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The life and times of a police officer

The life and times of a police officer

SUSANNAH LOHR | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

On this episode of We Live Here we introduce you to four police officers who discuss not only what life is like during the day-to-day grind of work, but also the question of whether or not race makes a difference for African-American officers in majority white police departments.

The reason we are presenting the police perspective to you is that we feel it's a point of view that hasn't received enough attention. And that's not just our idea.

St. Louis Public Radio consumers are opinionated people. They are quick to point out what we’ve left out of stories, what we talk about too much and even what we never seem to report on.

Ever since the protests in Ferguson started after the death of Michael Brown, one of the persistent questions we’ve heard is about the police perspective. We’ve been accused of not considering what police have to go through when they’re on their beats or when they’re confronting protesters (in our defense, read about the threats officers faced during the protests or about rallies in support of Ferguson police officers.)

To be honest, we admit that our coverage isn’t as in-depth as it could have been. But that’s because it’s really hard for police to trust the media. They’ve been burned a lot and they worry about the potential for harm that any additional attention could bring to their officers.

After many, many phone calls and assurances, we tracked down several officers who opened up to us. And for that we are grateful because as a result, we learned so much about what it takes to be a police officer, what a daily beat cop experiences and what it’s like to be an African-American officer on a mostly white police force. So, in this episode — which we’re calling “A Cop’s Life” — we introduce you to four protectors of the peace.

Officer Erika Estes in her police cruiser laden with lots of technology. STEPHANIE LECCI | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

First, our reporter Stephanie Lecci introduces us to Erika Estes, a Maplewood police officer who taught Stephanie that police work’s biggest challenge just may be combating boredom and maintaining vigilance.

Then, Rachel Lippmann connected with three African-American officers to hear about their experiences: Lt. Col. Troy Doyle with the St. Louis County Police Department; Gregory Santoni, a 10-year veteran of the St. Charles County Police Department; and Morris Taylor, who used to work for both the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department as well as the St. Louis County Police Department and who now teaches at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

Morris Taylor, seventh from the left, along with future members of the St. Louis County Police Department. This photo is from Taylor's graduation day from the police academy in 1975. COURTESY OF MORRIS TAYLOR.

The three officers told some pretty astounding tales of what sounded to us like blatant racism — commanding officers unapologetically using the N-word; police refusing to answer dispatch calls in predominantly African-American neighborhoods; neighborhood kids asking about their tails. But none of the officers called it racism. They called it unprofessional behavior and ignorance.

Cpl. Greg Santoni works for the St. Charles Police Department. He says he treats everyone the same and, as a result, doesn't have any issues when it comes to race. RACHEL LIPPMANN | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

Cpl. Greg Santoni works for the St. Charles Police Department. He says he treats everyone the same and, as a result, doesn't have any issues when it comes to race. RACHEL LIPPMANN | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

In the end, what we learned about a police officer’s perspective can be boiled down to one word: community. Police feel bound to their own community and feel a deep sense of obligation to the community in which they work.

The problems begin, we find, when police cannot trust the people they work with and don’t know the community they serve.

Unfortunately, the systems in which those principles exist make it really hard for police to help those who need them.

We Live Here's theme music is composed and performed by Cassie Morgan.

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