Watch for Open Doors

By Sgt. Charlie Eipper  |   Jun 16, 2020

I recently had the opportunity to work two peaceful and productive organized protest events in Wichita Falls, Texas. I was on the ground with the crowds at each event and listened to several speakers. One of the speakers in the first event expressed a frustration that the previous speakers were not angry enough. He stated that he understood that not all police officers are bad and there are good officers. Then he said loudly, “However!”

Based upon the rest of his time speaking, I understood him to say that although he knows not all cops are bad, he was struggling with trusting all police officers. That evening I was back home thinking about his speech. I discovered I was experiencing a similar predicament. My personal beef is with an organization whose leadership has recently demonstrated blatant corruption, but I haven’t heard those in the lower ranks condemn that corruption. As a result, I am struggling with trusting any of them.

I originally thought that the young man just wanted to hear other officers claim their own abhorrence of racism, corruption, and police brutality. However, I am convinced that it’s more than words that are needed to gain his trust in our profession. He, as well as many others, need to experience personal, one-on-one, positive and meaningful contacts with police officers, especially officers who are from another culture and have a different skin color than they do. It is paramount that we stay alert and watch for the open doors of opportunity for these positive interactions. Of course, this may occur during routine police work such as traffic stops and other investigations, but we must take the initiative to contact folks outside of the law enforcement context. 

When I started my career almost 27 years ago, I intentionally requested to work in a community where our citizens are predominantly black. I wanted the chance to change a few hearts in that community that had developed a lack of trust for white officers. Many of my friends, high school classmates, and their families lived in that area and I wanted to make a difference.

I seized the opportunities during routine police work to show respect and professionalism with whomever I had contact. However, I would also take the time to pull over and help an older woman carry groceries from her car into her house. I actually drove through the same neighborhood here recently watching for open doors of opportunity. I saw the hatchback of a small SUV standing open while parked in the street. I pulled up and exited my patrol car just as the owner exited her house. I told her I was just making sure her car was safe and secure. She was actually carrying in firewood because she was hosting a dinner to celebrate her deceased mother’s birthday. I asked for her mother’s name and her face lit up in joy as she told me about her mother. Another male came outside to check on her and joined the conversation. After our visit was over, they walked back toward her house and just before she arrived at the front door, she turned and said, “We love you!”  

All it takes is some creativity and a desire to change people’s perspective. It could be something as simple as an intentional wave from your patrol car to a passer-by who looks different than you; a “How you doing?” yelled through your cruiser’s window; or an offer of a bottle of water on a hot Summer day. Let me be clear, I am not encouraging “special treatment” to any particular community. My intention is to inspire each of us officers, regardless of our culture or skin color, to give additional attention in certain situations that may help change and heal a wounded heart. There’s nothing more rewarding than that. So, let’s watch for those open doors.