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"I'm free": A former police officer on leaving law enforcement29:28
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Close-up of an officer's badge with the police lights on the car flashing in the background. (Getty Images)
Close-up of an officer's badge with the police lights on the car flashing in the background. (Getty Images)

From a young age, "Andy" — who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution to himself and family members — wanted to be a police officer. It was the family business, in a sense. His grandmother had been a detective, and his parents met working for the same law enforcement agency. Eventually, Andy followed in their footsteps, eager to protect, serve, and save.

But in 2021, after 15 years on the job, Andy quit. He wrote about the reasons for his decision in the r/OffMyChest community on Reddit — a choice that left him  "half-heartbroken and half-relieved."

Andy's first-hand accounts of unchecked police brutality, his colleagues' reactions to the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021, and the verdict in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, were major factors that contributed to his resignation. But in this episode of Endless Thread, Andy discusses the moral conflicts he faced from day one of joining the force and the long road to leaving law enforcement for good.

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

[Listener Advisory Warning]

Ben Brock Johnson: Heads up, this episode briefly mentions suicide. Okay, here’s the show.

Andy: So when I told my wife, she was the most supportive person that could ever be in that type of situation, when, you know, your significant other announces that they're quitting their job.

Amory Sivertson: This is a guy we’re calling Andy. About a year ago, Andy threw in the towel. He stepped away from a lifelong career that had been an important part of his identity. And even in an era when lots of people are re-evaluating their life, their work, their life’s work, Andy felt like he was making a huge move.

Andy: Actually I texted my wife, I wrote up my resignation and I took a picture of it and I texted it to her and she said, What's this? And I said my resignation. And from from there, just her response was just so positive. You know, she was like, I love you. I'm here for you. This is the right decision. This is what's best for you. You're going to feel so much better. Like, don't worry, we'll figure everything out.

Ben: And there was a lot to figure out. He was leaving a line of work where it’s hard not to bring your work home with you. Where your colleagues often form a strong network even beyond the day job. Andy’s day job was the only line of work he had ever known.

Andy: I just couldn't do it anymore.

Amory: He was also leaving the family business, in a way. Three generations deep. And he still hasn’t told them all why.

Andy: No, no, yeah, no, not at all.

Ben: But WE know why. And so do thousands of strangers on Reddit… because Andy spelled it all out in a post in the “Off My Chest” community – an online space where people go to confess things anonymously.

Andy: I did it. I just resigned from my career in law enforcement after 15 years.

Ben: I’m Ben Brock Johnson.

Amory: I’m Amory Sivertson, and you’re listening to Endless Thread.

Ben: We’re coming to you from WBUR, Boston’s NPR station.

Amory: Today’s episode? Us versus them…

Ben: …versus Andy.

Amory: There’s something we need to say before we go further. The person you’re hearing from today was very concerned about physical attacks from former colleagues. And considering his line of work, we felt that granting him anonymity was important.

Ben: We did independently verify his former employers, his full name, proof of employment, et cetera. His Reddit post was made from the username AndysToy1027. For the sake of simplicity, we decided to keep it simple.

Andy: So my name's Andy, and I'm a former police detective. And I right now I live in the southeastern United States, up in the mountains. And before I worked in both the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area as a police detective, and I also worked in the metropolitan Boston area as a police investigator.

Ben: Andy’s in his 30s. He’s married, he’s got a family, a brand new puppy and—up until recently—he had the job he’d grown up dreaming about, one in which he believed he could really help people. Protect them. Save them.

Amory: To trace the roots of Andy’s interest in law enforcement, you have to go back two generations.

Ben: It was your grandmother who is a police person, right?

Andy: Yes.

Ben: Can you talk about her a little bit?

Andy: My grandmother was a deputy, and then she was an investigator for a small little agency in the South, and she was the first woman at the agency and my grandmother is about six foot tall, back when she could walk around, and a very imposing figure.

Ben: (Laughs.)

Andy: Growing up, I would hear stories about my, my grandmother and how you know how she would, you know, put all the men in their places. She was a very strong presence in my life and one of my biggest supporters when I wanted to go into into law enforcement.

