Death isn’t funny, so neither is this post…

*This post is categorized under The not meant to be funny stuff and is a 100% non-humorous post about some thoughts and memories of my time working as a police officer.  While I hope you’ll still read it and share your thoughts, if you’re looking for a laugh, this won’t be for you.*

I’ve worked for the police department almost 5 months shy of 15 years now.

That’s well over one third of my life at the place.

In a lot of ways, I was a different person when I started.  I was 25, single (though wife and I were dating), and full of piss and vinegar.

It’s hard to tell sometimes, but I’m much more mature nowadays.

I appreciate the police department for all that it has helped me accomplish.

I was able to buy a house and start a family. Then I was able to buy a bigger house in the suburbs, even though it’s a struggle at times and I have to work a couple of extra jobs to stay ahead.

I went to law school while working for the department too. Lots of folks insisted I couldn’t do it, but my wife encouraged me and I lucked into a straight day job that I created for myself and managed to last there for the duration of my schooling.

The department didn’t have much to give in the way of money, but anything is better than nothing, and they provided enough tuition assistance at that time to purchase my text books almost every semester.

The department offers a lot in the way of different jobs one can do and types of people you will work with as well. That includes fellow employees as much as it does all the diverse people you’ll meet in public.

An officer can learn to handle a canine, work in traffic, fly a helicopter, work homicides, rapes, domestic incidents, child abuse, fatal accidents, computer related crimes, SWAT, narcotics, intelligence, undercover, in uniform, on a bike, in a car, on a motorcycle, riding a horse, or, like me now, in an office. The list of different jobs goes on and on.

I do sometimes miss being on the streets and dealing with the public in the heat of the moment.

Even more than that, I miss working with my fellow police officers out on the streets.

It’s difficult to describe the rush that comes with hearing on the radio that an officer is in need of aid or that a citizen is in immediate danger.

I always felt such pride when I showed up on the scene and there were so many other blue shirted officers arriving to help out as well, no questions asked.

While we have our issues for sure, few things bring cops together like a horrific situation.

I’ve had a few of my own aid calls and can tell you first hand that it’s nice to hear those sirens blowing and getting closer and closer as you’re wearing down because you’re wrestling some chump in the dirt and grass alongside a giant German Shepard who’s on a chain mere inches away just itching to bite anybody who comes within reach.

After a night of fighting bad guys or consoling children or resisting the urge to strike a child abuse suspect or telling a mother that her son has been shot and will never come home again, some of us liked to get together and unwind with an ice cold beer.

I miss hanging around in the bar when we got off at 11 at night until the bar closed at 1:30.  We’d find a 3:00A.M bar on a particularly rough night.

Those were some of my favorite times.  Sharing war stories and laughs and retelling the same old war stories over and over again with other cops was fun.

That’s one of the things I wanted most when I signed up for this job – camaraderie.

As an athlete growing up and through college, being part of a team was always something I enjoyed.

And really, only other cops know what it’s like to do the job.

Sure, we can tell other people about our work, and they often think it’s fascinating, but there’s just no way to do it justice with words.

Even spouses aren’t always privy to all the gory details. It’s just easier to not cause them unnecessary worry by leaving out some of the story.

My wife knew not to prod me about any particular incident, that I’d tell her what I wanted to tell her when the time was right.  She’s great like that.

At the same time, I didn’t always tell her about chasing robbers at 110 mph on the highway  or jumping across gangways from roof to roof chasing a rapist, because she’d just become alarmed and tell me to never do that again!

She knew I would though.

But those stories could be told unedited and even embellished around other coppers when we were on our bar stools.

There aren’t that many jobs that regular people do where your husband or wife or kids tell you “be careful” or “please come home safe tonight” as you’re walking out the door.

You strap on a gun and pepper spray and shackles and a heavy bullet resistant vest because you might just need all of them to help you make it home safely at night.

The threat of getting hurt, or worse, killed, is very real.

I never thought about it too much and I’m sure others don’t either.

You’d lose your mind and not be able to function on the job, if you did.

But every now and then, something happens that gives me pause to stop and consider those who’ve lost their lives doing this job.

