I think one might want to look at it in a couple of ways.
First, the media is paying more attention to the police than ever before, which means that previously unknown incidents will be widely publicized.
Secondly, the police officer of today faces much, much more pressure than even as long ago as the 80’s.
Thirdly, the current police are more likely to be shot at today than even 25 years ago.
Then, there is this civic leader mentality that seems to insist that the cops can cover vast areas with few officers and little equipment. Add into that the ever ongoing battle for a reasonable budget and the general opinion of the local leaders that cops should make low pay to go out and risk their lives daily.
In the 50s, the cop was the respected law enforcer on the beat, even though he might be taking a bit of payola or get a lot of freebies from shop owners, or might accept a bit of cash to look the other way for minor crimes. It was expected. It was his beat, and he took care of it. Sometimes, instead of running in a shop lifter, he might take him out behind the store and crack a few bones, to teach him a lesson. When chasing down a fleeing robber, he could shoot the guy. When he pulled out his gun and told someone to freeze, he meant it. Even if the crook had no gun and fled, he could shoot him.
Not like today, where a crook can take off and start a 6 hour car chase, or turn and run like hell even with 6 cops pointing guns at him, knowing they will not shoot if he has no visible weapon.
By the 60s, things were changing for the cops. Major corruption in the New York City PD, which had gone on for generations, came to light, the hippies harassed cops and deliberately provoked them and major drugs started rearing their ugly heads. By the 70s, cops were being sued like crazy. They could face greedy lawyers for having the wrong attitude when talking to a suspect, for grabbing them a bit too hard, for knocking crooks around, for shooting unarmed fleeing suspects.
In the 80s, it got worse. They had to go through psychological training courses, police courses, college classes, anger management, new shooting laws, and had to start keeping up with tons of new laws almost to the letter. They had to be able to chase some yuppie kid in his expensive, high performance car 100 miles through crowded streets in their ‘cost effective’ cheaper cars, watch him nearly kill folks and bang up assorted vehicles and when they finally get him, handle him gently.
No more jerking his ass out of the car window, banging him off of the side of the car, slapping him around and then taking him to jail. His lawyers and rich parents would protest.
At the same time, suddenly every criminal had a reason for being a criminal. It was either a crappy child hood, race related angst, desperate survival, or uncontrollable drug cravings, which they started taking because of the harsh way life treated them. Judges started turning hard core crooks loose with minimal punishment and the public started blaming the cops when said poor misunderstood crooks robbed and raped them and got only a light sentence again. Then, while out on bail, they knocked off a few all night stores to pay their lawyers.
Let us not forget that somewhere in this time period, it became the ‘in’ thing among crooks to shoot each other and the cops up. Gang bangerz were a rising social group. The crooks show up with 9 mm semiautomatic hand guns while the cops have only .38s. Then they show up with portable cannons able to knock the engine out of a car and the cops still only have .38s.
Enter the big squabble between fat politicians who are far away from the street action and very well fed, and the cops wanting equal weapons and protection and the reluctance to increase the budget. After all, for the price of one heavy duty cop car, they can get two economy cop cars, fuel efficient, cheap, and more money can go into the local golf club.
Enter cops buying their own heavy duty weapons and the new bullet proof vests. A whole lot of cops got injured and killed before budgets were increased to include better guns and protective devices. Even SWAT teams were new and few.
Now, mix in AIDS. A cop could now suddenly find himself threatened by an invisible, killer disease, always fatal, by just struggling with a fighting crook. For the longest time, he had to figure out and buy his own protective gear. Eventually, some AIDS carriers started using their disease as a weapon, by biting cops and splashing them with their own infected blood. It took years to convince the law makers that those crooks doing so were attempting murder and to incorporate appropriate laws.
Got it all so far? My time line might be just a teense off.