Amory: Andy got plenty of support from his parents, too.

Andy: My father and mother actually met on duty working for the same agency. And so that's sort of been, you know, part of my part of my blood, really, it's felt like that there's a, there's a big connection to identity in law enforcement. And I was so excited because in my head and in my experience, I mean, when I talked about police and first responders, I was talking about my family. I was naïve. I mean, there's no way around that.

Ben: Andy says he was naïve because he didn’t really realize how his view of his new job might not be the same as others in the outside world.

Andy: So when I first got hired, I worked for a department that patrolled an area that that was not very good. There was a high crime area. And before I went to the police academy, but after I was sworn in, I needed a haircut. So I went to the barber shop that was a couple of blocks from the police headquarters.

Ben: A couple things here. One: If your ears just perked up when Andy said he was sworn in as an officer before he went to the police academy, ours did too. This is pretty common, it turns out. The rules are different state by state, even agency by agency. And two: we don’t know the demographics of the area he was patrolling, but, for what it’s worth, Andy is white.

Amory: Back to the barbershop.

Andy: And I went in and I just I couldn't wait to talk about how, you know, “Oh, I'm a police officer. You're going to be seeing a lot of me. I work for the city now.” And I got a haircut and I couldn't understand. I just thought, maybe maybe something I said was off or something because the guy cutting my hair and the other people in there just, you know, they were not as excited for me as I was for myself. And after I left and after I gained some experience that year, I realized that the barber that cut my hair was somebody that had, you know, multiple run-ins with the local police. And, you know, it was just the wrong audience to talk about how excited I was for that. But in my mind, I hadn't seen anybody be negative about the police at all in the in the culture that I grew up with. I just thought, "Oh, you know, it's it's just like being a firefighter, just like being a, you know, a paramedic or something." So yeah, I was very naïve about that.

Amory: As Andy started to be incorporated into the police force, he says his eyes were opened to realities he hadn’t really considered previously. For one, a lot of the policing he saw was based on emotion.

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Andy: If somebody had any type of attitude with my field training officer when I was in training and, you know, say on a traffic stop, you know, any type of attitude other than, “Yes sir, no sir,” then there would usually be some type of, you know, retribution for that, whether it was a ticket or, you know, deciding to take longer, you know, to fill out the ticket to inconvenience the person or trying to talk themselves into the car to search the car, even though they knew there was nothing in it just to, again, inconvenience them to show them who's boss.

Ben: This didn’t really jibe with the law enforcement family Andy had grown up with.

Andy: All these things that I had never heard my parents talk about or my grandmother talk about, you know, but now I was seeing it. And so it really put me in a position where I felt, you know, like an ethical dilemma. You know, how much is the job that I'm supposed to be doing? How much is it the actual job and how much of it is, you know, a rule book made up by the officers that I work with to assert some type of control.

Amory: As Andy was coming out of minimal training and grappling with what he was learning about how the law was enforced, he was thrown into the deep end. His first real night on the job was an experience that would echo through the next 15 years of his work.

Andy: I'm in my, you know, shiny police cruiser in my uniform that had never been never been worn before. Everything was polished and I was just I was so happy. I felt like, you know, I had accomplished something and I was, you know, here I am, you know, and I'm a cop now, and this is going to be great. And I was patrolling a neighborhood and there was a car or truck that was stopped in the middle of this residential road and had the brake lights on. And I pulled up to it and, you know, turned on my lights thinking that maybe it was a disabled vehicle and there was no response. So I walked up to the side of the window and I saw a guy on the inside about my age that was passed out.

Ben: Andy could see empty beer bottles inside the car. He woke the guy up, and it was clear he’d had too much to drink. So Andy arrested him for driving under the influence.

