Throughout my law enforcement career, I have had countless people from all walks of life thank my partners and I for the job we do, for being cops, and for protecting their families. I have always tried to keep things in perspective and to remember that I am a public servant and that my badge represents the public's trust in me to do the right thing. Firefighters are thanked on a regular basis for their heroism, and the risks they take to protect lives and property throughout their careers as well. There are many facets to public service and for the most part, public servants serve with honor and integrity.
But imagine going to work every day or night, in uniform, to a place surrounded by walls and fences, where the great majority of the people you serve and protect are hostile, violent and often deadly. Where, on the beat you walk, to keep people from killing each other and from killing your partners, you're armed only with pepper spray, a radio, baton, handcuffs, keys, and a whistle, and a vigilant eye in the tower above. This is the beat that a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer walks; possibly the thinnest of blue lines anywhere. Our local Tehachapi prison (California Correctional Institution), houses approximately 4,359 felonious inmates, a population more dense than some townships in the Tehachapi area.
While walking their beat, corrections officers must settle disputes, collect intelligence, remain highly alert and intuitive, and employ sound judgment and solid tactics. They must be finely tuned into perceived matters of disrespect, that what to an outsider would seem insignificant, but to those in the know, may lead to an all-out riot or a selective murder.
Every shift, corrections officers interact with inmates, and must consider their wide variety of religious practices and be empathetic towards their drug dependencies, loneliness, racial tensions, and family issues. Corrections officers must protect inmates from predatory inmates, and sometimes, from themselves, while providing meaningful work, training, medical care, and education.
Then, when their shift ends, they must compartmentalize everything they just experienced: the violence, the insults, the tension, and so on, and drive out the front gate, and back to their friends and families. They are expected to assimilate back into "normal" society, making that magic transition as they hit the gate. Their job is risky, dangerous, traumatic, and most of all, and perhaps worst of all, thankless.
The next time you have the opportunity to do so, thank a corrections officer for the job they do, the career they chose, the risks they take, and for walking one of the toughest beats in America.
MIKE GRANT is Chief of Police for Stallion Springs.