She was a beautiful young woman. She was dressed in a pretty gown and her hair was in an elegant up do. A shiny gold necklace was around her neck. Her makeup was perfect. She lay on her back in the new spring clover and the sunshine of a perfect day. Her eyes were closed and she seemed to be sleeping. But she did not breathe. An ant walked across her forehead. She did not brush it off. She was dead.
She was going to her high school prom. Her date had taken her to a nice restaurant where he had several drinks with dinner. He was only 18. But that was the legal drinking age back then. After dinner, he drove them in a convertible inbound on the Southwest Freeway. When he tried to take the northbound ramp onto the West Loop, he lost control of the car. It flipped. Seat belts were not required in those days. He was thrown out and suffered a broken leg. She was thrown out and the car rolled on top of her before it came to rest downhill.
She lay in the spring clover in her prom dress. That was more than 35 years ago. I remember her still. I was a young patrolman. Now I am an old man. I remember her still. And I remember the screams of her mother when I told her that her daughter was dead.
What do you remember? What horrors have you seen as you go about your police duties? Abused children, battered spouses, mangled bodies in crashes? How about the suicides?
We’ve seen how many ways people kill themselves. They blow their brains out, they hang themselves, they sit in their cars in a closed garage with the car motor running. What about the homicides? Store clerks killed in robberies, husbands and wives killing each other and sometimes their children too. Strangers shooting strangers and gangsters murdering other gangsters.
What does that do to us? We start the job as newly minted shiny rookies. We are eager to right all wrongs and rescue the helpless. Years later, after seeing man’s inhumanity to his fellow men and to himself, we have a callous on our hearts. Nothing bad can penetrate that callous. It is a survival mechanism. We can’t bear the burdens of the world or we would go crazy. We can’t do our jobs if we weep over every tragedy that we witness. We must do our jobs and be professional about it.
What does a calloused heart do to us? It helps us to cope with what we see. But what about those times when we should be soft-hearted? That calloused heart makes it difficult for us to see the good in people we meet, who may really need our help. We look at them with police eyes and move on.
And for some of us, familiarity with violence makes it more acceptable. Suicide has always been a big problem for police. When we go through the application process, we are in part chosen for our emotional stability. How do some lose that stability? I believe we can lose it by witnessing violence on a daily basis. Then we don’t process what we’ve seen because we have an inadequate belief system or no belief in a Higher Power at all. Without that we can’t place what we have seen in the right context. The bad memories just stay there. They get piled one upon the other until it looks like violence may be the answer to some situations.
Some cope with it better than others. Those who don’t may leave police work or find a less strenuous position in the Department. Some of us find violence so acceptable that we commit self-murder or hurt those we love. Neither of these is acceptable.
Get some help. Get some counseling. There is no co-pay for going to Psychological Services. Read the Bible, pray to God. Find another job. Retire and go fishing. Do anything but hurt yourself or your loved ones. Please. Be safe out there.