Police officers don't get much respect from adults. No news flash there. After all, cops stop us and issue speeding tickets when we don't deserve them. (And we never do.) Seriously -- 73 in a 70? State trooper, dude, I'm late to school already; going three miles per hour over the speed limit does not make me a "potentially hazardous driver." Anyway, it turns out kids don't have the best attitudes toward cops either. Besides listening to Mommy and Daddy grouse about speeding tickets, children see cops on television and in movies arresting people, handcuffing them, and throwing them in cars, after which they manipulate the law just enough to get a confession out of a perp without so much as reading him his rights or, like, getting him a lawyer. (Is it us, or did Homicide: Life on the Streets always feel as though it existed in a parallel universe where they had never heard the word Miranda?) Then, cops go to schools to tell kids what they can't do, as in: Don't do drugs, don't fight, don't drink, don't play with guns. If you do, warn these men in blue, you'll wind up behind bars -- even though it seems these days that getting scared straight turns some kids a little crooked.
Kids tend to view police officers as nothing more than adults threatening them with punishment. There aren't even any storybooks about police officers, as Ronald Pinkston, a senior corporal in the Dallas Police Department, discovered two years ago, when he tried to explain to his son Trevor that he does more than arrest people -- that he actually tries to help them as well.
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And since there wasn't one, Pinkston, a 12-year DPD vet, wrote A Police Officer, That's What I'll Be, which was released in June. It's the story of a boy comforted by three police officers after he falls out of a tree: They help him find his lost bike, stop traffic so he can cross a busy street, and give him a ride home when he gets lost. The kid decides to become a cop when he grows up so he can help people too. Besides writing the book, Pinkston also published it. He hired an agency to help him with design, and he shopped the finished book to local publishers; when that didn't work out, he borrowed the money and did it himself. "I guess you can say I didn't have enough patience to go through publishers," Pinkston says.
Pinkston is donating a portion of the book's proceeds to the children's charities Dallas Advocacy Center and National Children's Alliance. He's also been touring the story-time circuit of local book stores, reading the story and answering questions so children will see police officers as people they can approach when they need help. "Helping kids is the greatest thing in the world," Pinkston says. "Ask any parent, teacher, or coach."
The only problem is, Pinkston can't appear in uniform during his preschool story times: The department sees it as a conflict of interest since he's promoting his book and not on duty. McGruff the Crime Dog never wore a uniform either, just plaid pants and a trench coat, and he's been a positive role model for generations. After all, who wouldn't stop doing drugs if they thought a giant, talking dog in plaid pants was chasing them during an acid trip?
Pinkston is already working on his next book, A Firefighter, That's What I'll Be, to show children how firefighters help people. But in truth, kids only see firemen (and, of course, firewomen) when they're rescuing people or kitties from trees. It's when kids grow up that they begin to dislike fire marshals for closing down clubs for overcrowding and other code violations. Maybe Pinkston should write a companion book for adults, something like Firefighters: Don't Hate Us, We're Just Doing Our Job. He could write one about the police too, not that it will make us any less angry when we get caught going 61 in a 55.