Andy: I just thought I had made it. It was the easiest DUI, you know, you know, a guy passed out, you know, that said, “I'm sorry, I'm drunk. It's perfect.” So I was feeling real good about myself and I arrested him and I put him in my car. On the way back to the station, you know, he, he started pleading with me, saying, “Hey, please, please don't do this. Please don't arrest me, please just bring me home, um, you know, I shouldn't have done this, but you know, I just got my life back in order.” And, you know, I was like, “Well, sorry, it's too late now. You should've thought about that before.”

Amory: Andy drove the guy to the police station, where he continued to plead with him. He told him he was supposed to leave for Air Force training in a few days. He couldn’t get arrested. He couldn’t let his family down like that.

Ben: From there, Andy had the choice of either bringing the guy down to the jail to sober up overnight, or releasing him to a family member. He chose the latter. Sent the guy home with his uncle.

Andy: After he left, I was doing, I was finishing up the paperwork and I got a I got a call. And the call was for suicide in progress, and so I jumped in my car, followed the address and I pulled up and I ran to— it was like a detached garage behind the house and I ran there—I heard people screaming and there it was the same, the same guy that I had arrested. He had gone home and directly home and he had hanged himself. And I was the first one on the scene there, and I actually, I was the one that cut him down. And I did CPR and he was still warm. I mean, it just happened. I don't know how they heard, but that just happened. And but then the paramedics got there and they called it.

Amory: The man had written a suicide note. On it… was Andy’s name.

Andy: And then one of his family, I think, was his brother came up and they was screaming at me, and you know, why did you do this? You know, he's a good kid. He's a good kid. And you know, at that point, I just I obviously couldn't do anything. But I mean, just overall a very traumatic experience for my first arrest.

Ben: Andy says he felt guilty for charging the guy even though it was job to do that, and he felt guilty for sending him home with a family member, which was acceptable protocol, but Andy never did it again after this night.

Andy: Anybody that I arrest for DUI is going to go to the jail and sober up before. I'm not going to release anybody to family members. That was my first take away.

Amory: His other takeaways were less clear-cut, and more… lingering. Festering, even. Because, while Andy was racked with guilt, some of his fellow officers had a different take.

Andy: You know, I had coworkers that were joking with me the next day about it making just, you know, really off color jokes about it. And “Oh, look, Andy, he killed a guy last night,” you know? And somebody else said “Oh, you'll get used to it. You know, people die every day.” And for me, I think it was a shock to me that, you know, people could just just be so cold, I guess, when talking about a human life. And, you know, I was told that, you know, because I was upset about it, obviously, I was told that I would grow out of that, that the more experience I had, I'd end up being able to be a little less emotional.

Ben: But Andy didn’t grow out of it and things were about to get harder. We’ll be right back.

[SPONSOR BREAK]

Amory: The former police officer we’re calling Andy had a rocky start on the job, AND he had conflicted feelings about the attitudes and approach of some of his fellow officers. And none of that really went away, it just got a little quieter as he got promoted and moved around in his field. From patrol officer in the small rural town he started in.

Ben: To a detective investigating major and violent crimes.

Amory: To a position in the community engagement unit.

Ben: To the Special Victims Bureau, investigating domestic violence cases and child predators.

Amory: Even to the Financial Crimes Bureau and a federal task force. These later positions were in major metropolitan area. Andy says he felt like he was excelling. But at the same time, he was witnessing things he thought were unacceptable… being… well, accepted.

Andy: The problem started several years ago. I observed an officer got into an argument with the suspect in handcuffs. It escalated when the subject said something about the officer's wife. The subject was thrown to the ground.

Ben: This is from Andy’s Reddit post—the one in the “Off My Chest” community where he announced that he’d just submitted his resignation after 15 years on the job. He read the whole thing to us.

Andy: The officer jumped on top of the suspect and began punching with face while he was handcuffed. I intervened and stopped the officer and then reported what happened. Instead of being fired, the officer was allowed to resign and he wasn't charged. I knew I did the right thing, but I always felt like it was mishandled. 

