The Way We Are
I read a blog entry on our website today. The article was written by a retired officer from another portion of our country but reflects how I and likely many other old cops feel.
I started my job as a younger than usual employee. I started as a civilian and moved into the sworn. I was idealistic and eager and willing. I LOVED the job.
I had my issues and learned from most of them. I worked with men that I liked and trusted, for the most part. Cops are like a family. You don't always get along with each other but when it comes down to needing help you are always there for them as they are for you.
There were the good moments that I can recall. There were bad moments. And there were moments of sheer terror. Terror of things that others did or were about to do. The moments of things that I did and was about to do. Some things you can forget. Others will be burned into your memory as long as you live.
The entry talked about the things that we forget as soon as possible. To remember them would surely drive us mad, the fights and injuries to friend and foe alike, the blood and guts, what I called man's inhumanity to man. The adults didn't bother me as much as the children. The kids were mostly innocents caught in the midst of the ire of adults and the evil that they did to each other.
I vividly recall the first incident of death I saw on the job. A motorcycle with two young men on it were stopped in traffic. They were “rear-ended” by a drunk in a car. The rider was thrown over the handle bars of the bike to land on his head. He was not wearing a helmet. His passenger was also thrown forward and trapped the riders body on the bike. The riders head was ground into the pavement by the bike. The passenger was impaled on the handle bars. Rider and passenger slid several hundred feet along the roadway.
I stood there unable to do anything but watch the two men die.
I remember stopping at a service station so my partner could use the “facility”. Inside there were three young men doing their best to cook and inject narcotics and were very surprised by us. They were able to dump all the evidence into the toilet before we could stop them. This was at a location that I had frequented as a child and felt “safe”.
I remember picking up a young boy, about 3 years old, that had been abandoned by his mother because she didn't want him any longer. I wanted to take him home with me. My wife and I had been trying to have a child of our own without success for several years.
I remember the first dead body I found in response to a call for help. An older man had died in the middle of the winter and hadn't been seen for several days. I found him on his bed face down. When I lifted his shoulder his whole body lifted from the bed.
I remember the first homicide I responded to. A husband had become intoxicated at a picnic. On the return home the family fight continued and he slapped his wife around, again. She sent the kids off to a park when he passed out on the couch. She got his shotgun, fired at him from about 8 feet away and struck him in the left chest.
I remember the first person I almost shot. A Vietnam vet had hallucinations brought on by drug usage. He was firing a pistol at shadows in his apartment complex. When we contacted him he came out of his apartment pointing the weapon at my partner and myself. We were behind cover and as I was beginning to squeeze the trigger on my weapon he dropped the gun. A few minutes later inside the apartment he was allowed a small amount of freedom by a supervisor. He grabbed a knife and was nearly shot once again.
I remember the mother that called because her 14 year old son would not obey her. She wanted us to scare him. Instead a parenting lesson was provided.
I also remember finding a little girl playing at her friend's house. Her mother had missed her and was unable to locate her. She was 6 or 7 years old and precious. She had been told to play in the yard. Her mother feared the worst and called. The neighborhood was checked by all available units, 5 or 6 units that day. She was found several blocks away. Mom and dad wrote letters to the Chief and the paper thanking us for the return of their little girl.
We worked in an environment of violence and wrong doing. We worked with bad people hoping to help good people. Sometimes it was difficult to remember that there were many good people out there.
I worked the “duece” wagon (skid-row). I policed an area of perversion, drunkenness and violence. I arrested and fought criminals and drunks. I also learned that not all are what they appear to be or seem. I found that many had down turns in their lives not of their making.
A common thread throughout the life was your comrades and co-workers. They were most often the only ones you could fully confide in. If you told your family, your wife, parents or kids they would have been horrified at the things that happened, the way you felt and at what you may have wanted to do or did. Your partner, on the other hand, understood. He may have been there with you or you with him. A bond grew. Sometimes that bond was as close or closer than that with your family.
You had to have a way to express yourself, rid yourself of the bad feelings and possibly guilt for doing or not doing. You were the human garbage man that had to deal with all that our society has to heap on the trash pile of life and be expected to be above it. You had to be stronger than the normal man both physically and mentally. You had to wear armor about your mind and soul. You had to be Superman in blue.
But we are not Supermen. We are but men of flesh and blood and human failings and feelings. Some cops turned to alcohol. Some cops used drugs. Some cops used women and sex. Some cops embraced religion. All tried to deal with what the job gave them.
I have been told that I am a hardhearted person, a soul-less evil man. I have been told that I am a godsend and a savior. I am but a man, with needs and feelings like any other.
We worked this job because of the men we were. We had courage and a desire to make our lives and the lives of others better, hopeful. We had hoped to change the world to make it safer for the defenseless. Like I said, idealistic.
We knew that we would never become wealthy or famous doing this job. We grew to know that thanks for the job would be seldom and more times than not be blamed for what happened to others and suffer accusations of perceived wrong doing.
But we were men that dedicated ourselves and our lives for something that we believed in, law and justice.
The other writer mentioned that the longer a man was retired the less his memory of the job and the bad things that happened. I find that to be true. I have been retired longer than I worked. I have beaten the odds of an early death, at least by the standards that have been for a police officer.
I believe that the retirees feel a closer bond as the years pass. The men I worked with, and for, years past are more precious to me as friends and memories. While we may not be close personal friends or even live close by they remain very important to me as much as my family is important and precious to me.
Cops, good cops, are a special breed of men. Those that are able to effectively do the job and make their career are usually men to be counted on when others will back away. I am proud to know or have known more than a few of such men. I'm also proud to be one such man. My association with them made me the man that I am..