“Why don’t you go back in service, Don.”
It wasn’t a question so much as it was a request. There were enough police officers on the scene and I wasn’t needed anymore, so the sergeant was cutting me loose to go answer more radio assignments.
The scene was just another ordinary Monday morning homicide in the City of St. Louis, you know, the kind where a dude driving down a residential street in the Walnut Park Neighborhood is suddenly violently gunned down by multiple assailants with assault rifles and pistols.
I lost interest in counting at fifty shell casings on the street.
Somebody wanted to make sure this man died, and they got what they wanted for sure.
It was early on a Monday morning, so the crowd for this homicide scene was pretty sparse.
That’s always a blessing as fighting crowds of gawkers with their phones out ready to accuse police officers of being the shooter and shoot video for their YouTube channels is a headache not too high up on the list of things that need to get done to wrap up the initial stage of a homicide investigation.
It helped that many of the lots on this particular street are vacant, long abandoned by people tired of violence and blight, I’m sure.
I never bothered to walk anywhere near the dead man’s body. I’ve seen plenty of dead shooting victims over the years, probably more in the past three years than most non-urban area officers will in their entire careers. I wasn’t one of the first officers on the scene anyhow, and it was already clear that the victim was dead.
As I was standing with one of the first officers on the scene, he told me that when he got there, people were getting madder and madder every time another police car showed up.
“We don’t need anymore fucking police! Where’s the ambulance?” They were yelling.
He was obviously flustered by it.
“You can’t win with some of these people,” he lamented.
“Nope,” I answered.
“There was a better chance of reviving the dead Buick on cinder blocks without an engine across the street than this poor dude,” the officer said. “He was D-E-A-D, but they weren’t having it. Not from us anyway.”
I nodded. I got what he was saying. We aren’t even believed by certain people when we tell them that somebody is dead, even while pointing at a clearly dead person just two feet away as we say it.
The officer could have poked the body with a stick or lit it up with a Taser to prove the man was dead, but they’d still clamor for an ambulance to unnecessarily drive through a crime scene to have an EMS worker reiterate the exact same thing the police had been saying for five minutes.
It’s pathetic and it’s frustrating, but it’s today’s reality.
It was well before noon when I was done with this shooting, so I went back to answering radio calls for the next few hours without ever giving another thought to the dead man from earlier that morning.
After my shift, as I walked past a couple of younger officers, I eavesdropped as they talked excitedly about the earlier homicide.
It was clearly still on their minds, and while I was driving home, I began to think about one of the great absurdities of police work.
I touched on it a little bit when I wrote about the boy we raced to the hospital only to have him die a few months ago. It wasn’t a component of that story that I thought much about, but after we left the hospital, we had to return to work right away.
Here’s a quote from that post:
It’s queer, but I left the hospital and went back in service to handle more calls. I had to handle some subsequent calls with a little dead boy freshly on my mind.
That’s the thing with policing. It never ends. You have to carry on, so I pretended to care about a car accident and a stolen bike when I just wanted to shout in their faces, “AT LEAST YOU DIDN’T DIE AT FIVE YEARS OLD FROM A BULLET THROUGH YOUR CHEST!!! I HAVE NO INTEREST IN YOUR BULLSHIT PROBLEMS RIGHT NOW!”
In nearly 17 years as a police officer, I can remember only one time when I’ve heard anyone ask an officer, myself included, “Are you okay?” after an incident where emotional or mental trauma might be expected.
Run after a suspect or wrestle with one and many people will ask if you’re okay.
They’ll ask about cuts on your face or they’ll ask to make sure you didn’t twist or tear something in an arm or a leg.
The assumption with hearing, “Are you okay?” is never that they’re asking about your psyche when you’ve just tangled with somebody who would rather kill you dead than go back to jail.
Physical injury from running and tackling a bad guy is okay to inquire about, but something that might require some sort of emotional understanding or empathy for another human being is not macho to discuss in police circles.
I get that, but it’s important nowadays more than ever, and thankfully, is being discussed by others.
The Post Dispatch ran a story recently about officers who shot a suspect dead and still aren’t quite right because they probably returned to work too soon, or with too little intervention to make sure everything was indeed okay with them.
I’ve yet to have any training that allows me to dispatch with my heart and soul for eight hour shifts so I can deal with other peoples’ problems like a robot for them without letting it affect me at all.
All the negativity eats at us on some level.
It has to.
A career of dealing with violence and arguments and disturbances and accidents and death over and over again pounds on a person’s mental well being over time, even if we don’t think it does, I’m convinced of it.
Throw the whole Ferguson debacle and its aftermath into the mix and it’s no wonder that officer morale is at an all time low.
In the city, every time there’s a police shooting, no matter how justified it is, we have to defend ourselves both mentally and physically from attacks from the community, mostly the very community that calls 911 to utilize police services more than anybody else.
Facts are irrelevant.
It’s like trying to convince people that the dead person in front of their faces is really dead.
They don’t want to hear it from the police.
Unfortunately, they’ll hear what they want from their pals or community “leaders” on Twitter or Facebook or even some media sources, and the rift between police and the community will widen.
As I finish writing this, it dawns on me that I’ve rambled and never really tied together a point.
I’m listening to the news and hearing a woman blaming the lack of police presence after a Cardinal’s baseball game on her son’s unfortunate robbing and shooting.
Even though I feel for the family, the whole story is making my blood boil, so I’m too distracted to write anymore.
It’s another blow of blame to the police.
The chief of police has called in the FBI to assist in solving this case.
The reality is that there are more officers downtown than anywhere else in the city at any given time, especially when there’s an event such as a Cardinal’s game. This is often the case to the detriment of the other neighborhoods in the City who need us more, neighborhoods like Walnut Park, where dead shooting victims won’t get the courtesy of an FBI intervention to assist in solving their murders.