Oral History: Interview with Anonymous Peace Officer #1


Title (Dublin Core)

Oral History: Interview with Anonymous Peace Officer #1

Description (Dublin Core)

James Rayroux 0:00
My name is James Rayroux. I'm a graduate student in global history at Arizona State University, and I'm working as a curation intern with the "Journal of the Plague Year" COVID-19 archive. Today is March 21, 2021, and it's just after 5pm or 1700 hours here in Arizona. I'm speaking with a narrator who wishes to contribute to the COVID-19 archive anonymously. Sir, I first want to thank you for speaking with me and contributing to this COVID-19 archive. Do you consent to having this interview recorded, transcribed, and immediately posted to the "Journal of the Plague Year" COVID-19 archive, where it will be made accessible to the public?

Anonymous Officer 0:39
I do.

JR 0:40
Thank you, I greatly appreciate you making time to share your experience with us. In lieu of your name and city, can you provide me with a summary of your background and professional experience in law enforcement?

AO 0:57
Yeah, I've been a sworn police officer for a little over 10 years in northern Colorado. I've worked for a couple different departments during that time. I started off at a small municipality, and at one point worked for a state law enforcement agency and then working for a municipality that has approximately 150,000-160,000 citizens within the jurisdictional limits of our department.

JR 1:25
Can you give me a summary of your life before law enforcement and what led you to police work?

AO 1:33
Yeah, so I grew up with a family of cops, a grandfather and two uncles who were police officers, so I'd always kind of had that in the back of my mind. When I was a teenager, I started working out with an alcohol and tobacco compliance team. So I would go in and attempt to buy tobacco and alcohol products underage to ensure that corporations were properly ID'ing the people who came in to buy those products. I studied criminal justice a little bit in college, although that's not what my degree's in. I went to a police academy and then worked at the departments that I previously mentioned. And then within the realm of police work, my emphasis has mainly been of a traffic safety, impaired driving nature, so that's where my expertise kind of lies within the realm of police work.

JR 2:38
What are some of your professional goals over the next few years, and where would you like to, what would you like to accomplish before the end of your career?

AO 2:50
My sights in the next couple of years, I'm currently working on a master's degree in organizational leadership. With that degree, I would like to promote within my department to at least the rank of sergeant. And like I said earlier, I work for a larger department. Previously, I came from smaller departments, and I kind of missed that small town feel, so eventually, I'd like to parlay that supervisor experience in my larger department into being a supervisor at a smaller municipality or a smaller county agency where I think I could bring both sides of working for a small agency as well as looking at working for a large agency to help a smaller agency, because they don't usually get a lot of super qualified candidates for the higher positions. It's kind of what is already at the department, which sometimes is great, and sometimes it's not so great, and I think that having somebody that just hasn't came up through that agency to bring some new kind of fresh ideas is really good for us. That's ultimately the goal.

JR 3:58
And when and how did you first learn about the SARS-CoV-2 virus in early 2020?

AO 4:08
Initially, I heard about it on the news, broadcast news, and then I visited enough websites, mainly Reddit, which is often called "the front page of the internet" that kind of started talking about it and how it was kind of on the West Coast. Obviously, Northern Colorado is more westerly in the US, than, you know, the middle of the country, and Denver, our biggest city in Colorado, obviously has an international airport, and there's lots of things that come through, so I kind of kept an eye on it. Also with the nature of my work, I come into contact with people of all different kinds of races, religions, sexes, creeds, orientations, all of that both, willingly and unwillingly, so I kind of kept my eye out and knowing that there could be a good chance that if it came to Colorado that I would be involved with it just because, traffic stops, disturbances, sometimes we have to take people into custody against their will if they have a warrant, or they're fighting us, so that's a really close contact, like hands-on situation. So I knew if it did get worse, I didn't expect to be this bad, but if it did get worse, that it'd probably end up affecting us in one way or another.

JR 5:22
Do you remember what some of the early conversations were like that you had about the SARS-CoV-2 virus or COVID-19, what those conversations at work were like or were about?

AO 5:36
Yeah, a lot of them were just kind of like, you know, this is just a really bad flu. As long as you, you know, sanitize your hands after you deal with people, which is a pretty common thing that cops do. I know, the majority of cops that I work with carry around a little bottle of sanitizer, either on their person or in their what we call a "war bag," a little bag that sits in the front seat that holds all our tickets and everything else we need for the shift. So it was initially just, you know, be smart. If somebody's sick, keep your distance if you can, wash your hands, sanitize. And then once summer comes in, because early it was spring, where it's still pretty cold here, that once summer comes, the heat will naturally kill it off, and it's not going to be anything worse than the normal flu was initially the talk around town.

