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Cops Can Read

02.24.2001 | MAGAZINES

On my desk right now is a magazine called "Police, The Law Enforcement Magazine." It is a monthly periodical by, for and about the police. It is a product review, a news service, a place for cops to learn methods of career advancement. The focus is not on gritty sensationalism, but the real job of police work.

Most of us have some trouble thinking of police work as a job. For us, joint smoking hazards, dolers out of parking tickets, profiler of races. Omnipresent, yet always distant, police are a sea of navy blue and aqua velvet. Police magazine humanizes police work by unearthing its underlzing banalities.

Cops worry about things like spilling coffee and food on their laptop computers, getting paid for comp time and having a violent "perp" steal their weapon in a close quarter situation. (Such an event is called a "gun grab." It's demonstrated on the cover.) They seem enthusiastic, by and large, about their work, which they consider to be very exciting.

The magazine's layout is basic, as it is a niche magazine aimed at a small market, similar in that regard to Doll collector or Cat Fancy magazine. However, unlike those magazines, Police's market is not only narrowly defined, it's ermetically sealed. You don't need to be a doll collector or a fancier of cats to buy the thematically related magazine. Police, however, reserves its right to refuse subscription requests to non law enforcement professionals.

How did I, a civilian, come in contact with Police? Well, there was a little petty theft involved. And even though it's funny that I committed a crime to gain a copy of the law enforcement magazine, I'm still not proud of that. (And though you will be denied a subscription to the print version, their website gives a nice overview of the publication.)

Police magazine represents the nerve center of police culture. It is a free zone for the use of police jargon. It is the home of my favorite euphemism of the month; "liability exposure." (It's context: an ad for a mace style spray that cleans up with soap and water, cutting down on a department's "liability exposure.") It is the epicenter for police fetishism. (Where else could you find and ad for a computer mouse in the shape of a patrol car or a checkbook with a picture of handcuffs on it?) It is a place where a cop can really be a cop. It is a place for men to be free to wear a moustache.

Nearly all of the cops in the magazine have push broom moustaches (And most wear crew cuts. What is that? Don't these guys understand iconography? Haven't they ever seen a picture of Freddy Mercury in the seventies?). The exceptions are the female and the asian cops, who by deign of gender and ethnicity are unable to grow the push broom and presumably envy their male anglo/irish/german counterparts' thick undernose growth.

The "Latin" man on the cover demonstrating a "gun grab" also wears a push broom, which leads me to believe that the man is a cop. The quotation marks encasing Latin in the above sentence are mine. He doesn't look at all Latin, but his dress and enthusiasm for ctivities like "gun grabs" are meant to be recognized by the readers of Police as Latin.

The lo-fi roots of the magazine some through most in the magazine's unambitious layout. They use the same photo bank as the Onion. The photocollage of headshots article "Gen X wears a badge" includes the lady from the "I hope to someday be a realtor" editorial and the David Crosby look-a-like from the "I think that stripper really liked me" article. My guess is that these shots all come free with photoshop. The sections have cute cop related titles. The letters to the editor section is called "The briefing room," the equipment reviews "product patrol, and the last page is "the beat." It's stuff like this that makes me suspect that there's a "Chicken Soup For The Cop."

The editorial, the first by new Executive Editor Roy Huntington, is a breathless testimonial to the glamor of police work. Mr. Huntington, who will no doubt be played by William H. Macy in Police Magazine the movie, waxes poetic on his experiences as a cop, recounting stories about heroism, emergency situations, baby birthin's and his personal exhilaration. It's enough to make you think that Serpico never happened.

Two of the letters in the briefing room pertain to an article in a previous issue that dealt with gun control. Both took issue with a perceived pro-gun control editorial bias in the article. One letter equated being "anti-gun" with being "anti-cop." This surprised me. Were I an officer of the law, I would want to insure that police officers were the only people in America with guns. Then again, I am not a cop. Another letter alluded to the Diallo trail as "the incident with the shooting of that man in the doorway." Apparently, the letter writer did not even want to dignify the trial proceedings, which he viewed as a persecution of his fellow officers with Diallo's real name.

The two centerpiece articles were about the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) convention. One was a very quirky Cosmo-esque rave-up on new police fashion, the other concentrated on new police technologies and consumer products. Products on display included the VW bug Police cruiser, perfect for patrolling munchkin land, and a PC powerbook advertised as "cop proof." The demonstration model was covered in coffee and splattered donuts.

I can't imagine that real, hardened cops are big into this magazine. It doesn't seem aimed at, say, New York Cops, the ones who turned "Guiliani" into a verb. The target audience is composed of the spiritual descendents of Barney Fife; over eager cops enraptured with the accoutrements and culture of police work. I imagine cops who "work the beat," " act to keep America safe," etc, return to the station and are greeted by a nebbish police officer sitting behind a police blue I-mac complete with a patrol car mouse asking if they saw that they printed his letter in "the Briefing Room."

Listen. Cops are the only professionals we give guns to. Police work is the only domestic job where you get shot at. I've always been of the opinion that if someone wants the job, we should do anything in our power to prevent that person from doing it. Many cops are rational, reasonable people who view their job as an act of protection, an insurance that civilization remains civil. However, police work is much more attractive to an alienated loner with a vendetta then, say, marketing or sales.

Our culture, our invisible American ideology, has long had a love affair with cops. Think about the number of movies and TV shows about cops. We have a fictional cop for every mood, from suave (Bullit) to tough (Dirty Harry) to bumbling (Barney Miller) to gritty (NYPD Blue). It is unimaginable for a politician to not run on a tough on crime platform. Think about how ridiculous the idea of a left-wing cop seems. Americans like justice served hot and often. Hence three strikes and you're out prison policies. Hence Rampart, the rogue LA anti-gang police squad that terrorized the local populace and took part in the drug trade it was supposed to destroy. Hence Amadou Diallo.

About the Author
New Jersey native Adam Bulger currently resides in Hartford, CT. As a free-lance writer he has written numerous articles on booze, cops and robots.
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