THE EARLY DAYS
I was a fresh out of the academy young cop and remember the Sergeant saying, “I really get a thrill from arresting a knuckle-head and dragging him off to jail.” He went on, “if you don’t get excited about taking someone to jail, you are in the wrong job.”
I knew in my heart that I didn’t feel any jolt of electricity when I was cuffing up someone for the ride to jail. I thought it was best to keep that to myself. It was one of those secrets that we all have and hope no one else discovers.
I found no personal pleasure in seeing the forlorn expression on some miscreant’s mug when I was taking his booking photo or prints. The sight of a row of cells – each holding a human being (or two) – brought no joy to my heart. It still doesn’t.
I was a new cop, then. I wanted to fit in. I very much wanted to be part of the crew and accepted by my fellow officers.
WITH TIME, CAME A CHANGED PERSPECTIVE
I can mentally replay one of the opening scenes from the COPS TV show when two of my brothers are giving a “high-five” to one another as some alleged dirtbag is being hauled away in the paddy wagon. Score one for the good guys, eh?
I must admit, that I have felt that rush of success at times. It’s kind of like winning the big game or prevailing in an argument with my wife (like that ever happens).
The recent massacre in Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub, Dallas, Baton Rouge, San Bernardino, Chattanooga and Fort Hood calls every cop to consider our role as society’s peace-keepers.
We are most often called to resolve problems peacefully – like a neighbor dispute. On occasion, we stop a robbery in progress or we intercede when the dirtbag has his sites set on another individual.
It is then that we are tactical responders. We must use all of our mental and physical assets to out-think, out-maneuver, and out-shoot the bad guy in order to stop him from harming me, my partner, or an innocent citizen.
SCENARIO #1 – FT. HOOD
One of the nation’s premier police trainers recently wrote about the Ft. Hood incident. The scene was one of overwhelming danger. It was a rapidly evolving situation and it threatened the life of hundreds of innocent people. It was very, very different than the calls cops ‘usually’ handle.
In the Fort Hood incident, the cop was called to become the predator. The cop needed to be the aggressor, not the responder. The cop needed to quickly develop the mindset of a hunter and killer. The situation called for a complete and immediate annihilation of the threat. There was no time for hesitation; many lives hung in the balance.
Then came the hero: a female sergeant named Kim Munley. She had been shot in the leg. Ignoring her own wounds, she took the active shooter out. She was decisive. She put her own life on the line and in so doing, saved the lives of a multitude of others.
SCENARIO #2 – HITTING CLOSE TO HOME
Putting things in perspective: I’m no kid. I am well into my middle years according to my birth certificate. But, I try very hard to maintain a ‘childlike’ mentality so that I don’t grow old, rigid and stuck in my ways. I am blessed with close friends who are many years younger, but oh so wise for their age.
One of those is an officer from a suburban Detroit community. A couple of years ago, he and another cop from his crew were involved in a vehicle pursuit. The suspect was known and had previous felony convictions. He was no friend of either the cops or society, in general.
The pursuit happened late at night. It wound its way into a densely populated mobile home park where hundreds of families lived peaceful lives. The suspect vehicle became lodged between two mobile homes.
The two officers left their patrol cars, running quickly to the subject vehicle where my buddy was confronted with the suspect who was still inside and aiming a gun directly at him. It appeared the suspect was ready to kill a cop. A few rounds from my cop buddy’s weapon brought a permanent end to the threat.
That event had an immediate life-changing emotional experience on both of the cops involved. In subsequent days and weeks, my buddy and I spent a good deal of time on the phone. I could discern how badly he was hurting and I did all that I knew to support him. We talked, we prayed together, I did everything possible to help my friend through what had become his life’s most difficult moment.
Some months later, I rode with my buddy one night. He retraced the pursuit and took me to the exact location of the shooting. He was in tears as he explained what had happened. He was very upset. I hugged him and tried to reassure him in the knowledge that he was doing God’s work – no matter how difficult – his actions were in line with the teachings of our faith.
SCENARIO #3 – HAPPY THANKSGIVING
I was working the night before Thanksgiving a few years ago with my partner, Paul. We had been dispatched to a single family home about 9:00PM. Dispatch told us of a call from the young mother who lived there. Her husband had a history of violence. She had obtained a restraining order to keep him away. He had warrants out for his arrest. He was in her home as she secretly called 911. She believed he had a gun on his person.
My partner and I responded quietly and without any lights, hoping the dark of night would conceal our arrival. There were three units with six cops at the scene. I was the last inside as the front door was kicked open. It was a cold November night in Michigan.
