It was almost as if he was spying on my daily life. It often felt like there was no one else in the sanctuary listening to him. He made an indelible mark on my spiritual life. Unfairly or not, I have held every pastor since up to the measure set by Fr. Richard Kelly.
ARE YOU “DOING” CHRISTMAS?
Each year, following Thanksgiving, he would talk about the beginning of the Advent season. His message was different. In his first year, his words smacked me: do you plan to just celebrate Christmas – or, are you going to DO Christmas?
What in the world did he mean? I wondered, how did this notion relate to me personally and professionally? Stay tuned.
People of faith have some common threads in our beliefs and practices. I have respect all people who believe and act upon their faith. The central message of most is love for one another. But, there’s more. We are taught to demonstrate our love to the lesser among us. As cops, we run into folks every day in that sad category.
Cops have developed a vernacular to describe them. I won’t enumerate them here but, they are all in the official Academy Glossary of Cop Terms. Encountering such an individual, we would typically either shy away from them or immediately pat them down for drugs/weapons.
It can be really tough to put on a smile and a fresh attitude with these people after you have either arrested them multiple times, responded to disturbance calls at their homes so many times that you don’t need the address or otherwise. Been there; done that.
DOING Christmas isn’t just about celebrating. It truly 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 I had ever heard about – and more. I remember my FTO telling me to remember that, “Some folks are 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
These days, I train cops around the country. The subject is Technology & Tactics. Meaning: how can a cop use all this new hi-tech gadgetry in public while maintaining his/her situational awareness and tactical advantage? I have ridden with a few thousand cops over the years and tried to learn something from each one.
On a recent shift, my partner spotted an SUV leaving a known drug house in his small city about 11:00PM. We followed it for a few blocks and made a traffic stop. 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. That’s a criminal charge for the driver. My partner could have taken the driver to jail and towed the vehicle to the city impound yard.
Rather, he issued the driver two citations. He gave them the option to arrange a tow to their residence – if they had enough cash. Otherwise, it 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 our social crop. 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 of our stop 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.
THE TRAFFIC WHORE
It was one of the first times I was ever exposed to police work. It was early December in a suburban Detroit agency. I had been paired up with a traffic cop who hung his hat (and his pride) on being the top ticket producer in the agency for quite some time. You know the kind: a real traffic whore (I say that lovingly).
Right out of the chute, he stopped a vehicle occupied one time; a lone WF. She was in her twenties and driving a car that had long since passed its prime. The infraction was speeding (55 in a 45, as I recall).
Tim (my partner) came back to the car, reached into his duty bag and pulled out a Christmas card. On the inside, he wrote a note telling her to slow down and be safe followed with a note saying “Merry Christmas.” He sealed the card in an envelope and upon returning to the subject vehicle handed the card and the driver’s documents to the occupant advising her to, “open the envelope when she got home.”
As we returned to the patrol car, Tim had a smile on his face from ear-to-ear.
He explained to me that every Christmas time, he bought a box of 25 cards which he gave out in just that way. He surrendered a good biscuit / skid / citation there in return for some goodwill. I truly believe that he got more from the experience than the driver did.
THE KNUCKLE HEAD GOES TO JAIL
I had just finished booking a prisoner when another officer arrived in the sallyport with a fresh arrest: a twenty-year-old who had been in our jail so many times that he knew his way around as well as I did. He had a rap sheet as long as two arms. My buddy asked if I would handle the booking while he wrote the report because he was jammed-up with paper. I consented.
I knew this kid had a history of acting out. So, before pulling him out of the holding cell, I let him know what we were going to accomplish, i.e. the booking. It could either be polite and cordial or it could be downright messy. The choice was his. He chose the former – and he lived up to his word. I addressed him with the respect he had earned at the moment, but never letting my guard down.
As I escorted him back to the assigned cell, I said to him, “We don’t want you here.” He craned his neck thinking that by some act of fate, I was going to cut him loose. I continued, “Your family doesn’t want you here. You aren’t doing anyone any good by being here. Maybe it is time to reconsider the choices you are making which bring you here repeatedly.” With that, we arrived at the cell, where I locked him inside.
Prior to my departure, the arrestee asked, “Do you have a Bible that I could read?” We didn’t. But, on my lunch break, I stopped at the Dollar Store and bought him a New Testament. I wondered if this was real or just for show – suspecting the latter.
Months later, I was quite pleased to learn that he had squared himself around: got his GED, enrolled in the community college and was helping coach kids’ basketball and the local church.
Did it last? I don’t know. I can only hope that it did.
THE GIFT IS OURS – DON’T SQUANDER IT
Every time we teach another person, share with another person or do a good deed there is a reward that comes back to us. It may not be immediate, but its return is certain.
I learn from every class that I teach.
Performing an unexpected act of kindness often makes me feel better than the recipient does. Think of how you feel watching a loved one (your kids) open a present that you’ve gotten just for them.
We are given broad discretion in our jobs. Based on priors and current events, some people desperately need to have their asses kicked. When necessary, we must deliver it. However, delivering an ass-kicking and treating the subject in a demeaning manner when we do it only serves our own ego. It also stains every cop who has ever worn a badge.
I am both honored and rewarded by the truly tremendous officers that I know and have worked with. They are spectacular.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PRESENT
When we perform an act of kindness consider this:
The recipient will likely remember our actions for a very long time. They will probably tell their compatriots and families.
It just might change their attitudes about cops.
It may well affect how they handle their next contact with one of our brothers or sisters. Bad attitudes can lead to bad actions which can rob a cop of his career or his life.
At the conclusion of each contact, we are setting up the subject’s attitude the next time around.
This is how to DO Christmas. Are you willing to DO Christmas this year?
When it’s all said and done, it comes down to SAVING JUST ONE LIFE.
Be safe and Merry Christmas!
From the CopBlue Vault