JR 6:24
How did your agency first deal with the COVID-19 pandemic?

AO 6:30
So initially, we got multiple emails, kind of just updating it from what they've heard from the Surgeon General in Colorado that was disseminated to people higher up in the city side of our agency, with just tips, kind of like what I just talked about, wash your hands, you know, don't touch your face or mouth, sanitize your hands, sanitize your cars. And it was just kind of a more official version of what we all kind of thought, which was that it was just a worse flu as long as you, you know, stay at home with your sick, don't voluntarily interact with sick people, etc, etc, that it would be good and we'd be done by summer.

JR 7:13
At what point did your agency start encouraging or mandating mask use by employees?

AO 7:23
So I want to say early March is when the governor of Colorado put us on a statewide lockdown. So I want to say maybe mid February to late February, is when we got a order to make sure that we're wearing masks, if we're around each other, if we're going to be in somebody's house. They were saying they prefer it on traffic stops, but they know because of the nature of us standing in traffic and it's kind of already hard to hear that, that was kind of our discretion. But I want to say mid to late February was the big one. It's also when we stopped doing in-person briefings. We have a specific briefing room where our sergeants, commanders will talk to us about what happened earlier in the shift, what they expect of us tonight, just conversations about our shift in general that's usually done in a room. It was about that time that we move that outside. So we all just kind of stood outside our police department and ended it to be a little bit safer than being in the booking room. But even when we did that we still wore masks were outside doing our briefing.

JR 8:28
What do you remember or what did that first pandemic briefing or roll call look like when everyone showed up in, in masks?

AO 8:37
It was definitely interesting. You know, it's just something that you usually don't see unless you're in a hospital setting, which we obviously go to sometimes if we have bad car accidents or bad assaults. But again, even that's usually if the person is thought to have been sick or something else, where you're obviously not standing in the emergency or the surgery department. So it was a little bit different seeing everybody with these, at the time, surgical masks. We ended up getting given cloth masks and everybody eventually started you know, finding a mask they liked better, but initially, it was just paper surgical mask like you see at the hospital, so it was definitely a strange sight to see twenty cops standing around with their mask on.

JR 9:23
How have your agency's policies and procedures changed since that initial response in February 2020?

AO 9:31
Um, so as COVID kept going up and more and more cases and especially in Colorado, and especially Northern Colorado where there was a higher outbreak than the rest of the state, we got, I don't know the name of the product but it's essentially a super medical grade cleaning product that is so strong that you have to wear gloves and a mask anyway when you're using it because it can burn your hands and you don't want to inhale it. So we are given directives to wipe down everything we touch on our car. So steering wheel, driver-side door handles, radio mics, computers, shifter, etc, with that cleaning product both before and after our shift. And then our department also bought a bunch of small hand sanitizer bottles for everybody to carry with them. And then we had two big jugs in our, what we call patrol room where we type our reports, that we could refill those smaller bottles with. And then we were given a mandate to wear masks anytime we were in contact with somebody. And if we could, any calls that we were, we can, we would normally take in person, such as like a cold theft or something just for customer service reasons, if we're not super busy, we'll usually go to that person's house and just get their statements so they can have a face-to-face contact. We were given a directive, though, to do all that over the phone as much as we can. So there would be nights that just wasn't a busy in-progress night, and I would take fifteen calls, all from my car parked in a parking lot somewhere. So after a decade of doing this, that was a big difference in what I was used to.

JR 11:12
For the benefit of the audience, can you explain what a cold theft report is?

AO 11:17
Yeah, so a cold theft report is if somebody came home from dinner, and let's say their son, their twelve-year-old son left their bicycle just outside in the front yard leaned up against the house, they get home and that bike was gone. And they don't have any kind of surveillance systems, you know, they weren't home when it happened, so they know that something was stolen, but they have no idea of exactly when, no real description of who might have taken it, and we call that a cold theft. It just means that it's not something that's in-progress. Like if somebody were to call and say, "Hey, you know, there's actively a fight going on right now at the mall." Um, that would be an in-progress call, or a hot call is what some people call it. Anything cold, so a cold theft, a cold burglary, a cold auto theft just means that it's something that's not actively happening, and they don't really have much information to go on.

