Author’s Note: The topic of “Doing Christmas” has been an important part of my writing career for the last few years. There are threads which remain constant while new ones are woven into this fabric. It is my hope that DOING CHRISTMAS might bring fresh thoughts about this holiday season to you. I am very anxious to hear from you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of my Brothers & Sisters in Blue.
Some years ago, my wife and I were fortunate enough to regularly attend a church where the pastor was remarkable. Father Kelly had an uncanny ability to deliver a weekly message that seemed to be written just for me.
It was almost as if he was spying on me. He made an indelible mark on my life. Unfairly or not, I have held every pastor since up to the measure set by him.
ARE YOU “DOING” CHRISTMAS?
Following Thanksgiving each year, Fr. Kelly would talk about the beginning of the Advent season. In his first year at the pulpit, his words smacked me. He asked, “Do you plan to just celebrate Christmas or, are you going to DO Christmas?
I didn’t have a clue.
For most folks, the most basic / common teachings of our faith call for us to love each other. For Christians, we are taught to focus on the lesser among us.
As cops, we encounter folks every day who are in the category of having great need. To say that we are familiar with people at/near the bottom of the economic ladder would be an understatement.
Over time, cops have developed a unique set of words to describe many of them. While not appropriate for mixed company, they are all in the official Police Academy Glossary of Terms.
An encounter with such an individual, would typically include a pat-down for weapons.
My point is this: it can be really tough to put on a smile and a fresh attitude with someone whom you have arrested multiple times. You may have responded many times to disturbance calls at their homes.
You may have been there so many times that you can recall their address, the names of their kids and the dog.
DOING Christmas isn’t just about celebrating. It really is about operating outside of our comfort zone for the sake these people.
A city where I worked had a south end that was almost all Section 8 subsidized housing. To call it a pit would be a compliment. It was infested with every kind of miscreant one can imagine – and then some.
I remember my FTO telling me to remember that, “Some folks live here by choice. Others are here due to their circumstances in life. Those folks hate having to live here.”
Those are the people WE need to touch.
THE TEACHER LEARNS THE LESSON
I train cops around the country. As part of the advance prep, I try to go for at least one ride along. I have been blessed to have ridden with hundreds of cops over the years. Each one had something to teach me.
On a recent shift, my partner stopped an SUV at 11:00PM in an area known for drug traffic. It was occupied three times.
The vehicle was unregistered and displayed an improper tag. None of the three occupants had a valid driver’s license. We could have taken the driver to jail and towed the ride. Instead, he issued the driver two citations.
He then gave them the option to arrange a tow to their residence – if they had enough cash. Otherwise, the SUV goes to the city yard where it incurs huge fees. The tow truck arrived; the driver said the tow home was $84; the car’s occupants had $80 between them.
These folks were NOT the cream of the society. I’m confident they all had priors. My partner could have allowed the vehicle to go to the city tow yard with a clear conscience. Instead, I reached into my pocket and handed the driver a $5 bill.
The subjects were incredulous. They offered many thanks for this show of unexpected generosity. It was a random act of kindness.
Will this turn their lives around? Probably not. Only God knows. But one thing is certain: my partner and I got more than our money’s worth in good feelings about what had happened there that night.
WHO GOT THE GIFT?
The behavioral scientists (a/k/a “Eggheads”) have long said that the act of giving a gift to someone else produces good stuff for the giver. There are hormone releases. There is an overall ‘good’ feeling.
Proof, you say? Think back to how you felt when you gave a special gift to your wife / girlfriend. If you are a parent, think back to Christmas morning as the kids tore into the gifts left by Santa.
Do you recall how you felt? Precisely my point.
CALL TO ACTION
I am asking you to take action. Now.
When: Sometime in the course of your next shift.
What: Do a good deed for someone else. There are some qualifiers.
First, it must be unexpected.
Second, there can be absolutely no ‘payback’ for you.
Third (this is the toughest), the recipient of your kindness should be a person in a lesser position in life than you.
Cops occupy a unique position in society. By reflecting on your time in service, I suspect you and quickly think of many instances where you did something for a citizen that you considered no big deal.
Yet, those acts can profoundly affect that citizen. They can literally change the course of their lives.
I don’t want to suggest that anyone should do this stuff just because they read it here. I am offering ideas that could have been great where I worked. Use them to cook up some of your own ideas that could succeed where you work.
Of course, using common sense is critical. None of this stuff is worth losing your job or getting yourself killed over. It will also be best if you pick recipients who look like they will value what you are doing.
IDEA #1. When getting lunch at a sit-down restaurant, I would look around for families with kids. I would approach, introduce myself and ask the parent if I may speak to their children. With permission, I would give the kids a ‘JUNIOR PATROLMAN’ badge. A quarter to each child to use at the gumball machine went over well, too.
I always gave the treat to the parents for distribution and encourage the kids to mind their folks and know that police officers were always ready to help them.
IDEA #2. I’ll be standing behind another customer at McDonald’s. I pick someone out. Some of the criteria I have used for selection: they are checking their cash before ordering; they are active military; they are retired and appear as though they could use an assist.
I will pay for their meal as discreetly as possible. No big deal. No flash and no drama.
OTHER IDEAS. Some of this stuff can only be done if you are identifiable as a police officer.
- Help a person put their groceries into their car.
- Pump someone’s gas while they attend to a bunch of rowdy kids in the car.
- If you have a residential area in your district, get out of your car. Knock on a few doors. Introduce yourself and give out your business card. Explain to folks that you would appreciate any ideas they may have on how to make their neighborhood more safe. Wish them a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.
- During this holiday season, make a traffic stop. But rather than returning with a citation, give the driver a Christmas card sealed in an envelope with a handwritten message from you. Tell them to wait until they reach their destination before opening it.
- Slip a $20 bill to someone you know is having financial difficulty.
- Pay the toll for the person behind you.
- Fill a parking meter.
These are just a few ideas. I feel certain that you can come up with better stuff by looking around and being creative.
The common factor is to look for chances to initiate a positive contact with a citizen. Do stuff that will take the recipient by total surprise and watch their reaction.
As a cop, having a citizen respond with a grin which stretches ear-to-ear and is coupled with multiple “Thank Yous” will brighten your entire day – maybe your whole week.
THE GIFT IS OURS – DON’T SQUANDER IT
We are given broad discretion in our jobs. Based on the circumstances of any civilian encounter, it sometimes becomes clear that the person desperately needs to have their ass kicked. When necessary, we must deliver it – within policy, of course.
However, treating a person in a demeaning manner in those situations only serves to stroke your own ego. It also stains the reputation of every cop who has ever worn a badge.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PRESENT
When we perform an act of kindness consider this:
The recipient will likely remember what we did for a very long time. They will probably tell their friends and family all about it.
Your actions just might change their attitudes about cops.
It may well affect how they handle their next contact with one of our brothers or sisters. We all know that bad attitudes can lead to bad actions which can rob a cop of his life.
At the conclusion of each citizen contact, we are setting up the subject’s attitude for the next time around. Be certain you are doing everything possible to end each encounter on a positive note.
This is how to DO Christmas. Are you willing to DO Christmas this year? I hope so.
Be safe and Merry Christmas!
When it’s all said and done, it comes down to saving just ONE life.
Check out this recent article:
YOU ARE THE GIFT READ MORE
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