The supervisors started nitpicking everything I did, I was denied promotions despite having an absolutely stellar record. My other officers refused to work with me since I reported what happened. I was transferred to a position that limited me in using my abilities and as things things arose in the news over the past few years about bad policing, I noticed a change in how the rank and file did their jobs and interacted with the public. There was an overwhelming sense that police weren't appreciated and that set up officers for negative interactions because they'd show up just waiting for someone to start filming them, calling them pigs, etc., even though this rarely happened. But from the times it did happen, it created an us versus them mentality.

Amory: Andy says morale was low, and some of the us’… started becoming them. And while we’re just telling HIS story here…national data corroborates some of his experiences. For instance, According to the Police Executive Research Forum, a survey of about 200 police departments nationwide showed that, between April 2020 and April 2021, officer retirements were up 45% and resignations were up 18% from the year prior.

Ben: And Andy says recruitment at his agency was down, which meant the new recruits they did have received less scrutiny in the hiring process, sloppy training, and found themselves in enough tense situations with the public that his department started losing credibility.

Andy: The final straw for me happened earlier this year. When the Capitol insurrection happened, I was shocked at how many apologists there were who defended the actions of the mob there. Politically, if you weren't conservative, you were a cop hater. Having always been a little left of center, I'd insert my opinion in conversation based on what I believed were facts. Then it gets shut down because I was addicted to “fake news of NPR and CNN.” I was even reported once for quote, hurting morale and was lectured about talking politics, even though everyone else did and my views were different than theirs.

Ben: Then, a few months after the insurrection, a verdict came down in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the now-former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd during an arrest. Guilty.

Andy: Suddenly, for so many decision makers on the department, he was some type of martyr. Having been a tactical controls instructor myself, I knew that his actions were in direct violation of all standard policies for the past 25 years. Still, people wanted to justify it in some way that made the police martyrs who were publicly crucified for their bad decisions. The day I submitted my resignation, I was called into my division captain's office. The captain brought up a recent conversation I had about training new recruits in basic tactical controls. I made it a point when talking about restraints to point out how Chauvin's tactics were exactly what we were trying to avoid when restraining. One of the recruits filed a complaint saying I was quote, promoting liberal politics and training. I explained my position to the captain who listen to what I had said and then he replied, “Andy, you need to choose what side you're on. Either the police or the media.”

All the work I've done for the last 15 years. All the pedophiles and murderers I've helped to catch, all the lives I've saved, including other officers, was reduced to an us versus them mentality. I was disgusted and walked back to my office. I typed up my resignation and returned 20 minutes later and handed it to the captain. I don't know what I'm doing next, but I know that I couldn't take one more minute in that environment. I began my career to help people, and now the mission is to preserve the profession instead of serve the public. I haven't told anyone the real reason I've quit. I don't want to get caught up in debates about the merit of my decision. All I know is that I'm free.

Ben: Andy wrote that post about a year ago. It took us months to get him to agree to talk to us. It started with several LONG phone conversations. Pretty OPEN conversations. Though there was some hesitation from Andy. Even as he was walking out, he was still involved in wrapping up some cases, and needed to testify in court. He wanted to talk but he was also worried about how his fellow officers were going to take his honest assessment. To a lot of them, Andy was going to look like the enemy. Which is part of the reason Andy was leaving. He felt like there wasn’t enough self-reflection in the force. It was an us and them attitude, and if you were a member of a department who was acknowledging that there were problems, you weren’t an us. You were one of them.

Amory: But we finally spoke to Andy last November, just before Thanksgiving, and about six months after leaving the force.

Ben: It's been a while since you wrote that reading it back. What does that make you think of? 

Andy: You know, I think that the first thing I realize is that I made the right decision. At the time, it felt like the right decision, but I didn't know how things were going to turn out for myself and my family, and I didn't know if, if you know, it was just this emotional decision that I made and you know, I had this idea that if I got out, I'd feel free from all that and I might be able to help in another way. And so, leaving has opened up opportunities for me to at least be available to those that want to see change come.

Amory: Today, Andy runs a consultancy business. He says he works with local governments and police agencies to bring their policies and community engagement initiatives into the 21st century. But he also helps community groups advocate for better training of law enforcement officers. Things like mental health education for first responders.