JR 12:05
Thank you. Do you remember what your first inperson call was after you began wearing masks, and maybe your first call after the public started wearing them as well?

AO 12:19
I don't recall the specifics of either. I know that there was a couple calls I went to when you know, we were mandated to wear the masks. And you know, police officers still have freedom of speech just like everybody else does. But, you know, working for any organization, whether public, like the government or private, you still follow the rules and policies, procedures of your police department or your, your company. In this case, my police department or my company said that, you know, there's a new policy that we'll wear these masks. So it was weird, because there are some houses we go to where we would talk to people in-person and, you know, they'd be like, "Well, this is dumb. I don't know why you're wearing this mask. This is essentially the flu, why would you wear it?" You know, I'd have to be like, "Well, you know, my opinion on it is irrelevant. At this point, I'm here for a reason, but my boss told me to wear this, and my department told me to wear this, and that's why I'm doing it." And then we get the opposite where we go somewhere, and we would have the mask on and so would they and they're like, "You know what, I'm really glad that you guys are taking this seriously, and, you know, there's a lot of people that aren't." At that point, they're happy so I'm not going to say anything to change it. But you know, we would give people a mask that would ask us. "I'm glad you guys are doing this. Do you think this is as bad as it is?" And I would say, "You know, well, my again, my opinion on it's irrelevant. My boss told me to wear this mask, my department told me to wear this mask, so that's why I'm wearing it. Anyway, how can I help you with the reason that you called today?"

JR 13:53
Has the pandemic changed your sense of security around fellow cops or fire crews or EMS personal?

AO 14:02
I don't know if it's so much has changed my sense of security. I know it's changed things that we've, we've done things a lot different. It's not uncommon for police officers and my agency or anywhere across the United States to also be dispatched to fire medical calls. And we provide what's called scene security. So firefighters, a lot of them also double as paramedics and EMTs. And obviously EMTs and paramedics are those things. They have a job to do, and that's you know, rescuing people or providing life saving medical intervention on people. And sometimes especially if it's drug or alcohol fueled, there can be other people on scene that are concerned or upset and they want to get involved with it. And so law enforcement will get dispatched to assist with that and make sure that the scene is safe or secure, so that the firefighters and EMTs can do what they need to do. And usually we'd always go to those. It changed a lot where if somebody was COVID-19 positive or had symptoms of it, and it didn't seem like we needed to be there, we would go to a lot less of those just to keep our officers safe and not put them in unnecessary danger.

JR 15:11
Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your process or procedures for detaining, arresting, or booking suspects or arrestees?

AO 15:23
Not so much for detaining or arresting, those thresholds are met at certain times, and for various reasons. You know, so I've detain people before that, I don't think are alleged to have committed crime at that point. But because of their general behavior, or things they've said or things they've done it, they're detained from an officer safety perspective, so they can't hurt us, and they don't hurt anybody else. Obviously, I've detained people because I feel like they may flee from us, and, you know, I have a reasonable suspicion that they've committed a crime, and so they're going to get detained until we can figure everything out. So our department is really great about stressing as far as keeping yourself and your partner safe, nothing changes. So whatever you need to do to make that happen is fine. I work for a municipality, so our "booking standards" is what we call them, so what we can and cannot book people for is set by the sheriff of our county, who runs the the jail. Because of the COVID things, and obviously, you get inmates that are together in tight spaces, and there's a lot of them, he relaxed them, and essentially lowered the threshold of crime that it would take. So in Colorado, we have three different classes of misdemeanor with M-1 or misdemeanor-one being the highest and M-3, or misdemeanor-three being the lowest. Same with felonies, there's one through six, one is the highest sixth lowest, he essentially made it where we can't book on any misdemeanor charges for a while, which are the majority of what we deal with, I'd say. And two, we just cite them into court and give them a summons to court to appear in front of a judge to address the charges that they're alleged to have committed. That was different. So I think that was the sheriff's way of trying to control the inmate population so it just doesn't have as many people packed together.

JR 17:18
In the past few months, do you suspect or have you thought that, during your interactions, a member of the public or a suspect or even another officer has attempted to use the pandemic or a possible COVID-19 infection to, to alter your interactions with them?

AO 17:42
I don't think I've seen that from officers. We have definitely seen it from people that we've contacted on the street, and especially people that still meet those arrestable jail booking standards. We were told by the jail to ask a series of questions before we brought them in. You know, "Have you been in contact with anybody with COVID recently? Have you tested positive for COVID? Have you been out of the country?" There's a bunch more other ones, and it's pretty easy to kind of tell what we're getting at by the directions, the questions go. And we've had people that have been like, yep, I have COVID, my mom has COVID I've been in contact with them. And they think that that's going to make it where they don't go to jail. In all actuality, all it really did was delay that slightly because we had to go to the hospital. At which point the, the medical staff would give them a quick COVID test if they were running a fever show any outward symptoms. If they didn't show any outward symptoms, they would clear them for jail, which just means a doctor says this person is healthy enough to be incarcerated right now. And then I believe that jail would quarantine them in a separate wing. If they said they had COVID or if they did have a positive COVID test. Jail, for people that don't know, is a little bit different than prison. It's either filled with people that are doing shorter sentences, so like weeks, months sentences, not ever years, or people that have just been arrested on crimes. And a lot of times especially in Colorado, they will quickly get them out of what's called a PR or "personal recognizance" bond, essentially a piece of paper they sign that just says "I promised to come to my court hearings," and if they sign that piece of paper, the jail will release them without paying any money. So the jail would usually try to turn them out pretty quick, so give them that PR bond and get them out of the jail just as a further way to lower the risk to the jail staff and the other inmates that were in there.

JR 19:39
Have you had to personally enforce any aspect of COVID-19 pandemic compliance with any member of the public?

AO 19:48
No. Luckily, again, our department's been pretty great about things. We got a directive from our chief of police that said you know, "We're not enforcing governor orders," essentially. The businesses have every right to refuse service people that aren't gonna wear masks, and that's fine. If those people you know, then try to assault somebody or, or do something like that, then that's a police issue at that point. But if it's just one of those things where the people won't leave, and they've told them multiple times, he said, we can show up and you know, tell them, "Hey, this is probably business, the owner doesn't want to here. Please leave." But we are given pretty strict orders not to forcefully remove anybody for violating a civil policy from the store, essentially, the police deal with criminal matters. So if you know Guy A punches Guy B in the face that's assault, can't do that, it's criminally protected. If Guy A said he's going to pay Guy B $20, and he does not pay him $20, that is a civil matter. There's nothing criminal they agreed into, or entered into an agreement, so the masks generally fall into the civil matter. So we haven't had too many people, too many issues with it. Stores have refused service, and we've gotten a couple of calls from customers who said that it's a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and all the things that people have seen on any "Karen" videos. But generally, when the people say, "Hey, we, we don't want to get you in trouble, please leave or we're going to call the cops," the people left. So we don't have too many issues with it up here. Luckily.

JR 21:23
Part of some of the changes that have taken place during this pandemic are the way that people interact with each other, and in Western society, shaking hands has long been a critical foundation of trust in humanity. And I suspect that's probably also true between many cops and the people that they serve. How have you worked to build rapport without having direct human contact?

AO 21:51
Yeah, that's actually one of the things that you can tell a cop besides their ages, you know, there's there's officers that get into this career, late life, I got into it pretty early. I was in my very early 20s. And that's a common thing, as you know, me, somebody looked me in the eye and shake their hands. It's pretty easy to tell cops that have been doing this for any amount of time. Because if somebody does that, they usually have the canned response of like, "Oh, no, no offense, I don't shake hands. It's just, you know, a hygiene thing." Most cops are borderline germaphobes, after some of the stuff that we see and deal with, so people understand that even more now because of COVID, which is nice. The, the one that I think every cop has gotten pre and during and post COVID is the drunk guy who was just trying to be cool with everybody, and he wants to shake your hand or give you like a, you know, knuckles, pound it out. You know, we just tell him, "Oh, yeah, no, man, because of COVID we're just not trying to touch anybody." And it's cyclical, like, "Oh, no, man, I get it." Sometimes it turns into like being angry because he thinks we're being rude to him, or he just forgets and then goes back. So usually, for the 99.9%, we just explained that, "you know, because of the COVID and our policies, we're not allowed to touch anybody unless we absolutely have to," and most people are like, "Nope, I totally understand." So they've, our citizens have been really great at understanding that.

JR 23:11
What do you miss most about your job and your daily tasks from 2019?

