .9mm semi-auto, 14-round sidearm. They will carry multiple magazines, double handcuffs, a tear gas canister, a baton, a handheld radio, a Taser, a flashlight, a voice-activated audio recorder, a body camera, a tactical knife, and a hidden backup pistol.
In their trunk will be a shotgun, a patrol rifle and a patrol bag full of report forms, first aid kits, and a dozen other items John Murphy never imagined. They will be expected to know how and when to use all of those things.
Sgt. Murphy had been trained to drive and to shoot. He had not learned artificial respiration. He knew nothing about CPR or the use of a defibrillator. He never saw an upper-body protection vest. He never used a computer to check a record or registration. Those tools and the expertise necessary to use them were science fiction to him. His knowledge of search and seizure law was rudimentary.
Mapp vs. Ohio had not yet been decided, so very little evidence was being excluded on the basis of Fourth Amendment violations. He did not know the Miranda warnings because Miranda had not been decided until 1966, the year he retired.
He knew nothing about detention law, because Terry vs. Ohio was not decided until two years after that. He did not know how the rights of high school students differed from the rights of adults because nobody knew that until the Supreme Court told us in TLO vs. New Jersey in 1985.
The men and women who go through their training here will be able to debate the finer points of all of those court decisions and dozens of others and hold their own with any lawyer. They have to be able to do that to do the job correctly.
Sgt. Murphy knew almost nothing about crime scene preservation or trace evidence, blood spatter interpretation, fingerprints lifted with chemical fumes, obtaining evidence from cell phones — cell phones themselves were all things none of us even imagined when the first academies began going through the facilities here at Golden West in 1969.
When this college opened in the 1960s, the letters DNA were juxtaposed only on monogram sleeves. I was the first judge to rule on DNA evidence in Orange County and that was in the late ’80s.
Law enforcement changes hourly, folks. It is no easier to keep up with the changes in law enforcement than it is to keep up with changes in medicine or physics or biology or ballistics or pharmacology. All of which, by the way, are things the modern police officer must know a lot about — must learn and relearn constantly.
Do you think that’s an exaggeration? Those of you not in uniform, ask yourself about the changes in the last eight years. How much did you know about methamphetamine in 2010? How much did you know about AR-15s five years ago? How much did you know about sniper scopes and bullet trajectories before the Mandalay Bay massacre? How much did you know about opioids two years ago? How much did you know about bump stocks and high-capacity magazines a year ago?
Every day, every time a cop picks up a paper or watches the news, she learns about something else she will have to know about probably before her next shift. The amount of education and reeducation our police must assimilate every day is staggering. It requires literally, and I emphasize, I mean this literally, not figuratively, it requires literally more daily re-education than a doctor or lawyer ever needs to do his or her job, and when a peace officer applies that reeducation, he or she has to be a psychologist, a pharmacologist, a teacher, a counselor, a lawyer, an EMT, and a bad-ass superhero, probably all during one shift.
It has always been a tough job. Long before anyone had ever heard of Stefan Clark or could find Ferguson, Missouri on a map, law enforcement was a brutally difficult way to make a living.
Well, for one thing, the Constitution — our police take an oath to defend — was devised by rebels. Our founding fathers were protesters. Think of the Boston Tea Party and the Bunker Hill massacre. Those were protesters. They were men who had been oppressed and subjugated and they were determined it was never going to happen again.
So when they won the revolution, they instituted a system designed to restrain their new government, designed to make sure that they would never be oppressed by the government again. The whole system is set up to exalt the individual and to limit the government.
Folks, the United States of America is the only place on the planet where in a case called Miranda vs. the State, Miranda wins. That’s what the revolutionary army fought and died for, and that’s what our police protect.
When you represent the government in a system like that, you have to know it’s going to be difficult and it is. It is as difficult a job as there is on this planet.
Imagine doing what you do. I don’t know what your job is. Whatever your job is, imagine doing it with people throwing rocks at you, people spitting on you, people trying to kill you, and then think about what their job description is.
Their job description, these people in uniform, is putting your life on the line every day for strangers, dealing with the mentally ill, mediating domestic violence, counseling child molestation victims, consoling the bereaved, pulling people out of burning vehicles, chasing psychopathic 15-year-olds down blind, dark alleys, knowing they have a gang (and) gun, but they don’t yet have a conscience.
What kind of person takes that job?
I don’t understand it. I’ve never understood it. My jobs have required me to study cops for 37 years. I’ve worked with them. I’ve played ball with them. I’ve drunk beer with them. I’ve laughed with them, I’ve cried with them, I’ve celebrated with them, and I’ve suffered with them, but I have never for a single moment understood them.
I cannot imagine what kind of person does all the things they do for a society of strangers, 3 million of us in this county who they will never meet, but for whom they are always committed. Always there. Always ready.
It’s not a job, folks. It’s a calling, and if you haven’t been called, you can’t understand those who have been. So, I no longer try to understand them. I just thank the Lord for continuing to turn them out and I suggest you do the same.
And as long as I’m giving thanks, I thank all of you for supporting them. I thank all of you for supporting endeavors like this spectacular new facility, I thank you for making sure they will have the training and support they need for this complicated job.
I thank you for continuing to encourage our best young people to take up this work and I thank you for giving me 10 minutes to express my thanks to you and to them.