But most of the sounds on a cop's radio are not like that. It's pretty mundane. And this article from the Houston Chronicle shows this well. How almost all of what we need to do is just, for lack of a better term, routine!
The urgent, crucial banality of cops' jobs
This week I monitored chatter on a police radio scanner, and reported the mild mayhem that transpires every Houston night.
That's not what I normally do here at the Chronicle, but my colleague took vacation, and I took his shift. So I showed up every morning at 5:30 a.m. and followed along as the Houston Police Department dispatch radioed assignments to officers in the field.
The week changed my perception of police.
My earliest impressions came from Hollywood films about heroic bad boys and their chases, raids and shoot-outs with criminal menaces. More recently, those were mixed with media portrayals of brutal oppressors, reigning over minority communities with an iron fist too quick to pull the trigger.
But my week of direct observation showed nothing like either of those stereotypes. Listening to the scanner brought to mind the patient ladies who patrolled my elementary school cafeteria at lunch hours, saying the same things every single day: don't squirt ketchup at each other, please stop yelling, you cannot stand on the table, keep your hands to yourself, no throwing food.
Here are some things I heard on scanner this week:
• "The caller said there's a man in his underwear on the sidewalk yelling at people passing by." Over the week, some variation of that incident happened several times a day.
• Officers were sent to a scene where citizens had detained an injured dog.
• On several occasions, officers escorted people out of the roadways, where they were disrupting traffic.
• "There's someone throwing rocks at passing cars."
• Abusive boyfriends. Lots and lots of abusive boyfriends. Abusive boyfriends that had locked callers in their houses, or are threatening to kill them.
• People yelling vulgar things in public places, like a Denny's.
• Officers went to direct traffic at a broken stoplight, where drivers apparently were unable to organize themselves.
• Lots of road debris — metal, rocks, concrete, trash — on the highways. It had to be moved.
• People passed out in public places.
• Parents called for help getting their truant teenagers to school.
• Lots of people threatening suicide.
• Lots of people threatening homicide.
• Lots of people fighting in public.
• Several patients escaped from hospitals or other institutions.
• Many people making too much noise before sunrise.
• "Caller says a man won't leave her front yard."
During this week, there were no reports that an officer had fired a weapon. There were car chases — multiple nightly — but they rarely lasted more than 10 minutes before the suspect crashed. There were also major investigations wrapped up, leading to the arrest of accused murders.
The vast majority of what the police did focused on maintaining order at a very basic level.
This would be an ugly place without them.