I don’t know if our department is unique, but we have lost a lot of friends and coworkers during my years, both on and off duty.  We’ve lost them to freak accidents, homicides, an unfortunate number of suicides, heart attacks, falls from roofs and many other ways.

We are immediately aware when an officer dies on duty and it stuns the entire department.  There’s a certain vibe that just lingers when everyone has to find their black mourning band to wear over their badges until our friend is buried.

Since I started this job, there have been 10 line of duty deaths in my department alone, that I can remember.

The first one I experienced was the cousin of a friend of mine from the police academy, Bob Stanze.

Bob was shot and killed on August 8, 2000, by a suspect in handcuffs who had managed to conceal a small pistol in his waistband.

I had met Bob and his wife after a police function and remembered him as a very nice guy.

His wife was pregnant with twins when he was killed.

Bob’s death had been the first one in several years, so it hit the department members hard.

It also affected the community in a way that I don’t remember any of the subsequent deaths doing to the same extent.

Maybe this is because Bob was the first officer killed in several years, or because he was a young husband and about to be the father of twins, I don’t know.

What I do know is that regular people, citizens, would stop me on the street and want to talk and console me, in their own way, just because I was a police officer.

I’d be in my patrol car and strangers would honk to get my attention at a red light and say things like “I’m sorry to hear about that officer (Bob) or “Hey, thanks so much for the work you do; it’s a shame what happened to that officer.”

I almost couldn’t buy my own lunch at a restaurant for an entire month after Bob was killed.

Waitress after waitress would tell me that strangers who’d already left because they didn’t want any attention had bought my lunch and they wanted the waitress to pass along a thanks for doing what you do or an I’m sorry that your fellow officer was killed.

It was crazy.

It was touching.

It was appreciated.

The weather the day of Bob’s funeral was hot.

I patrolled alone that morning (even though your coworker was murdered, the job must go on) and was listening to a local radio station, Y98 FM.

They were doing a tribute to Bob and it was awesome.

People who’d never met him were calling in to the station to say some of the kind things I’ve already mentioned others telling me in person.  I’m sure nearly every officer had this same experience with the public.

Between the callers and the melancholy songs, I admit, I couldn’t hold my tears back.  I wasn’t crying, per se, but there were tears rolling down my cheeks for sure.

I was tearing up as I was driving around in a goddam police car trying to focus on my job while thinking about a funeral for a fellow officer that would take place in just a couple of hours.

The funeral procession was long.

It was miles long.

It was my first police funeral and I was awestruck at the number of cars from different jurisdictions, different cities, different states even!

I stood in the heat on that asphalt street right at the corner of S. Kingshighway and Chippewa in my long sleeved shirt and my garrison cap, still trying to conceal the tears that insisted on dripping from my eyes underneath my sunglasses all morning long.

It’s hard to believe that funeral was nearly thirteen years ago.

Some of the other officers who’ve died after Bob did were young guys as well.

Officer Nick Sloan was really young.

Nick was 24 and the father of a 13 month old baby boy when he was killed on duty one night.

Nick’s own father was a police sergeant with the department still when Nick was killed.

That was in 2004.

I still keep a picture of Nick holding his newborn baby on my computer.

sss

I never met Nick in person, but I was Nick once.

All of us City cops were Nick once.

He was a young officer just doing his job; it could have been any of us that were shot and killed doing the same thing as him that night.

When things get to be too much and I don’t have a wife or kid around to hug, I can look at this picture and remind myself that things for me are just fine.

It makes me smile and calms me down.

I like this picture because it reminds folks that police officers are more than a uniform.

We’re not robots.

We’re not foreign soldiers occupying your city.

We live in your communities.

We are moms and dads and husbands and wives and brothers and sisters.

We coach your kids at tball and soccer.

We go to your church.

We have to feed the dog and help with homework and cut the grass and do all of the same things everybody else does in life.

Sometimes people forget that, I think.

I got to thinking about all of this because we learned on Monday that a woman I used to work with on the streets, Lucy Miller, was killed off duty in a freak accident.

