I've always gotten a kick out of the term: The Riot Police. News anchors seem to love to employ this reference in their broadcasts. Ever since I was a kid I thought it would be cool to be a "riot cop." I'd see them in their helmets and shields wielding batons and charging at some unruly mob. Cool. I'd report for duty everyday, train to impeccable standards, and then standby in my barracks ready for the next infrequent, but inevitable riot to begin. Yeah, I was wrong.
I've also wondered if there are some folks who think the riot cops are kept in some secret warehouse until needed. Or perhaps stored in some dehydrated form-just add water. The officers just sit and wait to be summoned to suppress an insurgency by some political malcontents who aren't satisfied with a right to express their free speech peacefully.
When I became a cop, I no longer thought much about the riot police one way or another. That is until the day the world came to town, and I became one. That day was in 1999 when the WTO summit hit Seattle (and I really do mean HIT). Then for a week I found out who exactly the riot police are. They are me. Well, my fellow patrol officers and me. Not to mention, non-patrol officers and detectives, SWAT, sheriff's deputies and state troopers, officers from other agencies and, if things get bad-as they did-the National Guard.
In reality, you see riot police every day. They are the cops you see driving through your neighborhoods, walking beats, riding bicycles, and answering your 911 calls. The need for large numbers of police officers during mass demonstrations and riots means it's impossible to maintain a special detachment of cops for this particular duty. They must come from already deployed resources. Whenever there's a riot downtown, you can bet your neighborhood is probably suffering as your officers are diverted from protecting your wellbeing to dealing with violent, property-damaging criminals.
So, the next time you watch the riot police on the TV news, and you see protesters throwing rocks, bricks, and bottles of urine, just remember this: They're not committing those acts against nameless, faceless, emotionless blue robots sent out to quell the riot and to restore peace to a community. They are attacking the officers who sit next to you at the coffee shop, or who monitor traffic near the crosswalk as your kids get out of school, or who investigated that suspicious character prowling around your grandmother's backyard last night.