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Behind the badge: Police officers face danger, excitement in job (Video)

By chirst
Feb. 21, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 24, 2013 at 8:25 p.m.

Responding to a harassment call at  Victoria Apartments, Victoria Police Officer Josh Robinson reads a series of allegedly harassing text messages on the victim's cellphone.

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For information on the Victoria Police Department ridealong program, visit victoriatx.org/police/administration/ridealong.asp or call the administrative office at 361-485-3714.

His skill set is vast.

He can coax a drunken man to climb down from a precarious perch in a tree and evacuate residents from a burning building as the flames lick overhead.

He has faced murderers, gang members, drug dealers and rapists.

He can negotiate a neighborly dispute over barking dogs and then chase reckless drag racers on North Navarro Street.

It is, after all, just a day's work for Senior Patrol Officer Josh Robinson with the Victoria Police Department.

But when Robinson clocks out at the end of his 12-hour shift, he said, he needs to use the drive home to shed the stress and become someone else -- Dad.

Cole, Robinson's 8-year-old son, said his dad is a hero, but not because he is a cop.

"It's just my dad," Cole explained. "He is just a cop. He isn't going to hurt you. He would be a 'betrader' if he did that; he would not be a cop."

Robinson shook his head, amused at Cole's new made-up word, as most parents are when their child says something goofy.

He held Cole's little hand in his calloused one - the same hand that holsters a gun and cuffs criminals - as they walked over to watch 9-year-old Taylor's soccer practice.

"I wasn't always a cop. That is something I try to tell people; everyone makes mistakes," Robinson said, even as he scanned the roadways for traffic violations and suspicious acts.

But that is important to remember on the job, Robinson said, because police see a different side - a darker side - of humanity on a daily basis.

"There are times I go into harm's way, and I come home and see my kids' faces, and I think, 'Why am I putting myself into danger like this?" Robinson asked.

Even though he said he can't always answer that question, Robinson knows that what he is doing helps keep his family and other families safe.

"Taylor, when he was in second grade, he made a class project and he drew a cop by a police car and it said, 'My daddy is a hero. He is a police officer and he puts bad guys in jail and one night a bad guy got away,'" Robinson said, laughingly remembering how his oldest son simplistically portrayed his job.

And while the description is a good one, Lt. Ralph Buentello with the Victoria Police Department, a platoon leader, said that being a cop is much more than just catching bad guys.

"We get to be the ministers, the teachers, the parents - even Oprah," he said, stating that most calls require logic, compassion and sometimes a sense of humor.

Robinson said with some calls, all you can do is wonder at people.

"We had a guy who got intoxicated and climbed up into a tree. He was trying to get us to come up and fight with him up there. 'Come up and come get me. I'm going to take y'all down with me,' that's what he said. But then he decided to come down and didn't have a shirt on and he just slid down the tree. ... He wasn't hurt, so we just took him in," Robinson said.

Other assignments, such as when Sage Creek Apartments caught fire in January, have him fearing for his life.

"We were there before the fire department so we were having to go knock on doors and stuff. I'm sitting there in that hallway and flames are just coming over me and I can hear the building popping and stuff like that. That was a scary call - we couldn't get to all of the apartments over there, and I was really praying no one was in those apartments."

As a patrol officer, Robinson works four days on, three days off, in 12-hour shifts.

He alternates taking the day and night shift.

Robinson said the difficult schedule means he can go weeks at a time without spending much time with his wife and three young children.

"I've talked to the kids about it, but they are always asking, 'When can we do this; when can we do that?' They try to understand, but it is hard," Robinson said.

During his 10 years as a police officer, Robinson said he has missed holidays, birthdays, family emergencies and special events, but said he would not trade it for a traditional 9-5 job.

"It is just the freedom of it. Everything is different. You don't know what you are going to get from one call to the next," he said, driving around Victoria waiting and looking for the next call.

And that is exactly what makes the job dangerous, said Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig.

Craig, who manages a $12.5 million organization, said his main source of stress is keeping his people safe.

"My greatest concern is that I want the officers who are working to finish their shift, to come home at the end of the day and not be faced with a life-threatening situation," Craig said.

In addition to the danger, Craig said the department has faced recently an officer shortage created by the pay scale and competition with the oil industry.

The department is short 11 certified officers. Craig said it could take years for the department to catch up from the losses.

However, he said, the department has dramatically increased supplemental training for the officers in recent years to ensure their safety.

But that does not mean the job is without perils, and even the potential for danger puts pressure on families.

Robinson, for example, said there are things he just can't talk about with his wife.

"There are a lot of times I come home, and I don't tell her what happened at work - hardly ever actually," Robinson said. "I think she prefers it that way because she doesn't want to hear about the dangerous calls."

Even with the risk inherent in being cop, the scariest thing Robinson said he has done recently is face down a class of 8-year-olds for career day at Cole's school.

"Kids are a tough crowd," Robinson said, grinning.

Despite having the jitters, he said it is moments like those - when his son can proudly walk him down the hallway at school - that make his job worth it.

Related story:

Patrol officer makes daily transformation from Dad to cop

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