He used to care. The job used to matter.

That, as the kids say, was then. This is now. Now it’s just a job, something to bring the money, which isn’t enough to cover the bills. The job is something you do until you can find something better.

Nowadays, he thinks anything would be better than working as a cop in the District of Columbia.

“I wanted to be a cop because I wanted to make a difference,” he says as he sits in his patrol car and watches traffic go by near Union Station in Washington. “How can you make a difference when you work in a city run by crooks and in a police department full of crooks? It’s a joke.”

He’s spent more years than he wants to admit on the force (“I won’t say how many because then they’d know who it is”). Too many years. Too many miles. Too many long days fighting a losing battle with both crime on the streets and corruption in the precinct house.

“Here in the district, you got four kinds of cops. The few honest ones who are left, those smart enough to be on the take and not get caught, the dumb ones who are on the take and get caught and those too dumb to be either crooked or good. It ain’t a pretty picture.”

He’s expected to work with severe equipment shortages, cars that break down, radios that fail and guns that jam. The lights are always failing in his unit and the transmission is slipping.

So what’s an honest cop to do?

“Get the hell out before you get killed by a perp on the street and shot in the back by a incompetent partner who hasn’t figured out that the department Glocks ain’t got a safety. We’ve got an unbelievable number of idiots out there wearing uniforms and carrying guns.”

The District of Columbia, he says, is just a step away from all-out anarchy on the streets.

“The drugs control the gangs and the gangs control the streets. We lost the war on drugs and the gangs long ago but the suits downtown won’t admit it. They don’t want the public to know that there’s no law in the District. The law lost the war. It’s over.”

These days a cop survives by keeping his head down, not asking too many questions and not caring.

“You care too much and you get sloppy. You get sloppy and you get dead. That’s the way it is. Do you realize we have killings in this town every night? Several times a night? Do you know there are kids out there who won’t live to see 13 and know they won’t and really don’t care that they won’t. The law of the jungle exists on the streets of Washington and there ain’t a damn thing we can do about it.”

Most days he just goes through the motions, logging his time, doing just enough to get by. Most on the force are that way now, he says. Morale is so low it’s a wonder anyone makes it through a shift.

“This job can get you before you know it. It eats at you. Either you quit, you get blown away or you end up eating your gun. Some days it feels like a bullet in the head is the only way out. My family does all they can to keep me sane, but they can’t do it all.”

So he sits in his car and he watches the traffic go by on Second Street, NE. A car blows through a stop sign, but he makes no effort to go after it.

“I’m not gonna get gut shot because some hophead couldn’t see the stop sign. With luck he’ll hit a light pole and take himself out.”

The hophead also might hit a kid crossing the street.

“Yeah, he might. That’s life in the city. Dead happens.”

There was a time when he cared, when it was more than a job. He made a lot of good busts, worked them through the system and put a lot of bad guys in jail.

But now the bad guys walk most of the time, the system is geared towards cutting deals and the cop loses control of the case as soon as the perp is booked.

“The system is so backed up here that a burglary case won’t come to trial for years, so they cut a deal and that deal nearly always puts the perp back on the street. It ain’t worth it. We got felons with multiple convictions for homicide on the street right now because some lazy kid in the prosecutor’s office would rather cut a deal than get a conviction. I’m not gonna risk my life to bust someone who be back on the street before I finish the paperwork.”

A call comes in. The dispatcher is trying to raise his unit. He looks at the radio. The dispatcher repeats the call. Finally, he answers. Shots fired. Four blocks away. Civilians down. Reluctantly, he shifts the car into gear and pulls away.

Another day. Another dead kid. Another reason to hate a job that no longer matters.

–Doug Thompson
Washington, DC