Mix in the race card. Suddenly, each time a cop grabbed a minority crook, if the cop was one race and the crook the other, it was racial discrimination, profiling or harassment. Race lawyers got involved. A really pissed off cop, having battled a black guy across the street for 10 minutes, gotten kicked, bitten, spit on, insulted and bloodied, dare not loose control and call him a discriminatory insulting name. The guy could walk just over that, no matter that the cop caught him breaking into a store and the crook started it by punching the cop. Add Gays into the mix and, then any one of any race or sexual orientation.
A person of race K, when caught beating the crap out of girl friend of same race, could spit on or punch the cop, of race Y, but the cop cannot react in any way, shape or form that might be considered racist. Plus, he had to control his anger and not wipe the floor with the criminal for spitting on or punching him. He had to treat him with reasonable respect.
Add in the growing kid crimes. Kid gangs with guns. Pipe bombs. Fourteen year olds could gut a 35 year old, spend time in a kid jail, be released at 18 and by 21, all previous records expunged and cleared. Then came kid rights, kid laws, psychiatrists expounded on great theories as why kids killed, the courts were lenient, parents, who were supposed to control the kids, could be jailed for slapping them, kids could scream sexual molestation and lie about it and get the accused adult involved in years of expensive hell clearing his name, and the cop has to handle it all.
Let the cop shoot one 10 year old who is shooting at him and it is the cop who is on trial. Now the cop needs to know psychology, especially kid psychology.
Enter the computer age and the lengthy fight for cops to progress beyond the simple radio car technology. Every crook carries a scanner for police bands, but cops only have a radio. Cutbacks have reduced the amount of cops on the beat.
Now, get the technology, the defensive vests, bigger guns, bigger cars, and suddenly get hauled in for abusing citizens. Their word against yours. Enter the car cam and remote microphone, mainly designed to protect the cop.
But, because of budget limitations, the amount of cops are low, so the car cam gets to record the killing of several lone officers, who shouldn’t have been alone when pulling over a car load of suspects.
Now we have sophisticated helicopters for the cops, but they are costly, so most cities can only afford one, if any. After all, the budget must buy up that ecologically sensitive chunk of scrub wood for 6 million and supply funding to that little art museum instead of providing a high technology, crime busting, life saving copter.
Now, the struggle over CCTV, like the British use. Not only does it cut down crime, but automatically searches faces for wanted criminals, hard copies things happening, runs tags, and spots problems before they start but can even sent out tickets to speeders via the mail for catching them speeding with no cops around. Great system!
But, while the cops would love it here, everyone is screaming big brother and fighting it, claiming that they have the right to break the law without being watched. When crimes do happen, they blame the cops for not being there to stop it, yet they don’t fight to increase the number of cops, nor to get the cops adequate gear nor to allow crime busting CCTV.
So, the cop, who is there to serve and protect, finds himself underpaid, fought by politicians over finances, equipment and technology, watched by the public for any sign of inappropriate activity they can get on their handicams, insulted by the public, who all know sharp lawyers, have to be racially neutral, have to be shrinks, lawyers themselves, diplomats, soldiers for urban combat, up on the latest nasty home built devices of destruction, all understanding, polite, controlled, pleasant, clad in bullet proof vests and fully aware of armor piercing ammo being sold in every gun shop ‘for deer hunters’, and having to be aware of AIDS and the various forms of hepatitis.
Plus, be aware that anyone in politics will throw them to the wolves at the slightest implication and that the media is slavering for footage of anything they might do that could be construed as police brutality.
Plus, the new public figures cops are animals and all have lawyers wanting to sue.
Man! I would not want to be a cop today. I’m surprised we have any cops at all.
Did I mention the meticulous tons of paperwork? Every incident needs to be carefully documented, of some sharp lawyer will get the case tossed out of court if every T is not crossed.
Plus the life threats. Most cops have guns hidden around their homes because various crooks resent getting caught and easily find out where cops live.
So, if your local cop is grumpy, turns without signaling, maybe accepts a free sandwich (even that is under scrutiny now. Freebies are virtually considered bribes or extortion, so many cops cannot even accept those willingly given.), don’t gripe.
Chances are you would not be able to do his job.
I could not and especially not for the pay.