LOS ANGELES — With his profession taking one hit after another over the past year, LAPD Sergeant Cleon Joseph often felt like he had his back against the wall.
Joseph works with LAPD’s Training Division, and with the agency’s Arrest and Control Lifetime Fitness Unit, and helps teach proper use-of-force and de-escalation techniques to both new recruits and veteran officers.
But as calls for police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death turned into the anti-police rhetoric and the “Defund the Police” movement took shape, it took an immense toll on Joseph.
“There was a moment I felt the 25 years that I put into this career was a waste of time,” Joseph said. “I don’t think of us as heroes. But I do think we have a job that puts us on a level that not a lot of people will take.”
Joseph was most troubled when members of the very community he devoted decades of his life serving and protecting suddenly began to treat him like a villain.
“I’m a human being. I’m a father. I’m a coach. I help people lose weight on the side, I do it all. And it feels like, oh my God I’m no longer human when I put this uniform on,” Joseph said.
Joseph drew strength from leaning on his brother, LAPD officer Deon Joseph.
If his name sounds familiar it's because officer Joseph recently made headlines when he penned a letter to LeBron James after the Lakers star made an inflammatory anti-police tweet.
Both he and Cleon said there needs to be a new dialogue about police-community relations.
“Our officers will stick around funded or not funded. But guess what? It hurts,” Sgt. Cleon Joseph said.
Joseph admitted that before he joined the force, he, too, felt indoctrinated to hate police as a Black man. He draws on those memories in framing his training.
“My friends told me that there was a brainwashing machine in the academy. This is why I am empathetic to people who don’t understand. I crossed that line and realized the teachings of the academy are cleaner than the Bible,” Joseph said.
What turned his views around and offered him more renewed hope in putting on his uniform, was seeing the resiliency of both his department and its future generation. The mentorship role he takes on for new recruits helped breathe new life into his calling.
“Believe it or not there are people saying yes to the badge. Some may have legitimate concerns but they understand the nature of the job. I’m encouraged by their boldness,” Joseph said.
While some might expect for recruitment numbers to have dropped, Joseph and his team said it’s been the opposite.
The LAPD has more people wanting to join the Academy than they have room, and Joseph’s last class had more women and African Americans that he had seen in years.
“That gives me hope. I do believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I feel the energy of innovation coming back,” Joseph said. “And I do believe in resiliency. From the chief on down, our officers are resilient.”