Thursday, March 26, 2020

Just in Time

A police wife I've known for a long time asked me to pass along this story.
She said, "Right now, we need to be reminded of hopeful things", and she was right.
You need this.

She said,
"My husband left law enforcement after an officer-involved shooting with some really nasty small-town fallout.
He went back to school.
I went back to work.
My parents helped us keep our house, and keep our toddler son safe and loved while we were in a messy transition. Faith helped us keep our sanity.
Eventually we settled in to a self-employed life, running an investigations business from our home. Once he built a full time caseload we made a nice living, and it felt like we'd started over,finally.

Then 9/11 happened.

By 2003, the recession it sparked caught up with us.
The contract work that paid our bills dried up like a creek during drought- slowly and then all at once, leaving nothing behind but cracked mud, and want.

After working in the family business for years, I found an outside job to fill the gap but it wasn't enough. Small towns are hard job markets.
His job search dragged out for months, and the savings we'd built so carefully dwindled, nibbled away by rats in the mailbox named Mortgage, Car Repair and Power.
It was frightening.
The options were daunting, and few.
It turns out that criminal investigations is a pretty particular skill set, no matter what side of the bar you're standing on.
Finally he decided the only realistic option was to renew his POST certificate (which required attending an academy two hundred miles away, at our expense), and look for work as a cop once more.

Before he left,a card arrived in the mail.
It was from his brother, with whom we weren't terribly close, and there was a note inside with some gift cards.
There were cards for groceries and for gas, and for Walmart, where you can buy anything.

The note said, 'We have been praying for you, and God told us to send these. We love you.'

We were grateful and we were embarrassed.
My husband's pride was stung. We were still paying our bills.
"We don't need those," he said.
"Let's keep them for now. When we know we're back on our feet, we can give them to someone who does need them," I said.
I put them in my wallet and forgot about them.

He finished the re-certification academy and found a small department in the mountains where the boss was willing to take a chance on a guy who'd been out of the game for years. I stayed behind to keep working while our house was on the market.
Houses sell slowly in the winter.

He grew familiar with the weekend commute over a 5000-foot pass; my son and I finally figured out how to achieve detente.
Dad had always been the buffer. I was the one who lost my temper with 11 year old sass and shenanigans.

He thrived at the new department; he had a good boss, and police work was like riding a bicycle. He was good at it before, and he was good at it still. It felt good to have hope, and set down the burden of anxiety we'd been carrying for more than a year.

Five months in, I got a phone call at 12:33 a.m. from an emergency medicine doctor at a tiny hospital. My healthy, strong husband was suddenly, critically ill.
He was 100 miles away and it was snowing. The helicopters were grounded by weather, so they would keep him stable and transport him to the Big Hospital by ground ambulance in the morning.

I spent the rest of the night awake, packing and suppressing panic. When the sun rose, I woke my sixth-grader and we made the icy drive over interstate, through the canyons into the wide valley where my husband spent the next ten days in the hospital.

Illness and injury are nightmares when you're self-employed. That fear still dogged my mind.
This new job was too new for any usable number of sick days. In fact, he was still on probation and I understood that the department could let him go for any reason or none. Being the new guy and not working for ...I don't know, the foreseeable future, seemed like a pretty big reason.

I shoved those thoughts aside, and stuffed worries about loss of income- his, and mine. The Family Medical Leave Act protected my position, but it doesn't pay anything.
He was alive. If he recovered, we'd worry about it later.
If he recovered, I wouldn't care.

I had no power, but in that situation who does?
I couldn't make him well.
No one has a budget category for Loved One Suddenly Ill a Hundred Miles from Home.

I did have a key though,to my parents' house in the same city where my husband was hospitalized. They were traveling out of state, but there were warm safe beds for my son and me, a stocked kitchen and a washer and dryer.

And soon I had a phone call from his new boss, letting me know that every employee in his tiny county-- all 19 of them-- had donated time to a catastrophic leave bank for the New Guy. He promised me that there would be a light duty position ready for my husband when he was discharged, even if he had to invent one.

And in my wallet were gift cards, for gas and for groceries and for WalMart, where you can buy anything.

I had forgotten about them, those cards we didn't need- but the God Who Provides had not. He sees the end from the beginning, and the word He spoke to a brother we rarely see was perfectly timely.
We just didn't know it, then.

My husband did recover, and return to work. He grew in skill and wisdom, and supported that great boss through his own fatal illness just a few years later.
Then he led the little department himself and made it safely to a healthy retirement.
It was a path we could not have foreseen and maybe we wouldn't have chosen but then, we weren't in charge.

If you have no power to fix the problem before you, then it's not your problem.
It's too big for you.
Give it over to The One Who Is Bigger Than Yourself and let go of it, even if you have to keep doing it again every ten minutes.
You can't add a single minute to your life by worrying, and He never intended you to try."
******************** ******************** *********************
That isn't the end of her story, but it's the end for today.
For tonight, I wish you rest.
Wear your vest. