The role of police departments has profoundly changed since the 9/11 attack on America. Departments across the nation not only have to continue “traditional” law enforcement, but are also faced with being the “first responders” to acts of terrorism and other catastrophic events. Nonetheless, the day-to-day activities of a police officer are still primarily within the context of the criminal justice system. An interview with an officer can provide a fascinating “behind the scenes” look at the legal process. Additionally, a frank interview allows us to gain insight into the complexity of their profession, their attitudes, and their values.
Police officers, squads, and departments are common subjects for dramatic fiction, television, and theatre. Although no one doubts the veracity of the high-speed chases and violent confrontations on Cops, the daily reality and routine are much different. Particularly interesting is the vital part played by police officers in the legal system, a role that is often ignored, unknown, or misunderstood by the general public. A wide-ranging interview with a police officer provides an opportunity to better understand their culture. This interview was conducted over two days on March 23-24, 2011 at approximately 7:00 p.m. at a Friday’s Restaurant in Laurel, Maryland. The interview had to be stretched out because I could only meet with him in the evening after work and the officer had to report to his evening part time job.
Officer Leon Epps is a ten year veteran of the District of Columbia Police Department. He was very gracious and cooperative in agreeing to meet with me, particularly since it was after his full tour of work duty. He is approximately six-feet tall, and is medium build. Quite to the contrary of his tall stature and build, he is soft-spoken, and never said anything without a bit of a pause before responding. He politely refused to be tape-recorded, laughingly stating “I’ll say something stupid and you’ll own me!” Once he realized the purpose of the interview, he became more relaxed, and seemed to take it at as a chance to give people a good idea of what law enforcement truly entails. Law enforcement is not simply “a job” to Epps. During our time together, we had dinner, and he positioned himself where he could see the entrance to the restaurant. His eye contact would leave me and glance at the door as it opened. I commented on this, and he replied “It’s a habit all cops have. I don’t want my back to a hold-up, or some nut-case starting trouble. ” His father and older brother were both police officers, and from the time he graduated from high school he wanted nothing other than to be a cop. When he was in grade school, he was chosen for a variety of programs for academically gifted students, and followed a college-preparatory course in high school.
At the time, he found college boring, and did not have any real focus, other than playing college football. He considered that excellent physical training for his life on the streets as an officer, and still plays in a fantasy football league. When he was twenty-three, he applied to the District of Columbia Police Department and was accepted. He remembers being quite excited because in police culture, there are two kinds of police The City cops considered themselves the “rough and tumble” big-city “real police” as opposed to the U.S. Capital Police, and the various other municipal and county police agencies. Socialization & Career
He was assigned to the Fifth District, which is located on Bladensburg Road in the Northeast quadrant of Washington, District of Columbia. According to Epps, this was a predominantly poor, black area, with one of the city’s highest drug and violent crime rate. It became his routine patrol area for the next ten years.
During his tenure, he found the “secret” to community relations, which departments...