There is no want for criticism of law enforcement these days. Everyone seems to have an opinion and much of it leveled at the behavior of a few bad actors. Every profession has them…bad actors that is…it’s just that the stakes are higher because law enforcement requires performance that approaches perfection. One officer has told me that one wrong split-second decision will ruin an entire career. Think of it – one wrong move and everything is gone. The criticism is withering. The scrutiny is incessant.
My son is now in law enforcement. The scatter-brained, always-active kid with his mind on all-things unimportant, now carries a gun and a badge, and attempts to hold the thin blue line in a world gone increasingly crazy. It just so happens that last night, for seven hours, I had a front row seat into his world. This is a world of which I’m largely unfamiliar. It was Sunday night and surely he and I would have a quiet evening. His only warnings to me were to fasten my seatbelt and to not feel compelled to talk to anyone that may get a ‘ride’ in his patrol car. This was good counsel directed toward a guy that likes to talk to strangers. As it turns out I would heed his advice.
The shift started about 6:00pm. I was prompt and so was he. First things first, he introduced me to his commanding officer. Polite and all business, I knew immediately my son was in good hands. More on this later but in any endeavor leadership can make or break our best efforts. From there we put gas in the cruiser and we were on our way.
We started out driving around to just show me the area. It wasn’t long and we were checking on an apartment with a report of bullet holes through a wall. Sure enough, someone had fired a high-powered firearm from one apartment building into another. While beginning to assess the situation another call came in over the radio, a code three. I was unfamiliar with the language but soon found that code three meant another officer was calling for backup…in a hurry…with lights, sirens, and blindingly fast speed. It was a domestic disturbance with an occupant threatening to harm herself by walking into traffic. She was resistant and angry and threw herself down on the asphalt. Several officers arrived and spoke to her daughter. The aid car was called and she was transported to the hospital for care and evaluation.
The next call was via phone to an elderly gentleman that had been the victim of credit card fraud. He was distressed. Someone had skimmed his credit card and put six bogus charges against his account. It was Sunday and he couldn’t reach his bank. He wasn’t sure what to do. I get it. I wouldn’t have been sure of what to do either. My son walked him through next steps to help settle his mind. The older gentleman, grateful, expressed his appreciation.
We next made our way back to the apartment to sleuth out the stray gunfire. How had it happened? Was there a crime involved? Was it a suicide, or even a homicide? We tried to locate the tenants. My son called a phone number and a Hispanic woman, unable to speak English, answered. Little did I know my son now speaks conversational Spanish! He was able to gather enough information to know the call was a dead end. Just as we arrived at the apartment another call came in…another domestic violence call…this time from a woman with known mental health issues. Her speech was like stoccato’d gunfire, each sentence was brief, laden with emotion, and disconnected. Her story was implausible. She was troubled and wanted someone to listen. Notes were taken and counsel was given. She has been a frequent caller to dispatch. Ask them and law enforcement will tell you; folks with mental health challenges are frequent callers.
By now it was time for a break. We’d get something to eat and head back to the office for the evening briefing. Sonic was the meal of choice. I couldn’t eat. There was too much happening for me to feel the least bit hungry. Before we got back to the facility there was another call, this time at the jail of all places. The call identified a woman in a vehicle chasing a man in a vehicle. Every appearance was that this was a lover’s quarrel gone bad and then gone mobile; a quarrel that coincidently ended up at the county jail. After de-escalation the couple was sent on their way, but only after the deputy gave the young man a head start.
The briefing looked more like a family gathering. The commanding officer was checking in. Each deputy took a turn. There were a lot of laughs and good-natured teasing. In a job that’s ‘always on’ any respite from the stress is best shared as a team. It looked like it would be a relatively quiet night overall. The final decision…two officers were paired up to head to a rural community an hour away for another domestic call while we headed back into town.
Heading back to the aforementioned apartment the next call came over the radio. I had a hard time deciphering the dispatch. My alarm escalated when my son said, ‘It’s too late to drop you off now. Is your seat belt fastened?’ He then said, ‘It doesn’t make sense. An armed robbery in a rural area is rare.’ Again, blindingly fast and we were the first to arrive with another deputy close behind. For all we knew the armed suspects were still on premises. Guns were drawn. K-9 was called. Other officers arrived. This one was serious. The attack upon the residents was calculated and egregious. I stayed put in the cruiser. After the K-9 swept the area no suspects were found. The homeowners were shaken. The crime was brazen. This will be one to keep an eye on.
We hadn’t gotten out of the rural driveway when the next call came in. It was another exigent domestic dispute and it was escalating by the second. A woman locked herself in a back bedroom while her male friend barked rising threats. The call dispatcher could hear everything. So off we went to another rural area several miles away. The commanding officer had already arrived and screams could be heard from across the road. A large man met us in the driveway and he reluctantly let the deputies look around. The woman was located, another woman with a history to the deputies, and she would be given a ‘courtesy ride’ back into town. She was telling stories of biker gangs and stalkers. Heeding my son’s advice, I said nothing to her.
Once back into town it was my time to head home. It was almost 1:30am. I had an hour-and-a-half drive back and I’d still have to get up for work in the morning. My drive home was pensive, a swarm of thoughts and emotion; I was sobered by all I’d seen. I was sobered that my son had ended up here, and ended up doing this, and yet it made perfect sense. This is a calling, not for everyone, but for certain ones, driven by sense that they can make a difference in a world that can be an ugly place. I had a hard time squaring the criticisms of law enforcement I’d read about with the reality of real men and real women with real families themselves making incredible sacrifices every day in the promotion of civility and order. Their calling, serving and protecting, where laying their own lives down for others is an everyday occurrence. Often times their jobs are thankless and yet they’re the first we call when we’re in trouble. They run toward danger, while most of us run away. I, for one, am grateful for the seven hours I spent with my son and his outstanding team. And, I’d encourage you, the next time you are tempted to be critical of law enforcement, spend seven hours in a patrol car on a ride-along, but make sure your seat belt is fastened.