while others have never been exposed to police work, yet they know they have a passion to become a police officer. I was one who lived a pretty sheltered life, having never been exposed to much of anything, causing some to question if I would make it in this challenging profession.
I remember my academy instructors showing us some very graphic pictures of scenes they had worked. They were trying to prepare us for what we would likely see for ourselves one day. I’ve often heard of officers who would make off-color or inappropriate remarks when confronted with gruesome or tragic situations, and I never really understood why they acted in such a manner. I never realized how many different emotions sweep over a cop each day until I became one myself. Sometimes snide remarks are just a mechanism that helps us cope. It has often been described as “gallows humor.” It’s not meant to be disrespectful—it just keeps us from being swept up in the abject horror of some incidents, one of which I’ll describe below.
It was approximately 10:30 on a Saturday night. I had just finished filling out the paperwork for a prisoner I had booked into the jail. My partner and I were joking around as he was getting his boots shined. It was a calm night; we both felt relaxed. Little did we know that in the next few minutes, our calm night would morph into a terrible storm. As we finished up at the jail, the dispatcher called our radio numbers. I recall hearing her voice and knowing the call we were about to embark on would be one with a very high priority. Dispatch was sending us to a residence about fifteen minutes away where a man had fired shots. He was still on the scene.
My partner and I immediately ran to our patrol vehicle and set out toward the location. Whenever we’re enroute to a call such as “shots fired,” the adrenaline rush from driving at speeds of 100 miles per hour or more is incredible. Aside from the rush I was getting while trying to get there quickly and stay in one piece, my mind began to entertain other thoughts, particularly about my family. What if something happened to me in the next few minutes? Did my family know I loved them more than life itself? Had I shown them how much they meant to me each day? I knew that anything could happen at these kinds of incidents, and that knowledge prompted me to think of those I loved. The anticipation and fear of the unknown caused me to want to call them, perhaps for the last time, to tell them I loved them.
My anxiety was quickly interrupted by the dispatcher’s frantic voice telling us that the shooter was now at large. Then two minutes later, she informed us that the shooter was still on the scene. Our hearts pounded against our ballistic vests, thumping almost audibly with each update. My partner and I scanned the roadways and residences as we arrived. We saw no one. We cautiously made our way toward the back of the location, listening for any noises. As we approached the backyard, we saw a young male seated on the deck and an older male standing a few feet away.
“He’s got a gun!” The older man yelled, as he pointed toward the other man seated on the deck. Having just arrived, we were unsure about what was going on. My partner barked out a command to the man on the deck.
“Show me your hands!”
No response. Upon closer examination we immediately realized what had happened and holstered our weapons. Blood was everywhere. Suicide.
Without going into detail, the scene could only be described as extremely graphic. The older man continued to franticly pace back and forth while telling us the younger one had a gun. We calmed the older man down and took him inside the house to investigate the situation further. We notified dispatch of our status and told her the scene was secure. Soon, investigators and crime scene technicians arrived at the residence to process the evidence and complete the appropriate reports.
While my partner and I discussed the tragic event with the older man, who turned out to be the victim’s stepfather, the victim’s mother approached us crying hysterically. She asked whether her son was okay. The mother began telling us that she knew her son was wrong, but that he was still her son and that she needed to know that he is okay.
At moments like this, my job is sometimes almost too difficult to bear. I stood there searching for the right words, but in this case there really were none. I waited silently for a few seconds as she asked one more time, “Where is my son? Is he okay?” More than anything else, I wanted to be able to tell this mother that her boy was still alive. Reluctantly, I told her as gently as I could that her son was gone. Instantly, I saw the horror and pain flash in her eyes, like a storm brewing on the horizon. I knew that nothing I said would release her from the hell in which she was then immersed.
She repeated over and over there was no way her son was dead. I recognized she was in shock, as any parent would be. Finally, her husband pulled her close to him and tried to assure her everything would be all right, but it wouldn’t. Although this man had been close to losing his own life that night, he had to be strong for her. He was. After a few minutes, an ambulance transported them both to the hospital.
That night ignited a myriad of emotions in me, almost like a carnival ride with all of the highs and lows. I had never experienced such a dramatic range of disparate feelings before. One minute I was laughing and joking with my partner; the next minute we were engulfed in a sea of despair. We faced possible danger, and then we felt relieved knowing it had passed. The harrowing ride to the location, barreling along as quickly as we could toward the belly of the beast, reminded me not to take my family for granted. I had felt such a profound need and love for them, one that I had never felt before.
Afterward, I felt sad for the parents. The stepfather, his life threatened by the boy, felt fearful that he himself would not survive. Yet witnessing his stepson commit suicide will be forever etched in his memory. And the mother, her regret that she was unable to save her son; the grief of losing a child, will be her constant companion. So sad, so frustrating.
I know the parents could never have anticipated what had just happened, and I don’t know if there were any contributing factors, such as alcohol, that led to this final catastrophic confrontation.
Whether some choose to believe it or not, when police officers respond to calls like this one, those calls do have a lasting effect on us. Our duty is to protect and to serve the people in the communities where we work. Often, that means finding ourselves in harm’s way, running toward the danger when most people choose to run away from it. On the outside, we have to be in control of our emotions, but on the inside, those feelings sometimes wreak havoc upon us, constantly trying to overrule what we know to be the proper course of action. These constant highs and lows sometimes change our lives forever.
Seeing death, witnessing violence, and being exposed to man’s inhumanity to man can have a ruinous effect on an officer’s physical and mental health. Police work is a vocation rather than a job—it’s not for everyone. However, if one is able to withstand the dark side of what we sometimes encounter, it can be the best job in the world.
(For more stories from “Women Warriors: Stories From the Thin Blue Line” go to www.totalrecallpress.com or www.amazon.com.)