Rico Velasquez raises his hand in a jaunty salute, then straightens his polo – which features the word “Police Cadet” on the front – in the meantime, someone else has waved to him, and he quickly greets them too.
It is not hard to see that Velasquez, a part-time student at De Anza College and a police trainee, is seen a friendly and outgoing person, but the fact that he is to become a police officer does damage his ability to make many friends, he said.
“Many students kind of stay away after they find out that I am a police trainee,” Velasquez, 23, said, “especially with everything in Ferguson and Baltimore and whatnot.”
This stigma that De Anza College imposes upon Velasquez as a future police officer is reflected across the country. According to an April 2015 poll by The Economist newspaper and a market research firm – YouGov, 49 percent of Americans do not trust police officers, and would not believe their testimonies in a trial.
“I think recent events are testimony enough,” said Jennifer Donate, a Liberal Arts major at De Anza College. “How can I trust the police when they are killing innocent people? One day they could kill me, or my daughter.”.
Cases of police brutality, which have been popping up all over the country, have only made police officers look like the ones people need protection from, rather than the those who will protect them, Donate said.
Another student, Janet Morris, a 20-year old resident of San Jose said she now sees the police more as “predators than protectors.”
“A few months ago this one cop pulled me over, and searched my car,” she said. “The whole time, I was just scared that he would hurt me even though I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
In an informal survey among 50 De Anza College students, an overwhelming majority, including Morris and Donate, agreed with the results of The Economist’s poll – some were even surprised that only 49 percent of Americans didn’t trust police officers.
“That means half of the American population would believe a cop’s version of the story right?” 19-year old Psychology Major, Andrew Pereira, asked. “That’s hella people!”
But others on campus were less surprised. A few students, representing the 28 percent of people in the YouGov poll who said they were “More willing to believe a police officer,” said all police officers cannot be judged on just one or two cases.
“Just because Darren Wilson killed a kid, doesn’t mean that every officer is a murderer,” said Anirudh Venkatesh, 18, a computer science major at De Anza College.
Venkatesh also pointed to the example of Velasquez, asking, “Does he look like a killer to you?”
Velasquez was also quick to say that law enforcement is a good profession; one or two people make terrible mistakes, but most officers are nice.
He said, “I’m friends with many officers in the San Jose unit, and they are just hurt by the negative attention and stereotypes.”