Norfolk, Va. - The men and women who swear an oath to serve and protect are feeling under the gun!
“How do you change the mindset of people having that bad impression of police,” says Courtney Smith with the Norfolk Police Department.
News accounts of the bad acts of a few are weighing heavily on the many.
“It makes me want to get off social media because all you see is the negative,” says Carrie MagLang, a Norfolk Police Officer.
“It bothers me because we have millions of interactions with people and positive interactions throughout the country, and they focus on one or two specific events,” Benjamin Serrano, III, also a Norfolk Officer.
Five Norfolk police officers agreed to sit down with NewsChannel 3’s Barbara Ciara for some 'real talk.’
They are very much aware that their profession is under fire.
They only ask that folks look past the uniform and see them as they are—real people.
Carrie became a mom twice since joining the force 15 years ago.
“I've got two daughters,” says Carrie.
Ben is a single guy and he’s been on the force for 11 years.
“I'm just a big kid. These guys I work with know I love kids,” says Ben.
Courtney is a married father of two who grew up in Norfolk. He had an experience with police that mapped out his future career.
“Officer friendly, coming to the elementary schools years ago,” says Courtney.
It worked then, and perhaps it will work now.
In partnership with the boys and girls club, Norfolk police enjoy an afternoon together with the club members to build relationships with a generation that is notoriously divided from authority figures.
Riding shotgun with officer tammy we learned she worked with animals for 15 years before becoming a cop six years ago. She rescues dogs in distress.
Officer Tammy has learned that the dog rescues are far less complicated than the children she tries to win over.
“Again, that's some of the kids I've taken out charges on, the kids whose younger siblings love me to death because they've gone through my youth academy program, so it's about 50/50 for me,” says Tammy.
Sam has been on the force for 25 years and he agrees that in order to change the current image of police, part of the task is to the win the hearts and minds of today's youth.
“I don't think it's a community thing, I think it's a generation thing, especially younger people,” says Sam.
During our real talk session, Barbara Ciara mentioned a recent news story about a parent who arranged the fake arrest of her son who had discipline problems. This prompted a strong response from Tammy.
“We don't want children to get the wrong influence. If they’re in trouble, we need them to be able to call us if they need help, not because they are misbehaving they are going to jail,” says Tammy.
These officers say they got into this business to make a difference in their communities. They live here too, so they build relationships at the club, one game at a time, one child at a time.
It's a daily battle against optics, knowing that the next image that comes to light could be another example of a bad cop.
“There's a handful of officers who don't do the right thing versus the very good officers who go to work every day, do the right thing or by the book and you don't see that,” says Tammy.
Ciara also asked officers about how the climate has changed on the streets where they patrol.
They say that young people can be more confrontational these days.
"They think they have the backing of everyone else because of what's going on in Baltimore, what's going on throughout the country, they think they have backing so they think they can test us," says Carrie Maglang.
While these officers say they don't get up in the morning believing they will have to fire their weapon, some people approach them with the idea that they carry evil intent because they wear blue.
Officer Tammy who patrols the Norview Area says that is her experience at least half the time.
A climate of confrontation is something they say they are trained to handle, however new reports of cop killings like the two officers in Mississippi over the weekend raises the temperature a bit.
"Every call that I go on, it's sitting in the back of my head how dangerous could this be or become based on what's going on across the country," says Officer Courtney Smith.
And the officers in the room who are parents had 'real talk' with their children when Officer Brian Jones was killed in the line of duty nearly a year ago in Norfolk.
“I ask myself every day, ‘Is it worth it? Is it worth leaving a 20-year-old or 16-year-old behind?’” asks Smith.
They all shared stories about people in the community who go out of their way to show their appreciation for the work that they do, the risks they take and hope their families understand.