Andy: One thing that I try to remember for both myself and the people that I trained in my job is the day that that you are coming into contact with somebody may be the worst day of their life. They might be going through an experience that is the worst of their life. Nobody ever sees the police on a on a good day, and it's very important. There's a very high responsibility to ensure that not only are you dealing with, you know, the lawful action for that person, but you're showing empathy and you're treating them like a person because they're going to look back at that moment, you know, a year, five or 10 years from now, and they're going to remember what happened. And it's going to inform how they move on from there and how they interact with the police possibly in the future, too. So—

Amory: Do you think other people share that same mentality? Like, is that is that an original word of wisdom that you're passing to other people, or is this something that is that is a widely shared sentiment among your department?

Andy: I've never I've never heard anybody else say that. I've heard, you know, treat people the way you want to be treated and, you know, in training and whatnot. But when it comes to, you know, the job of law enforcement, no, I wouldn't. In my experience, other officers might have different experiences, but in my experience, that was not a widely held belief.

Ben: So Andy, a guy who left the police force because of what he calls moral and ethical struggles he faced INSIDE the field, is now trying to improve law enforcement from the OUTSIDE. But that’s NOT the way he explained his career shift to his father, who still works in law enforcement pretty high up at the federal level.

Andy: I framed it in a way where I said, "Hey, you know, I'm putting, I think I'm going to start a consultancy business, I think. I think that's what I'm going to do. The money's in the private sector." And, you know, I tried to sort of pivot it into a way that this like this is a smart financial decision, which it really wasn't. And his response really surprised me. He's like, oh man, I, he said, "If if I had to start my career today, there's no way that I would have done it. And you know, I think it's good for you to get out. I think it's going to be safer for you." And it was a lot more supportive than what I had thought. 

Ben: As for his grandmother, the person who inspired Andy to work in law enforcement in the first place…

Andy: The first question that she asked me is, "Well, are you quitting or are you retiring?" 

Amory: The answer, it turns out, is both. Andy put in enough years to receive some of the protections of a retired police officer—like the right to carry a concealed weapon. But he left 5 years short of being able to collect the financial benefits of official retirement from the force.

Ben: As far as we know, his grandmother STILL doesn’t know that detail.

Andy: Yeah, it definitely… I wasn't as sort of open and honest as I was with my wife. I was definitely afraid of what what the I guess what the response was going to be.

Amory: Hmm, it sounds like some dogs want to get in.

Andy: I am so sorry, yeah. 

Ben: And with that, our time was up. Andy’s dog started barking, his wife and daughter got home, and we had to wrap, feeling in some ways like we had a much richer picture of the former police officer behind the anonymous Reddit post.

Amory: And in others, like we had just skimmed the surface. Andy felt surprisingly satisfied.

Andy: Oh my gosh, this is so cathartic for me as well to talk about this. So…

Ben: I'm glad.

Amory: Oh, good. Yeah. Well, it's we really appreciate you being willing to talk about it with us and for being so, so open about it. I'm sure it's it's very difficult.

Ben: Yeah. 

Andy: Oh, absolutely.

Amory: We planned to pick our conversation back up after the Thanksgiving holiday. Andy said he would even talk to his dad and grandmother about speaking to us. Which we were excited about! But again, he hadn’t told them the whole story at this point about why he left the force.

Ben: We don’t know how those conversations went, or if they happened at all. Because right after this, Andy ghosted us. We haven’t heard from him in months. I’ve sent texts, Reddit messages, left voicemails. Nothing. He even seems to have disappeared from Reddit and we have no idea why.

Amory: Talking to us was another big step among the many Andy’s taken over the last year. We hope he’s OK, we hope he hears this episode and maybe even sends it to his dad and grandmother?

Ben: And maybe they’ll all be willing to talk together. Us AND them. Three generations of law enforcement officers, reflecting on how the profession has changed. Or not. Either way, Andy, we’re ready when you are.

Amory Sivertson Twitter Senior Producer, Podcasts
Amory Sivertson is a senior producer for podcasts and the co-host of Endless Thread.

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