Tramps. Prostitutes. Junkies. Recidivists. Delinquents. Body bags. Dark secrets of professedly decent families. Inmates' flatulence jokes. When you work in law enforcement, you see people at their worst. The lore wears on you.

Cops and corrections officers know where the wrong path goes. The dismal realities they witness make them "unrecognized ethnographers of our time," in the words of Connie Fletcher, author of What Cops Know. They read people well. Crisis intervention skills and the ability to anticipate problems are keys to their success. Their knowledge of the consequences that lawbreakers suffer could save many from big mistakes.

But by the time society's guardians meet with those who most need to learn from them, it is too late: the robbery has already been committed, someone has landed behind bars, someone's spouse has suffered a black eye, somebody lies murdered.

Trigger Unhappy

The inability to prevent the making of a criminal irked Dean Dyer, whose job at the Michigan Department of Corrections entailed parole work and weapons training. Dyer could draw from a concealed holster and fire two rounds into the center of a silhouette target in less than one second. He wrote several interactive life-sized video programs that train officers to shoot under threat of attack.

His job helped him appreciate the "many ways in which law enforcement officers daily risk their lives," and he admires those who pursue jobs in corrections and police work. Yet, much of what he could not repair while in law enforcement made him rethink his career choice.

When he worked with a parolee, Dyer wished he "could have gotten ahold of this person five or ten years ago to help him make some better decisions. God can work at any time, obviously, but ...

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