AO 23:17
Um...I'm really over sanitizing my car twice a day. It's a process that isn't too long. It's, you know, five, ten minutes, but um, it just adds another checklist thing that we have to do before we start our shift. Cops by personality traits are usually Type A people, so they are very, "This is the way we do things." But that involves getting my gear in the same way it is on my belt and my vest every day, setting my car up the way that I want to set it up, getting logged into our computer, our MDT system. It's just another thing that we have to do. And I work for a pretty busy municipality, so there's times that we'll we'll be called "hit the street" or we come on-duty, and there's already a bunch of calls holding. That means there's no officers at them, and they're just sitting there waiting for somebody to take them and a whole shift is delayed by fifteen or twenty minutes because we're cleaning out our cars and sanitizing them, which is for our and for everybody else's safety, but just another thing that we have to do on top of everything else.

JR 24:22
What alterations to your work life, to your daily tasking, do you expect you'll keep from this pandemic, and what do you wish to change immediately?

AO 24:35
Uh, I think personally, I like handling a lot of things by phone that don't require an officer in-person. It allows us to be a little more centrally located and if something else big comes up, we can tell the person "Hey, I'll give you a call right back," and we can take off and do that. I also think that there's a lot of people that actually prefer just having an officer call them back because they're at home. They don't, you know, want the officer coming to their home, or sometimes they're not at home, they report something that happened at home when they get to work. So I like that portion of it. I was already kind of a germaphobe before this happened. I think that's probably going to, at a minimum stay the same and if not amplify a little bit more. But just doing a better job personally of, after I've been in somebody's house, even if I don't shake hands with them, just making sure I throw on hand sanitizer, wash my hands, just as a force of habit. No matter how clean and dirty the house is, we just don't know the people generally, so just kind of keeping that cleanliness I think is going to be a big help going forward.

JR 25:39
Through this pandemic, and your experience working as a police officer during this time, what do you most wish the public knew about the COVID-19 pandemic, as it relates to your profession and to cops and police work in general?

AO 25:58
I think, for us, it's real easy to see every police officer as one entity, just the person with the uniform and the badge. They forget that we also have families that are out, you know, in the same public places, that we have children that go to the same schools as the people that we deal with daily, that all of the stressors that everybody else has from this, this pandemic of not being able to, it's loosening now, but especially last summer and this fall, the same stressors of not being able to go out to eat with friends and blow off steam, or just go to the bar and have a beer with a buddy. We have all those same stressors because, you know, we're cops 40 plus hours a week, but the rest of the time, we're citizens that live in the same community as everybody else. So it's, it's understandable when, when the people that we deal with, you know, think that we're just the the strong arm of the government enforcing these rules that you know, they don't think are constitutional, or whatever it is, but we have to follow the same rules and get the same stress from that on top of having the stress of having to enforce those rules, which whether or not we do or don't agree with them, we have a job do and we signed up to do that. So just wishing that people would understand that we have, we go through all the same stuff they have on both sides of it, on our work side and also on our personal side, and just being a citizen of the same community that they live in.

JR 27:21
Now, knowing that I was going to ask you about your experience as a police officer during this pandemic, what question did you most want to answer during this or that you wish I would have asked you during this interview?

AO 27:40
I think my biggest one we actually touched on, which was how did the officers feel about the mask mandates and the, you know, various states closing down in-person dining and all that. And my answer, which I touched on, if it was asked directly, was at the end of the day doesn't matter. You know, there's officers are just a small segment of the whole population. You know, we have men, women, gay men, gay women, trans men, trans women, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, those are all actual officers that I work with in every single one of those categories, so they're just a small sample size of the entire agency. So you're gonna have people that are far left Democrat, that are far right Republican, and at the end of the day, our personal beliefs should not and in my case, don't matter. As far as if I believe this is a real virus, if I, you know, think that everybody should wear masks, they don't, you know, we're sworn to uphold the Constitution of our state and our country, and rules and regulations set forth by our municipalities or counties. So just knowing that kind of, you know, you should never know after talking to a cop for any length of time, what their stance is on is on any polarizing subject. So you should never really know what religion they are, if they're religious, what Republic or what political party they lead with. That's one of the, the what I think makes a good cop is they can help anybody, no matter where they're at in life, rich, poor, whatever color religion they are. So realizing that, you know, we have our own thoughts on it, but we still have a job to do. It's just something I wish that people would realize that wherever we stand on it doesn't matter because we're given our policies, our procedures, and we're going to follow those and hopefully that, in the end, will help this get over a little bit sooner and help everybody get back to a normal life.

JR 29:44
I greatly appreciate your time and willingness to share your expertise. Thank you so much.

AO 29:49
Thank you

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