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December 12, 2013

Do you like this?

A phone call brings it back home for Officer Alex

At first blush, you think of police work as a job. A task, something you perform, a goal you meet, a request you fulfill in return for money and or benefits.

When you’re actually performing the job, it’s easy to think of it that way, even as you do so day after day, week after week. And eventually? Year after year.

I am under-simplifying this for a reason: I wish to show you the difference between a job and a career. And for those that are in it for more than the novelty of a short period of time, that’s exactly what this is. A career.

Just as eyes that stare at the sun too long eventually go blind, so it is with a career. The colors tend to fade and shapes tend to coalesce, and the scenery begins to seem as if it as if it never changes. Problems become routine, and those tasks you originally performed as part of a job seem more and more pointless as time moves on. Futile. Empty.

Five years becomes a decade, and one decade becomes two…and where are you? Wearing the same outfit and very possibly driving the same car you were two presidents ago, and dealing with the same kind of people over and over again. Sisyphus, rolling that immense boulder uphill, only to watch it roll back down over and over for eternity. Madness.

I was there wallowing in the futility and frustrated subconscious silence that keeps it from driving you crazy when my phone rang with an unknown number.

I answered it to find another officer calling, one I may have seen in passing at best but certainly had never met. 

He was referred by someone else and he hoped this was OK, but he had a policy question that hadn’t come up before, because he never been in trouble before. He was about to have his first administrative hearing and he wasn’t sure what to expect, and when he asked around? Someone referred him to me of all people. Go figure.

To make a long story short, he had been serving a warrant and the misdemeanant in question put up a fight. Not a substantial one and not one he would have otherwise remembered except for two things: It was his first complaint of excessive force, and the first time he’d knocked someone out.

He relayed the story, too long for this column, but it ended in the bad guy running towards him and the officer planned to strike him in the chest. The customer balked at the last second, tried to come to a halt, and tripped in the process. Unfortunately, the officer’s brain had already told his fist to punch that guy square in the chest to stop the charge, and as the guy fell short and tripped, the already launched fist struck his head, and out the lights went. Electrical impulses fly at a stunning pace but there’s still a delay between “thought” and “action,” and in that in-between a lot of officers wind up in the principal’s office of life. Fights just happen and end faster than you possibly imagine.

He rendered medical aid and called for an ambulance and the guy wound up with a few more charges from the original, but otherwise all went well from there until the complaint came in. Never having sat before the Captain’s (Chief’s?) Mast, he was nervous. Enter my phone call.

Despite all appearances, the story of the assault is not what I’m writing about. It’s about how this long, empty journey leaves you starving sometimes, if not lost. Hopeless. And then your phone rings and you have this new guy reaching out and suddenly one of those days, several of those days from your past, actually take on meaning. No matter how insignificant, at least one day wasn’t for nothing, and you’re able to pass on some comforting words, some good advice to someone just beginning this path, and you feel it may have been worth it. You feel... useful again.

The essence of being a cop is helping people. It’s not that it becomes mundane, but it seems fruitless after a time. But when a cop can help a cop? It's job satisfaction squared. Cubed. 

That guy will never know, but in reaching out to me for a simple question, for reassurance, he made this job seem worthwhile again today. The colors became sharper, the shapes more distinct again…things that can’t be done with money or many other external factors.

It’s a long road, but one not traveled alone. That rock still has to get pushed up that hill, but today? I suppose the difference was I didn’t feel like I was doing it alone.

Thanks, officer.

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December 12, 2013

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