Recently I had coffee with an acquaintance who asked me a simple question. Very sincerely she asked, “How did you deal with the shit you came in contact with?” I asked for clarification. She responded, “What did you do to keep from going off the deep end after you’ve dealt with homicides, decomposing bodies, rapes, child abuse, and all the verbal abuse you get?”
I’d never thought about it. I’d worked busy districts and seen some very nasty things in thirty years with the Chicago Police Department. My first reply was to be funny. I told her I beat the wife, kicked the dog, and sat in the basement alone in the dark drinking Scotch while I cried. Thankfully, none of that was true in my case. Sadly, it’s true in many officer’s lives.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the officer who drinks too much in response to the job. At one time I drank too much but so did all my friends. Today I seldom drink. As a matter of fact, I’ve had only a six pack and four or five cocktails in the last year. Most of my friends drink less today than when they were younger and that may be a simple matter of maturity.
I’ve never beaten my wife or kids. Sure, my wife and I argued, we’re divorced now. I’ve yelled at my three sons but what else are you supposed to do with teenage boys. (Mine are all around 30 years old now).
My dogs are safe. I yell at them but that’s it. Anyone who knows me will tell you how I love my dogs. Besides they actually listen. They don’t often obey but they do look at me like what I’m saying matters to them.
So how did I deal with it? I can’t think of any one tactic or method that I used to cope. Looking back now I realize I just dealt with it as each event occurred. The sooner you dealt with it the better for your mental health.
In departments where squad cars rotate among the officers, it is not uncommon to find the dashboard cracked and beaten from frustrated and upset officers taking out their frustrations. The same goes for steering wheels. You notice the rubber padding on the wheel getting peeled off and cracked from an officer pounding and nervously picking at it. For the most part the officers don’t even realize they’re doing it until someone points it out.
READ MORE: LEADING & LOVING
A fellow officer mentioned in the days before dash cams, body cams, and cellphone cams, street justice was not uncommon. I remember an officer who was the first on the scene of a fatal child abuse. The father had ripped off the baby’s ears while throwing the child around the room to make it stop crying. The responding officer found the baby at the bottom of the staircase, where he had been thrown, when he arrived. It took several of us to restrain the officer once we got there. He’d snapped and beaten the father. I doubt many here would fault the officer for his actions.
The officer was married with three kids. He worked every side job he could find to ensure his kids were well fed and clothed. He worried about their safety and loved his children. The bloody earless bundle lying lifeless at the bottom of the stairs was too much for him. If I remember, he was regular day off the next two days. When he returned to work, he seemed at peace with himself and no one said a word. He had found a way to deal with things.
I worked the paddy wagon often. Here in Chicago, the wagon transported dead bodies very often. As a result, it was not uncommon to transport bodies in all states of decomposition to the morgue. Rigor was pleasant compared to stinkers. I have memories of a friend in a sewer handing up body parts from a very decomposed body. Sick or sad as it may be, those jobs were met with gallows humor more often than not. I asked him later how he managed, and he said, I guess you get used to it.”
My father was a Lieutenant on the Chicago Police Department too. I was fortunate to wear his star when I made LT. As a kid, I figured he had a quiet job somewhere and didn’t have to face much. Of course, I was wrong. My Dad never brought home problems. He treated my mother like a queen and was always great to be around. He would occasionally just get quiet.
He retired when I was 16 years old. I remember at his retirement party some of the young guys that worked for him pulled me aside and told me a few things about my dad. They were good things. Things that made me proud. Ten years later when I got sworn in, he felt he could open up to me and talk shop.
He was never one for war stories about himself, but he told me things in general terms that he would never speak of before. I know he never talked with my mom about these things. I worked with several officers who also worked with or for him in the past. They told me more things about him. Things that made me even more proud of him,
I do remember him saying that he never did anything out of the ordinary. He did things that everyone did. I guess the ordinary is to be shot once and have several more shots miss you.
READ MORE: FOOTBALL FAIRY TALES
I know now one of his methods for dealing with shit was to take long walks with our dog, Prince. He enjoyed walking our German Shepard. He would walk for one or two hours when troubled. My Dad loved to sprinkle our lawn. Not use a sprinkler but hand water with the hose each evening for another hour. I realize now he needed that time to clear his head. It always put him in better spirits.
These were things my father did every day, that’s how he dealt with his shit. So, tell me how do you deal with your shit? How do you keep from beating your wife, kicking the dog, or drinking in the dark as you cry? How do you keep your career from stacking more on you than you can cope with? How do you keep it under control, so you aren’t diagnosed with PTSD? How do you cope with your shit?
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Stay safe everyone, run low and zigzag.
At the bottom line, it all comes down to saving just ONE life.
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Additionally you can find more online articles from me as well as links to my novels and cookbook at www.bobweisskopf.com
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