Police Are Trained to Fear

As a former cop, I know why so many carry out their work with an “us versus them” mentality

Larry Smith
Published in
8 min readNov 27, 2018


Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

In 2000, I was a rookie patrol cop in the Baltimore Police Department. Everything I’d learned from six months in the police academy and another month of field training was still fresh in my head. I fancied myself as a squared-away, polished-looking crime fighter at the top of my game when I had my first real-life foot chase.

I remember the call very clearly. It was toward the end of my 4 p.m. to midnight shift on a warm summer night. I was dispatched as a backup unit to a report from a repair shop owner observing a man breaking into cars and rummaging through them. As I parked my car on York Road a few feet north of the shop, I could see the silhouette of a man in the driver’s seat of a Dodge Neon. He had no idea I was behind him. Another marked patrol car pulled up south of the shop, and he did notice that one. He jumped out of the Neon and ran straight at me. He was looking back at the other patrol car as he ran, and when he looked forward, I was almost on top of him.

My adrenaline was in control, and my training had me thinking that this would be where I would get shot.

Jogging toward the man, I shouted, “Stop!” I hadn’t anticipated that someone scared of being caught for breaking into cars would suddenly display the agility of a cheetah. He quickly changed direction and ran down an alley behind the shop. I gave chase, and we found ourselves cornered between a dumpster and a very tall privacy fence.

At that point, my adrenaline was in control, and my training had me thinking that this would be where I would get shot. The man bent slightly and was digging for something from his waistband. I immediately drew my gun and shouted for him to stop moving and show me his hands. When he turned to face me, I saw a flash of silver in his hands. I began to squeeze the trigger of my gun; at the same time, he dropped what he was holding and threw his hands in the air.

I didn’t shoot him, but I came really close. The other officer came chugging to where we were and helped me take the man into custody. I noticed the man had an open fanny pack on…