*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.
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.