It's difficult to think of North American culture without images of heroic law enforcement agencies coming to mind. Crime-fighting squads feature in so many of their films and TV shows like I've never seen in any other country. A lot of people in the world who own a TV or computer would probably be familiar with acronyms like FBI, CIA, DEA, NYPD and LAPD.
One of the best things about seeing the world is meeting its people. So when I last visited L.A., I felt compelled to talk to one of their finest.
I did this interview 3 years ago and posted it in my first blog (now abandoned, like a shipwreck at the bottom of the internet sea). I thought of re-posting it in light of the deeply saddening events in the U.S. involving racial tensions, guns and the police.
I've always wondered what makes someone want to become a cop and put their lives on the line as a matter of course. Is it to make society better? Is it for the excitement and power? Or a continuation from the military or navy? Coming from a health background, I am curious about the nature and amount of support cops receive in relation to the work they do. How is society looking after them? And I'm not talking about financial compensation.
Sgt. Dennis Beacham works for the LAPD. He has been working as a police officer for the last 26 years. I remember being pleasantly surprised when I found out what he used to do before becoming a cop.
BSK: How did you decide to become a police officer?
"Before I became a police officer I was a social worker. I’ve always wanted to help people and have an impact on people’s lives. So I decided to change professions and become a police officer. I still use my social work education though. I counsel people and I’m always doing interventions."
BSK: What’s the best thing about what you do and why?
"The best thing about my job is just being able to have an impact and to help people. I can only imagine what our society would be like if we didn’t have any law enforcement entity. It would probably be anarchy."
BSK: What’s the most challenging thing about what you do and why?
"The most challenging thing is going into situations and not knowing the outcome. Going to a radio call and it could be the first time you’ve been into someone’s home. You’ve got to resort back to your tactics and training. To me it’s basically dealing with the unknown."
BSK: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had on the job?
"I really haven’t had any unusual experiences. All of them have been unique. Each situation is different. It makes you think. That’s the other thing with law enforcement. You’ve got to be prepared for anything."
BSK: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned on the job?
"The most surprising thing for me is although you try and help everyone you can’t help everybody. There’s only so much you can do as a law enforcement officer. A lot of people’s problems go far and beyond what a police officer is trained to do.
A lot of people out here are dealing with mental health issues. We do have some training in how to deal with the mentally ill but I think our society has really failed when it comes to these people. What happens is they’re placed on the street and then they’re confronted by law enforcement and sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you would like it. We as a society, especially a very rich country like ours, we should be doing more for the mentally ill."
BSK: What are you most afraid of?
"To be quite honest, I’m not afraid of anything. The only thing I fear is God. I try to walk by faith and not by sight."
BSK: If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
"I would probably want to be an eagle because I would like to fly and soar.
BSK: What can you live without and why?
"I can live without sadness. If you think about it, I would like to be happy everyday but that’s not reality."
BSK: Can you complete this statement? I am happiest when…
"I am happiest when I’m at home with my family."
BSK: If you had 3 wishes, what would you wish for?
"I don’t want to sound like a cliché but I would definitely want to wish for world peace. I would wish for people with different nationalities to get along. We could do without the bigotry and racism. I would also wish for the end to world hunger."
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