I started this job in 1989 as a reserve officer. Three years later I took a full-time job in a medium sized city in south east Michigan. Much of my experience was in patrol, but I’ve spent time as a detective, as a team sergeant, a shift sergeant, a lieutenant in the chief’s office, and the lieutenant in the detective bureau.
I was on the SWAT team and the bomb squad. I worked as a field training officer, a firearms instructor, and an evidence technician. I would like to give some advice to those of you who are still going out and doing the job every day. It won’t be the only thing that you think of when working but I think that it is of vital importance.
I have varied experiences that I would feel important if I were talking to a group of officers who are still working. Given the current climate of police work, the likelihood that an officer on the road will be involved in an officer involved shooting or other high-profile incident is quite likely.
The likelihood that the city that officer works for as well as the department will abandon the officer without so much as a second thought is also high. I’ve been in this situation.
The way I see it there are two types of response to an officer involved shooting or other media circus incident. One response involves the political aspect. The other response is an interdepartmental aspect. Currently we are seeing much more of the political aspect then the departmental aspect kicks in. In my incident I was forced to shoot a fleeing carjacker, I was immediately suspended without pay and treated like a criminal by my own department.
Just for some clarity, my incident occurred on a Thursday. By Tuesday of the next week, the county prosecutor had ruled it a justified shooting and denied any charges being filed against me. In recent incidents it has taken over a year for the prosecutor to come back with a response. But back to the story at hand. I was abandoned by my department and fired. It took 13 months to get my job back. The arbitrator threw the department a bone and did not give me back pay.
I did whatever I could do to make ends meet. I worked on cars, drove a tow truck, and worked for a data and technology company doing labor for new offices. Most of this was all at the same time. At one point, I worked 65 out of 72 hours.
To say the least, I know a little bit about officer involved shootings and their aftermath.
So what would I tell a group of officers now if they are involved in a similar situation? I’d tell them that they signed on to be police officers. I would tell them that their cities are counting on them to do their jobs and do it right. I think that the things that were okay when I got hired over a quarter of a century ago wouldn’t fly today. I think we have to do things better, more professionally, and more consistently.
We are still being paid to go and do our jobs appropriately. I know that’s easy for me to say being retired but when I did come back to work, I had every right to be mad at the whole department and be a slug. I did not subscribe to that belief and still don’t. I worked that much harder. I just made sure that I was still doing things by the book. I knew the contract, the laws, and the rules and regulations.
So what you do if you’re involved in these situations? First, you make sure you did things right. You followed the force continuum and the appropriate laws for the situation. You followed your training and department policy. When we step outside of these things, we get in trouble. Second, be prepared for the aftermath.
Be prepared to have your life turned inside out. Be prepared to be called every name known to man. In over 25 years of working, I never saw anyone do anything based simply on race. I think that holds true for the majority of officers, yet we are portrayed differently. Stay true to yourself. I would tell these officers to protect themselves and their families.
I would also tell them to pray. Pray each day for protection and direction. These are tough times and we need a little divine intervention to make it through. If it goes south, there will be something good that will come from it. You may not see it now, but it will eventually be there.
Here is a quote from a book by Kevin Gilmartin, PhD in his book, “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement. “Nobody, but nobody, will escape from a police career with their professional virginity intact. Everyone gets screwed (a/k/a fucked) by the agency at least one time.”
You must be able to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you did what you were supposed to do. You did it right. Be the professional police officers that will show everyone exactly what we are. The days of the knuckle dragging, beat everyone’s ass cops are over and have been for a long time. When the time comes for you to go hands on, if you are within the law, policy, and moral direction, you will be ok. Even if it goes south for a while. You will be ok.
Have faith brothers and sisters. Be ever vigilant. Now is not the time to let your guard or your standards down. You are the police dammit! Act the part and do us old guys proud.
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
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