Lucy was a very friendly woman, eager to help everyone.

She helped train many new officers, including me, even though it was just for one day.

That I even remember she was my trainer for one day is a tribute to the sort of impression she left on others.

Lucy and I often used to laugh about an accident we had.

We were both responding to what we thought for sure was an aid call for another officer who was chasing a guy with a gun on foot in what can only be described as a rough neighborhood.  

We were in separate, marked police cars responding to help him out.  

She was driving the wrong way on a one way street and I may or may not have completely stopped at a stop sign after looking for traffic coming from the proper direction!

I failed to look for traffic going the wrong way on that one way street and I wound up smacking into the side of her car with mine pretty hard.  

It was my first and only accident in 14 plus years.

After the collision, I was relieved to see that I’d hit another police car and not a citizen.  We were both fine and life went on.

We were both reprimanded, but I always insisted that she was more at fault, and that it would be so even if I had run through that stop sign (not saying I did)!

We always shared a good laugh about it.

She was that way about everything in her life – just a good sport, a good person.

Lucy will be remembered on Thursday and life will go on again.

Officers young and old, many who’ve never met her before, will stop by the funeral home to pay their respects and immediately return to work straight from the funeral home to continue helping others in the community.

Lucy has asked that in lieu of flowers that a donation be made to the Animal Protection Association.

Knowing Lucy, she asked for this because animals are part of our community and even in death, good officers help those in their communities.

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Rest in Peace, Lucy. That accident was still more your fault though!

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63 Responses to Death isn’t funny, so neither is this post…

  1. This was beautiful.

    Praying for your comfort at this really upsetting time.

    My husband is a Marine. He spent two deployments in Iraq – his armored vehicle hit an IED during his first tour. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt, made it back and is now out of the service. I sort of understand about the unspoken camaraderie and bonds between “colleagues.” Though, Rob has a much less interesting job working at a bank these days, and I’m glad for that, I’m most certainly proud of him. As I am sure that your wife and family is proud of you, too.

    Again, thank you for all that you do.

    • Thank you! And thanks so much for reading it.

      I appreciate men and women in the military and I used to regret that I never served myself. I’m over that though now.

      He sounds lucky to be alive, let alone unhurt!

      My wife likes me behind my desk as well.

  2. cookie1986 says:

    Touching, Don. Great post.

    • Thanks, Canada! It’s a little out of my comfort zone to be anything but sarcastic and hopefully, funny, but I was in one of those moods.

      BTW, my computer at work won’t let me open your post today. It believes you’ve posted adult material! Lol.

      • cookie1986 says:

        omg. Just you wait til you get home. Canad epically failed this week. Make sure to read the article I linked to. You will want to strangle that bitch.

  3. momonfire says:

    I am the daughter of a retired Lieutenant with the FDNY. The biggest loss during his career was the Father’s Day Fire in June of 2001. He lost two of his closest friends. He was devastated. Then came 9/11. We didn’t know if he was alive until two days later. He has never spoken about it. We never saw him shed a tear. He retired very shortly there after. I can’t imagine the grief or pain you or he feel at the loss of a fellow brother. You are a rare breed.

    • Wow, I can’t even fathom a 9/11 event, I’m glad he was ok!

      My family has never seen me shed a tear over it either. In fact, the only time it’s happend was at the funeral and every now and again when I hear bagpipes!

      We love firemen in these parts, even if it’s my duty to raz them for not being police officers.

      Thanks for reading.

      • momonfire says:

        I enjoy your posts even the not funny ones. I’m glad he was ok too. He had to walk me down the aisle 7 months later. I wouldn’t have done it without him

  4. Carol says:

    This was beautiful. Now we have lost our friend Harold Bartz. It only makes this blog more meaningful. I hate to tell you my friend but I think you have a sensitive side.

  5. juju333 says:

    Don,

    This was fantastic. Thank you for sharing Lucy with us. She obviously was a great lady and will be remembered for her service.

    There are so many thankless professions that don’t pay nearly enough nor get the thanks they deserve. So, thankful for those who do the work you do, as well as, fire, ems, and the likes that keep our communities safe. My daughter is a paramedic and I cover her in prayer every day. And of course, I am so thankful for our military. My husband served in the Air Force. Then there are teachers; they are an amazing group.

