‘They come to help people:’ Retired Chicago officer on tough situations police face every day

CHICAGO -- Recent police-involved shooting deaths have sparked new waves of protest and outrage here in Chicago and around the country.

As the protests continue to make headlines, WGN News spoke with a retired police officer about the tough situations officers face every day.

As WGN’s Marcella Raymond reports, this is a one-sided story with one officer's opinion on the tense relations between police and African-Americans.  It's also a glimpse into the struggles officers deal with every day.

Dave Snethen’s story mirrors that of so many officers who work in this city protecting its citizens.

On Snethen's last day on the job, he posed as a pizza delivery man to stop a ring of 25 armed robberies where the delivery truck drivers were pistol whipped for their cash.  It was February 11, 2007.  Guns were drawn on him as the robbers attempted to take his money.  He wound up killing one and shooting another.

“It bothers you,” he says.  “You don't kill people and go have a cup of coffee.  You don't chase someone in a car and get out and your hands are steady.”

Sgt. Snethen got an award of valor for his bravery that night.  He put in 30 years as a Chicago police officer.  He's the first and last cop in his family. Before that he was a Marine.  When he retired, Snethen was a supervisor in the detective division.  He was a tactical officer, a SWAT officer, worked in gang crimes and even worked detail for former Police Superintendent Leroy Martin.  He worked mostly on the South and West sides in high crime areas.  He was a white cop, protecting black citizens.

“A lot of people are prisoners in their own houses,” he says. “Good people are prisoners in their own houses.  Bars and steel doors aren't to keep the police out, they're to keep your neighbors out.”

Snethen blames politics, lies and edited video for the hatred people feel towards police these days and for the protests and the violence against officers.

“All these little policemen are the bad guys and they have nothing but good intentions in their hearts.  They come to help people.  … They're cynical but not racist.”

“I’ve never heard anybody say. ‘I’m going to go beat a black guy’ or, ‘Shoot a black guy.’  Policemen don't do that."

Snethen says police officers aren't trigger happy. They don't want to kill anyone.  They're not afraid for themselves, but for their families.   Sometimes they're scared. Like the time when Snethen responded to a call of an armed man beating his girlfriend.  He went in with his gun drawn, had the guy in a corner, took one gun from the man's pants and told him to get to his knees.

“He looked at me like he owned me... He took another gun out of his pocket.”  Snethen says the man wanted to kill him.

It's encounters like those that can easily turn deadly for either the officer or the suspect.

And those are the kinds of situations Chicago police officers are put in every day.