One bad apple does not spoil the bunch

KA_Xiarhos Memorial Blood Drive_Yarmouth_Police Station_Winter_021216111

Deputy Chief Steven Xiarhos

One bad apple does not spoil the bunch.

That’s what was I was thinking during my visit to the Yarmouth Police Department last week.
Throughout America, on a 24/7 basis, our policemen and women put their lives on the line so we can be protected and safe.

And as we’ve seen in Dallas and Baton Rouge, utter chaos has entered communities across America. An anti-police sentiment has risen in some areas across the United States and news stories peppered with images of officers and protesters clashing have now frequented our conscience so much, we hardly even bat an eye at them anymore.

I am only one of the millions of people left utterly heartbroken and speechless for the five officers killed in Dallas and the three in Louisiana and their families. But for the policemen and women all across the United States it’s more than just heartbreak. It’s anger, frustration, empathy, fear, confusion, and ultimately—personal.

When I timidly arrived in Deputy Chief Steven Xiarhos’ office, those sentiments became all too real. Before I continue further, I cannot stress enough that this article is not intended to be an op-ed piece—it is merely an account of my day with the Yarmouth Police Department and more importantly, to share what I learned.

After initial introductions were made, Xiarhos made it very clear that our conversation would be of a more serious and less informal meeting. Without wasting a single second, Xiarhos began to speak passionately, but firmly about the current crisis facing American police officers.

If were to discuss everything we talked about during our nearly forty minute conversation, this would be an extremely lengthy article. So I’ll focus on the big picture, which for Xiarhos would be the psychological impact current events have taken on officers and what we as a community can do to improve public relations between civilians and our police on a more national level.

Xiarhos began with this sobering statistic: “each day, at least one police officer kills themselves.” From there, Xiarhos detailed the intense impact that being a cop can have and how the psychological effects manifest themselves differently in each individual officer.

Some develop nightmares and other symptoms congruent with mental health problems like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Others, he said, can be more outwardly affected by the things they see and the situations they find themselves in, whereas others keep their feelings hidden— leading to future psychological issues.

DCXDeputy Xiarhos detailed a story about how years ago, an officer he knew and worked with had been killed in the line of duty in a motor vehicle incident. When he heard the news, he expressed his grief outwardly and his commanding officer told him to essentially forget about it and move on.

Since then, extensive steps have been made in improving the mental health of cops. Resources have been made within police departments, including the Yarmouth Police, such as peer support groups and the presence of professional therapists, to attend to the mental/psychological wellbeing of police officers.
When asked about how the current situations and events, particularly in Dallas and Baton Rouge, have affected the officers here locally, Xiarhos said he and his colleagues were frustrated and angry. He said it’s infuriating to see people deliberately target and ambush policemen who have had nothing to do, personally, with the recent deaths of young black men in America and even more upsetting that the American people cannot seem to come together and work to unify civilians and officers.

To Xiarhos, the media and the actions of celebrities and regular people on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have only exacerbated the problem. He asked me how I thought it would feel to be a police officer in one of these protests being hurled with insults and profanities, and having to remain still and vigilant while hearing horrendously offensive slogans such as: “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.” For the officers in this country for whom situations like that are not a hypothetical situation, but a reality—the words and actions take their toll.

Xiarhos then said what he thinks needs to be done to better the situation: there needs to be a lot more done on a national level to improve the image of American police officers as a whole.

Xiarhos knows well that on a localized level, in our own Cape Cod communities, civilian-police relationships are great. There are multiple stories coming in on a daily basis of Cape Cod officers bettering our communities and the extreme gratitude the locals have.

However, on a national level, it seems that every story that comes through concerning the police paints a very negative picture. I told Xiarhos of a story I had heard that very morning online about a group of officers in the Philadelphia area. They were seated in a local diner and a couple walked in, refusing to be seated next to the group of cops. The cops then counteracted with kindness and footed the $28.50 bill and wrote the couple a note that offered their support. What Xiarhos wants are more stories like that broadcast on major news outlets rather than the alternative.

As I went on a tour of the Yarmouth Police Station with Xiarhos, I met with other officers who echoed his sentiments. They all wish for a more unified nation. The officers want people to know that the police are not there to be pestering and nagging to communities, they are there to keep people safe and maintain order, without which we would be utterly lost.

They said that just because an officer is pulling someone over for speeding, doesn’t mean they deliberately sought out that particular individual. It means they saw something being done that put others at harm and they want to prevent an accident. They said a person is more likely to not have an incident when they are cooperative with police. Cooperation is key. Working with kids is also another way they believe good relations with the community can be built.

After everything I did that day, from my interview with Xiarhos to an actual ride-along, I began to think about the final part of my conversation with Xiarhos. He simply asked me: “Why would someone become a cop?”

Being me, I assumed the question was rhetorical, but when I finally realized he wanted an answer I started to think. I went back in my mind and then I remembered how when I was a little kid I thought about being a policeman or a detective. But why? Why did the ten year old me think that being a police officer would be the job for me? Was it because I was obsessed with the ABC series “Castle,” and wanted to be just like Rick Castle and Detective Beckett? Maybe. Or that I was a little nerd who read every word Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler ever wrote and thought that being the next Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe would be cool? Perhaps. But then, I reflected back on the memory of a cop I knew growing up who lived just down the street from me. He was always so warm and friendly, and most importantly: helpful. I remember once the alarm went off when I was home alone and he was the officer who responded. He made sure the house was secure and told me that it was probably my music that made the glass vibrate, thus triggering the alarm. I felt embarrassed, but he stuck around for a few extra minutes to talk about music with me. I was so inspired by this officer, because he helped make my hometown a safer and better place. He was the real hero. After all that thinking (which took me a few seconds to process), I told Officer Xiarhos simply: “Because people genuinely want to help make their communities a better place.”

Many officers are out there every day, with their lives on the line, defending our rights. The police in this country deserve our utmost esteem because they make our communities better. By protecting our towns and cities they make our communities safer, happier, and better places to be. From Dallas and Baton Rouge, to right here in our own backyards the men and women in blue need our support, not just during this time of tragedy and unrest, but everyday because for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year they ensure a better community and for that we should all be eternally grateful.



Christian Papadellis is one of CCB’s summer interns for 2016.  He grew-up spending his summers on Cape Cod and is currently entering his junior year at Colby College in Waterville, Maine where he studies English Literature and Art History.

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