    Please don’t get me started on the insanity of what football and baseball players get paid…

    Juju

    • They do make some good jack though! I just did the numbers for a guy the Cardinals resigned. HIs bi-weekly check will be like $800,000! Before taxes though, poor guy!

      I love all those groups you’ve named and would throw in nurses too.

  6. 1tric says:

    Well done. So you can do real. I could feel your thoughts in this post which I always think is a good thing. Isn’t death the pits……I think tomorrow I’m going to try to have a mad funny blog day. Am staying away from graveyards and sad posts. But strangely I do love reading them!

    • A mad funny blog day sounds real nice!! It’s not too often that I get to feeling melancholy or whatever, but every now and then I reserve the right to post about stuff that doesn’t make me look like a jackass.

  7. Mancakes says:

    I loved this post by the way…have been buried under kids on spring break and been blog-surviving via smartphone which inevitably leads to some unfortunate and inappropriate auto correct and I didn’t want to take chances on this specific post…too important. Anyway, I think this was a really nice tribute… you’ve left me sarcastic-less.

  8. Deb Stanze House says:

    This was beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing your reflections, it was very touching!! My brother was Officer Bob Stanze and I can’t tell you how much it means to me to read your reflections on his death and funeral as well as hear about the public’s reactions to his death. I am so glad that there was such a positive response from the public towards Police Officers in the days following his death.
    While I can’t make new memories with Bob, I love hearing other people’s stories about him. Nick Sloan’s family have become friends of ours and I have shared this with them as well. I hope you don’t mind but I shared this on facebook on my page as well as a few family members of mine and of Nick Sloan’s. God Bless you and stay safe.
    Deb Stanze House

  9. Ex Bingo Sharon says:

    Wow, that is a great article. Really enjoyed ready it. That is a sensitive side of Don I never new 🙂

  10. I remember when both my boys graduated from the Police Academy. I was sitting near the front row and SGT Miller was up on stage putting all the badges in order. I am one of those Moms that ill do anything for the boys to tell me a story. And on both their special nights one year apart they told me she was so nice. I always remembered that. She will be so missed by so many. Prayers to the family.

  11. Amy says:

    Lovely and touching post. ❤

  12. Ed says:

    Awesome post. I always thought about Bob as I patrolled the streets in St. Louis. He was a great guy.

  13. r says:

    Wow, I’ve been a cop for almost 20 yrs now. This post was shared with me by a friend who just retired to work in the “normal world.” Ive lost 3 friends to suicide, one of them, just about my best friend. Everything you wrote had me shaking my head in agreement, or saying “yea” out loud.

  14. Tony says:

    God bless you and all that serve to make our lives safer! RIP Lucy….

  15. Jut says:

    Thank you for this post. We never knew Nick Sloan, but his wonderful fiancée and fine son Gavin Sloan are close friends of ours. Nick is smiling with pride on them!

  16. Kelly Brown says:

    Thank you so much for your post. I am one of Nick Sloan’s sisters and I just wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts. I know some people forget that police officers have regular lives outside of the police department. They sacrifice time with their families – holidays, birthdays and special events so they can do their jobs and protect the community. Nick’s son Gavin is now 10 and looks and acts just like Nick. Although we miss Nick everyday and would give anything to have him back it is always so nice to hear stories and comments about him. I try to honor Nick by living life like he did. He always lived everyday like it was his last, helped everybody and told everyone how much he loved and cared about them.

    • Wow, it’s hard to picture Gavin as anything but a little boy, but he’s growing up like the rest of us! He’s lucky to have a great family around him, even though it’s a shame he never really got to know his daddy.

  17. pynkkashmere says:

    Thank for sharing your thoughts with us.

