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On the beat: What it's like to be a cop today

Officer Sergio Pagliery patrols a high crime neighborhood in the heart of Miami’s African American community.

“We are here quite often,” he told Fusion during a recent ride-along. “At least once a day.”

Pagliery became an officer with the Miami-Dade Police Department six months ago. He was 21 when he joined the academy.

He keeps a poker face, he said, during high-stress situations, “because everyone looks to us for help. You expect to come home at night but that little feeling inside you knows that you may not make it home,” he said of his still-fresh beat.

When asked about the perception the public has of officers, he responded: “That we’re bad people. No one came into this profession and said, ‘I’m gonna be a bad cop.’”

The stories told by some of us in the media and through social networks often show officers using overly aggressive police tactics. But our voices have also sparked another discussion: the police want the public to understand the pressures they face.

“Our biggest challenge, and it always has been, is to change that mentality that we’re not human, that we’re not afraid,” said Miami-Dade Police Deputy Director Juan Perez. “We are afraid. If there’s a guy shooting inside a school, we are afraid. But we still go in. We’re only humans, but we are humans who decided to do something good for the community we live in.”

Americans took to the streets in 2014 to protest the use of aggressive force by officers in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the filmed choke-hold death of Eric Garner in New York.

Much of the national conversation surrounded on police training – and the lack of a uniform standard nationally.

With some 18,000 police departments across the country, the average training for officers is about 15 weeks – or less than 600 hours. In comparison, to be a hair dresser in Florida you need 1,200 hours of training.

“I think people would be shocked if they heard about the discrepancy between how we would like our police officers to be trained and how they are actually are trained,” said Maria Haberfeld a professor of police science at John Jay College of Justice.

“Police officers on average use their gun maybe once, twice over their career,” she said. “But they do communicate on a daily basis for 10 to 12 hours. Intuitively but also practically one would think you have to give them tools in the area of ability to communicate effectively and we are not seeing this.”

Miami-Dade Police Officer Roy Brown grew up in Miami when the already-crippling relationship between Miami’s black community and law enforcement came to a head in May 1980 after four white police officers were acquitted in the beating death of Arthur Lee McDuffie, a black man.

Officer Brown, who is black, said he pursued law enforcement to build on police relations in the community so “those kinds of things don’t happen again,” he said, referring to the McDuffie riots. “The job that we do is seen as no longer needed, for whatever reason. And it’s not with everyone, but it seems to be with the section of the community that we are having the most encounters with that have that issue with us.”

Even with those challenges, Officer Pagliery remains focused on doing right by the community.

“I felt that I wanted to help people. And I think this is a way I can do it, by being a police officer and making a difference in someone’s life.”

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