Cops and robbers just ain’t who they used to be

By Cindy Phillips

I am currently facilitating self-defense classes for women at my firm. To be clear, I am arranging the classes – not teaching them. That would be a classic case of the blind leading the blind.

Years ago I ran the community education program for our school district and we offered such a class. A city police officer was our instructor. So when I was tasked with finding an instructor for our on-site classes, I reached out again to the department but to no avail. Apparently our police force has their hands much fuller with criminal elements these days than they did 15 years ago. The times they have been a-changin’.

We have hired an instructor from a local indoor shooting range, and for some reason putting a gun in my hand for the first time in my 60 years of life became a part of the process. They videotaped me shooting. A friend commented that I needed to learn to shoot in succession instead of stopping in between. If that is true, then when do I get the time to stop and shout “Holy crap” after each bullet?

Our instructor has a stellar background – 24 years in the army and 12 years with the county sheriff’s department. We have affectionately dubbed him The Hulk and I must admit, I feel very safe when he is in the room. He reminds me of all that I was taught about law enforcement when I was growing up: They are the good guys, you show them respect and you trust them.

My first recollections of the concept of good versus evil had to be Dudley Do-Right. What young female who saddled up to watch Rocky and Bullwinkle on Saturday morning didn’t want to be Nell Fenwick, rescued each week by the dashing Royal Canadian Mountie? Who didn’t root for Dudley to triumph over the dastardly Snideley Whiplash, the epitome of evil with a penchant for tying women to the railroad tracks?

Dudley was not exactly a ladies’ man, and of course, he was a cartoon character. But we knew he stood on the right side of the law. Besides, I’ve always been a sucker for a man in a uniform – including delivery man Doug Heffernan. But with the Kevin James character, it’s more about the sense of humor.

Of course later in life, I moved beyond animated characters for my “man in uniform” fix. What girl didn’t allow her heart to be stolen by Officer Frank “Ponch” Poncharello? Erik Estrada played the suave California highway patrolman on the series “CHiPs.” From 1977 to 1983, we followed Ponch on his motorcycle each week. How is it he never had helmet head?

As much as I view good and evil in black and white terms, there was a gray area when it came to “West Side Story.” Officer Krupke tracked the gangs with vigilance, but it was tough seeing either the Sharks or the Jets as evil, especially when they could break out into song and dance at the drop of a switchblade.

In looking back, cop shows of our Boomer youth appear lightweight. The criminals foiled by the likes of Starsky and Hutch, The Mod Squad, The Rookies, Columbo and Kojak just didn’t seem all that sinister. The turning point for me was “Hill Street Blues.” It was a different kind of cop show. The criminals were scarier and the cops seemed more like real people, not just TV characters. And we often saw another side of the law – what works as opposed to what is by the book.

Today, I cannot even bring myself to watch police dramas. Shows like “Criminal Minds,” “CSI” and “Law and Order” are too graphic for my taste. And I can’t help but wonder if the “which came first, the chicken or the egg” concept is at work. Are these shows a presentation of the horrific crimes that pepper our lives today, or are we teaching those with a criminal mind how to get away with murder?

Has the morphing of police shows mirrored real life? Was life when I was a kid really more like Barney Fife’s Mayberry? By the way, that was one man in a uniform that did not excite me. Andy was a different story.

Cops today certainly have to deal with a lot more than rescuing cats from trees. It has become a dangerous world. It’s the reason companies like mine are offering self-defense classes. It’s the reason the numbers of Concealed Weapons Permit applications are soaring.

I really have no recollection of living in fear as a kid. I could walk the neighborhood without ever looking over my shoulder. We left our front doors open in the summer with just the unlocked screen door. We slept with our windows wide open. Seeing a police car in the neighborhood was usually a routine patrol.

Now, at 60, I am learning to defend myself and how to shoot a gun. Let’s just hope I am better at it than Barney Fife.

Cindy Philips is a columnist for The Mountain Times,

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