I looked about as I entered. Three of my compatriots held the husband against the wall as they searched him and recovered a handgun. He was being cuffed as I continued to scour the interior of the home.
The young mother had three little ones, all under six. One of them was still in her arms. The older two sobbed and screamed for their daddy as this process unfolded before their little eyes.
There was no furniture in the living room. The kitchen could only be described as Spartan with one table and a few chairs. There was no sign of food anywhere. Theirs was certainly not an existence of abundance. It was anything but.
The middle child was about three, and he was the most upset of all of them. I dropped to one knee. I reached out to that child. I am a father – now a grandfather. My heart ached at the sight of these children in such anguish already, living a difficult life.
But, I was one of ‘them’. I was a man in blue with a badge. I was feared and hated. That experience put a negative pall on my Thanksgiving celebration that year. It is a memory that returns each year at this time to haunt me.
SCENARIO #4 – WANTING TO CRY & FIGHT AT THE SAME TIME
Last July, my wife and I were driving south on I-95 on a Sunday afternoon around 3:00PM. We were headed to Ft. Lauderdale to have a barbeque with some friends who were in town.
As I rounded a bend in the road, traffic was quickly stacking up from a wreck that has occurred only seconds before. Pulling my car into the middle gutter, I asked my wife to stay put and call 911.
Making my way across the roadway, I came upon a van lying on its side in the gore of the exit ramp. Due to the terrain, the wrecked van had not been visible from the main roadway. There was an adult male lying on his face on the asphalt, with a goose egg on his head, where I presumed it had met the windshield.
There was a female stomping about with a few minor skin wounds. She was deliriously out of control: screaming, moaning and yelling. Her activity was upsetting almost everyone else at the scene, including the other passengers of the crashed vehicle.
I recognized another off-duty officer who was attending to a 3 year old child. The child was lying very still on the ground with his eyes wide open. He silently watched the activity about him. The other officer said he had called dispatch and given them a trauma alert. Help was on the way.
I got the crazed female calmed down. Local first responders arrive and we briefed them on the situation. My wife and I were on our way again in a matter of minutes.
My wife followed me to bed about 11:30PM that night. The 11:00PM news ran a story about the 3 year old involved in the earlier crash. He died a few hours later of massive internal injuries. The story went on to say that he had been in the van with his parents. He was not in any kind of child restraint or seatbelt. He had been ejected from the van when it rolled over on top of him.
I was sick to my stomach. I sat in my chair most of the next day, just staring off into space wondering about the meaning of it all. Thank God for my wife, I thought. She puts up with a lot.
I wanted to go to the funeral to cry it out and beat the tar out of the child’s father. It was a very strange mix of emotions. In the end, I went to church and prayed for everyone involved – including myself.
IS THERE A THRILL?
The joy I find in making an arrest is this: I have protected the good people who are peace-loving, solid, working, tax-paying citizens and who are vital to the fabric of our nation.
Taking a drunk of the road is no reward to me. But, it is to the other drivers who obey the law.
Hauling the ass of a shoplifter off to the iron hotel does not thrill me in any way. But, it sure helps the business owner who is trying to scratch out a living for his family by serving others.
The thrill, the joy – if you will – comes from the thanks that I rarely receive – but often imagine – from the good citizens. I genuinely believe that my actions have preserved their homes, their safety and their possessions.
I read stories of officers involved in shooting suspects from around the country. Some are fatal, most are not.
I hear the media talk about the aggrieved family and friends proclaiming that the dead guy was an unarmed model citizen who was not capable of bad behavior. Do I believe it? Not for a second.
Unfortunately, I never hear or read of how the officers who had to take those actions were affected. To be sure, it will be a life-altering moment for most of them.
They are the COMPASSIONATE WARRIORS who protect us in our homes every day.
Their lives will never be the same. They will struggle with the notion that they have taken a life. There will be moments of self-doubt and anger. “Could I have done something differently?” they will wonder. In most every case, they did exactly what they were trained to do, what any reasonable person would have done, and what God meant when in the Bible He calls us the “peacemakers.”
So, as this new year unfolds, I ask you to remember all of our nation’s warriors in your prayers. If you know one, reach out to him or her. If you don’t know one, try to find someone who can use your support. Tell a warrior that you appreciate what he/she has done and will do for you.
There is no thrill in hurting another human being for this warrior. When a compassionate warrior must use deadly force, it will be with him all of his days. It will be replayed a million times in his head.
We wear this uniform and this badge because we truly love our fellow man. We want to make life good for the good people and protect them from those who would bring them harm. Unfortunately, sometimes it is just pretty tough to deliver.
At the end of the day, it comes down to saving just ONE life.