  18. rebecca2000 says:

    I really love this post. Thank you for serving your community and for the risks you take daily. Your family, friends, and coworkers are blessed to have you in their life… even though you’re a turd at times. ((Hugs))

  19. Dan Heaman says:

    Don, I’ve always appreciated that “slightly sarcastic” edge to your humorous posts, and even in our in person chats during our girls various sporting events…but this gives me a new perspective on the man that you’ve hidden from the rest of the world…until now. Your writing is always a good read, be it funny or not. Mainly, I just want to say “keep blogging” and “thanks.”

  20. BEAUTIFUL…takes one back to the early days when we too were young and bulletproof. Good to see someone carrying on the tradition of telling the story of the ordinary cop and the extraordinary things they do.
    Keep up the good work.

  21. Pingback: Death isn’t funny, so neither is this post… | Day of the Week Fat Pants

  22. Thank you for your service, and thank you for sharing your perspectives and very personal experiences. My god daughters husband is a policeman, and she is familiar with the after-shift camaraderie. I pray for him and all all those who face danger every dy to protect our way of life.
    I am sorry for your losses, long past and recent(Lucy).

  23. Go Jules Go says:

    This was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Thank you for your years of service, and sharing your fellow officers’ stories with all of us. May they rest in peace.

  24. pegoleg says:

    It wasn’t funny, but it was lovely. Thank you for reminding me of what a (potential) sacrifice every police officer makes every day.

    • Thank you for reading it. It was easy to write but tough to publish since I knew many police officers would read it (I think that’s why there were so many views). It’s not easy to be labeled soft or sensitive as a policeman, especially by other officers, but ya know what? Screw it. I got mostly positive feedback and I’m happy about it.

  25. Hello from Pegoleg’s sister. Nice to meet you.

    This was a very touching post. I have always felt respect for police officers and have to remind young teenagers (I teach alternative HS) that the police are there to help us, not just to give out MIPs. Police put their lives on the line every day.

    I have a dear friend who is now a retired Chicago Police officer, and he always used to say the same thing about going home at the end of the day. He was fortunate.

    Evocative and powerful. Well said.

  26. Pingback: The freshly pressed honeymoon is over… | don of all trades

  27. Thanks for sharing all this (and guiding readers to it). And, since you were kind enough to share a story about your grandmother on my blog (now I think about your grandmother and wonder if we would be baseball pals, although, for the record, I am nowhere near old enough to be your grandmother) I thought I might tell you about my grandfather. He was my dad’s dad and was a Deputy Sherriff. He was wounded in the line of duty back in the 1950s (long before I came along, so I never knew him). He died in the hospital the next day with my dad sitting there with him. I often wonder what it would have been like to know him … and if he would have liked me and taken me fishing … and all that. I am ever grateful to those in law enforcement who put themselves at risk, who give it all, so that the rest of us can have a calm, cool, and peaceful day. There aren’t “thank you’s” enough for that. But, here’s another one … thank you.

    • Thank you for sharing this. It was touching. I’m sure your grandfather would have loved you and thought you were a kickass woman, even if you do root for the wrong baseball teams.

  28. Daile says:

    I somehow missed this post, so thank you for sending me back here. This is exactly why I know you are a big softie – don’t worry I won’t tell too many people. Beautifully written and a lovely tribute to the officers who have lost their lives. I wish more people continued to appreciate the work of Police Officers – too often people get annoyed because they are caught breaking the law. I can’t imagine it’s an easy job, and added to that the danger of being hurt or killed while doing your job. I feel like I’m rambling now so I’ll just add to the people that thank you for what you do. You know I’m a big fan of yours – as a blogger and as a person.

  29. findingninee says:

    Wow. Turns out, I love your writing when you’re serious, too. Really beautiful and touching post, friend. My husband is retired Army and has served in Iraq and Kuwait, and now has a boring desk job. I’m glad you do, too but I really appreciate the time that you spent on the streets and the time that all officers spend there to protect those of us who are just livin’ life. Thanks for sending me here.

  30. Emily says:

    Thank you for showing us the inside world of a police officer — truly inspiring on many levels.

  31. tgraver says:

    What a wonderful tribute. My grandpa was a fireman. So I understand, where you are coming from and can relate to this.

  32. Pingback: Death isn’t funny, so neither is this post… | A Front Row Seat Blog

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