3 Generations Of Law Enforcement Speak Out About Policing In America

Originally published on June 15, 2015 5:11 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Police have never been under more scrutiny than they are now in the age of social media when everyone carries a video camera in their pocket. Just this weekend, an officer in Texas was filmed pinning a teenage girl to the ground and pulling a gun on other unarmed teens. The video went viral, and the officer is now on leave. Deadly confrontations have been captured from Ferguson to Baltimore leading to national protests. For police, this is a big change. So to hear more about how the experience of officers has evolved over time, we tracked down three generations in law enforcement from one family.

Will you just all three introduce yourself?

JEFFREY JUDGE: OK. My name is Jeffrey Judge. I'm here with my nephew, Tom Nestel, and my son, Justin Judge.

SHAPIRO: Jeff, you just took charge of the conversation right there.

JEFFREY JUDGE: I'm sorry.

CHIEF TOM NESTEL: That's the way Jeff is though.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY JUDGE: They can pretend I'm my wife.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Some in their family were not thrilled with their chosen profession.

NESTEL: My mother once told me that I would be a policeman over her dead body. She's still alive and well...

SHAPIRO: Glad to hear that.

NESTEL: ... And very proud of my profession.

SHAPIRO: That's Tom Nestel. He has spent over 30 years as a police officer in and around Philadelphia. Along with his cousin and his uncle, Nestel explained that law enforcement is part of this family's DNA.

NESTEL: At one time, there were 12 of us that were on the department at the same time, so it truly is the family business.

SHAPIRO: Policing has changed a lot over the years, and I'm curious as to how it has evolved over your three careers in the force. Jeff, starting with you. You entered the police force in the 1970s. What was it like then?

JEFFREY JUDGE: It was much different than it is now. I'll tell you that when I first started, I used a manual typewriter, and then in the 1980s...

JUSTIN JUDGE: What's a typewriter? (Laughter).

JEFFREY JUDGE: ...We kind of morphed into computers. But another thing that we didn't really have was bulletproof vests, and I think a lot of people would be appalled to hear that that wasn't standard equipment until a couple years after I came on the job.

SHAPIRO: What was the reaction when it was introduced?

JEFFREY JUDGE: You know, there were some people that liked it and some people that didn't like it. We all knew it was good for us, that it was going to save lives, but they were heavy. They caused us to sweat, and a lot of people were not used to change.

SHAPIRO: Seems like that idea of being resistant to change could apply to a lot of things beyond bulletproof vests.

NESTEL: Ari, this is Tom, and I think that our profession is the most resistant to change of any profession that I know in this Earth, and it's a constant struggle to bring new ideas and new ways of thinking in the policing realm.

SHAPIRO: Justin, at age 33, do you see your elders in the police force resisting things that just seem natural to you?

JUSTIN JUDGE: Yeah, a little bit. You know, my department specifically, we've had cameras in our cars since the late '90s. That was one of the biggest changes I think that these guys could probably tell you about over the last 20 years is the implementation of the cameras. And some of the older guys I think weren't real receptive to it, but then, for me, it's just - it's kind of natural to me because it's always been there. I'm just used to having it.

SHAPIRO: Do you all feel like members of the public relate to police in a different way now than they used to?

JUSTIN JUDGE: Depends on who you talk to. I think there's a good deal of people that still appreciate what we do and are thankful to have us, and I think there's some people that sort of see us in a negative light at this point. It seems like, this day and age, people's opinions of police can vary pretty widely.

NESTEL: And I think that we are challenged much more to explain our actions and our processes than we ever have been before, and, for me, that's not a problem, for others, it is a problem, you know. Policing has been pretty insulated from exposure to the public and to overseers. Policing has been policing for centuries, and they don't like having outsiders look at their processes.

SHAPIRO: But you seem to think that that can be a useful thing?

NESTEL: I do. I am a very big proponent of the body camera program, and I'm introducing it in my department. Soon, all of the officers will have body cameras, and there's a reluctance on the part of police because they're afraid that they'll be criticized. I don't think that that's going to be the case. I think that what's going to happen is the public's going to see how good the police are and how hard they work and how some people treat them that is just completely unacceptable to the general public.

JEFFREY JUDGE: This is Jeff. I just want to jump in there, and I want to say that I don't necessarily like talking about the police and then the outsiders. The police are the community. They are representative of the community, and they come from the community, and it should not be considered as outsiders and people who take a stance against policing.

NESTEL: And I'm going to push back on my elderly uncle.

JEFFREY JUDGE: (Laughter).

NESTEL: I like that theory, but I don't think that's a reality. I think that the police believe they know what's best for the community, and they implement programs and processes that they think is best for the community without ever talking to the community.

SHAPIRO: Justin, you've been listening to your father and your cousin duke it out. Do you want to weigh in here?

(LAUGHTER)

JUSTIN JUDGE: Yeah, I've been kind of keeping my mouth shut for a little while. I'm sort of somewhere in the middle. We are representative of the community. We are members of the community, and ultimately, you know, our salaries are paid by members of the community, so we are accountable. The discussion on body cameras, I don't know if it'll necessarily help things or hurt things. I think there's a couple national incidents where it may have shed some light on things, but there's also some ways that it could harm us as well, and there's a lot of hurdles to jump through to be able to implement something like that but - my thing is you just have to have communication. You have to be in touch with the members of the community. It's a major part of the job, and I've rarely come across a situation that couldn't be solved with just more open communication.

SHAPIRO: If you had kids who were thinking about entering the police force today, what would you tell them?

NESTEL: This is Tom, and one of my deductions has expressed an interest...

(LAUGHTER)

NESTEL: ...And, you know...

SHAPIRO: Such love in your voice.

NESTEL: I've had a great career. I love my job. I still get up every morning happy that I'm a police officer, so I just want to make sure that he's making the decision for himself and not just because he's joining the family business.

JEFFREY JUDGE: Policing is the most noble profession. Its right up there with one of the most dangerous, and it's also the most rewarding job, and that's what I would tell my kids.

SHAPIRO: Three generations of police officers in the Philadelphia area. Tom Nestel is chief of Philadelphia's SEPTA Transit Police Department. His uncle, Jeff Judge, is a retired Philadelphia police lieutenant who now teaches high school, and Jeff's son, Justin Judge, is a seven-year veteran of the Lower Merion Police Department right outside of Philadelphia. Thanks to all of you.

NESTEL: Thank you, Ari. Thanks for having us.

JUSTIN JUDGE: Thanks Ari.

JEFFREY JUDGE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.