In October 1969 the Boston Globe ran a five article series titled “The Daily Life of a Policeman.” The articles include interviews with members of the Boston Police Department, a psychiatrist, and policy pieces summarizing the problems facing the police, along with possible solutions. While these articles are fascinating because they provide a rare look into what it meant to be a police officer in Boston almost fifty years ago, they are also relevant because they describe many pressing problems and dilemmas that mirror many of the issues facing law enforcement today. We were lucky to get our hands on a copy of a pamphlet published by the Globe compiling these articles, and this blog will be a summary of its contents.
Part-1: Society’s New Scapegoat
This series begins with a narrative written from the perspective of an officer working the night shift responding to calls coming from across the city. For the officers working the night shift, it is a “nightmare of being incessantly alert, tense, ready for the unknown, the hidden, the madman, the criminal, the occasional accident, the desperate and the lonely.” While the incidents themselves, including street fights, fatal car accidents, and staring down the barrel of a shotgun at a domestic disturbance, are horrifying and dramatic, the most striking part of this article is the palpable anxiety caused by police work. Even on calls that seem routine, the author emphasizes the need to be ever alert to the unexpected, and the grave danger faced by the officers if they let their guard down for even a second. The author Daniel juxtaposes the rigors of the job with newspaper articles like, for example, “Ridicule, Low Prestige Blamed for Police Recruit Shortage” demeaning the profession. The drama of this article helps transition into the interviews that make up the majority of the series.
Part-2: You Always Know the Smell of Death
The second article in this series is an interview with 41 year old Patrolman Thomas B. Moran. Officer Moran, who was stationed at District 4 in the South End. The article begins with Officer Moran’s experience working the beat as a member of the department’s drug unit, including several vivid descriptions of the tragedy and danger he frequently encountered. The majority of the article, however, deals with psychological stress that comes with being a police officer, and Officer Moran’s thoughts regarding the relationship between the department and the public at that time. The Officer effectively described officer’s struggles with suppressing the human need to lash out at members of the public who attack them and describe them as “pigs” and “fascists” because of their professional obligation to hold themselves to a higher standard than the public. Before opining on the deteriorating conditions of the streets, the ineffectiveness of the prison system to rehabilitate offenders, and do-nothing politicians, Officer Moran stated “I said it before and I’ll say again. Nobody cares. This is the feeling of the police, that nobody cares one way or another.”
Part-3: The Pressures of the Job—Are They Too Great?
The next article includes an interview with Police Superintendent William Bradley. In this interview Juda discussed with Supt. Bradley how the stress of day-to-day police work takes a physical and mental toll on officers, and the need and demand for psychiatric care in the department. While the Superintendent expressed his strong faith in the exceptional maturity and mental strength of his officers, he described the need to make mental health care more accessible so that access to a psychiatrist would no longer be a “luxury” most officers could not afford. Balancing human needs and professional obligations also plays a role in this interview. According to the Superintendent, one of the hardest tasks asked of officers is to set aside his empathy and emotion when responding to tragedy in order to adequately perform necessary tasks like securing the scene and beginning an investigation. Although times change, the unique stresses of police work have not. As a result, police officer access to mental health care will likely always be an important issue.
Part-4: Mental Pressures Make Job Tougher
The last interview of the series is a conversation with Dr. Ruick Rolland, a psychiatrist in the Roxbury Court Clinic. At the outset of the interview, Dr. Rolland described the unique psychological stresses facing police officers, and the effect of those pressures on their performance. The theme of the doctor’s analysis is that officers respond to being overstretched but under appreciated by the public by becoming defensive and becoming apathetic towards their jobs and the people they serve. The Doctor warned that police departments facing an increasingly antagonistic public tend to become increasingly militarized, hampering their ability to work with, not against, the community. In the present era in which there is ever increasing tension between the police and the public, this last point still seems relevant today.
Part-5: Reforms Needed on Basic Problems
The last installment in this series include a list of the most pressing issues the author saw as facing the police department, and his solutions to remedy those problems. The biggest problems he identified are workplace complaints like lack of pay, long hours, the unresponsiveness of management and politicians, and the combativeness of the public. His direct reforms include increasing pay to attract better applicants, raising the prestige of the force, better access to mental health services, and giving officers a mechanism to voice their complaints about the force. Other indirect reforms include adequate facilities for helping alcoholics and drug addicts, better domestic violence protocols, and more money for rehabilitation programs in prison. The author takes an urgent tone in this final article, stressing the grave public safety implications of not implementing reforms as soon as possible. Despite the age of these pamphlets and the irrelevancy of some of the issues they contain, their main theme still holds true today: if society expects the police to effectively support them, the people, department, and politicians need to give them a certain amount of support and respect back.