Most people, if you ask them what they think of the police, will tell you they respect people who take up that job and protect the public.
Most people are liars.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit: my actual respect for police/sheriffs has gone downhill over the years to the point where it is virtually nonexistent.
Where I think this comes from has very little to do with the actual police in question. The job done by the police hasn’t changed that much. I have specific respect for the officers who do the needed things - investigating crimes, dealing with gangs/gang violence, and actually keeping the cities and neighborhoods safe(r). I do not for a moment subscribe the the Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton school of “cops are racist”, nor do I believe as Barack Obama does that police who participate in federally-authorized and organized enforcement actions are involved in “terror.”
What has stolen my respect for cops is far more fundamental; a small, day-to-day realization that the lowest level of the system - traffic enforcement in particular - is hopelessly corrupt. Will has spoken on this a couple of times (also most recently).
In my life, I’ve risked traffic tickets precisely twice. Once was on a highway about two hours out of Colosse. There’s a spot where the state highway requires a cloverleaf off-ramp to remain on the highway; unfortunately for unwary motorists, they also “happen” to change the speed limit from 65 to 60 on the segment over the bridge, and there’s a good mile span where motorists will accelerate back up to their original speed before seeing the new sign. Thus I was pulled over by a sheriff on a slow night for “going 63 in a 60 zone” with out of state plates, before he saw my Southern Tech ID and realized that I’d easily be able to make the court date and let me off with a warning. To be fair to this one, he warned me that there was another spot with a similar setup about an hour past where I was, so that I wouldn’t get stopped there too. I’ve no doubt that had I not been a poor college student, however, he simply would have hit me with a ticket and I’d have been stuck in the unenviable position of either (a) trying to get back for a court date or (b) pleading guilty by mail.
The second time, I was coming home to the SoTech dorms late at night, and one of STPD’s rent-a-cops decided he needed to make quota (and/or some time with the new girl on the force). So he pulled me over ostensibly for “running a red light” (not guilty), then called for “backup” and proceeded to “show [her] how we do this paperwork” while his hand was working its way over her derriere. Apparently she was pretty cute to look at, enough so that he got the model, color, and number of doors of my car wrong (the only thing he successfully identified was the license plate number and the fact that it was a Ford).
When I went in for the court date - which he “conveniently” scheduled three weeks after semester’s end, but fortunately I was taking summer courses - I was told in no uncertain terms by the DA’s assistant that he didn’t care how much the cop got wrong on the ticket, because he was confident that the judge would know I had done “something” wrong and that I ought to just pay up.
A few years later, Colosse had a short uproar when the current Mayor let slip in a city council meeting that the city was short on money, very specifically because “CPD ticket revenue has not met its goals.” In other words, while they skirt the federal ban on having official ticket “quotas”, they establish a minimum amount of revenue that the Police Department is required to generate from traffic tickets - by hook or by crook. As everyone in Colosse knows, all the cops have “unofficial” quotas. You can see them when it’s close to monthly review, staking out spots and setting up ambushes, 6-7 squad cars parked in one underpass or in a sequence down the roadway, making sure each officer in their unit meets the “unofficial quota” so as not to get an administrative blemish on their monthly performance review.
The end result of this misbehavior - whether by CPD, by the lone sheriff with a radar gun in rural areas who falsifies the radar speed listed to increase fines, or by a local board or state legislature that passes laws such that it’s actually more expensive to fight such a falsified ticket than simply to pay - is a slow but continual degradation of the respect and trust that officers need to do the rest of their job. Knowing that an officer has in 99% likelihood committed perjury over a traffic ticket by falsifying court documents, am I likely to trust their word on other subjects? I’m pretty sure I am not. Am I likely to believe that a traffic court judge is actually a fair arbiter? Of course not - from experience, I know that even as they lie to your face otherwise, a traffic court judge is going to take a cop at his word no matter what he says and is in the business of getting as many people to pay tickets as possible. They’ve gone from being a brake and sanity check on the system, to being just another corrupt cog.
And since this lowest level of the system is so corrupt, I can at least understand why it is that people believe the higher levels are equally as corrupt. After all, every judge and official in the higher portions of the system started out as either one of, or supporting and rubber-stamping for, the badged highwaymen.