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JULY 1, 2009   

Lifeguards & cops

Lifeguard wearing red parka sitting on top of chairThey both protect us as part of their job, yet we view them very differently. We like lifeguards, or at least see them as a necessary evil. Cops we view with suspicion, maybe fear, most of the time. Think about it: when you see a police officer watching you, does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy?

Seeing the guards at Edgewater Park today made me think about these reactions. Why can lifeguards get people to follow the rules (more or less) even though they have no obvious way of enforcing them: no gun, no handcuffs, no squad car to thrown people into? The best they can do is get on the radio and call the park ranger for help.

Yet we usually follow their orders without making a big fuss—don't swim out that far, stop throwing sand, keep your dog off the beach.

Cops, on the other hand, with the tools to enforce their commands seem to prompt resistance, suspicion and even hostility. We may do what they say, but we don't like it. What's the difference?

Maybe it's that we see lifeguards and their orders as truly being for our own good. They are, after all, trying to save our lives. We give them the benefit of the doubt, they're looking out for us. We may not have that attitude toward police officers, and that's bad for both of us. To change this takes adjustments on both sides: less suspicion, for a start, and more of a cooperative attitude.

My own interactions with Cleveland police officers when I've called about a house break-in or other criminal activity in the neighborhood haven't been great. Many of the officers seem disinterested at best, hostile at worst. The good and helpful ones have been in the minority. So my attitude toward the police is now suspicion. I assume the worst. I don't really believe that their goal is "To protect and serve." Clearly this is not a recipe for cooperation.

Does this sound familiar to you? Do you think cops should be more like lifeguards? Click on the link below to add your comment.

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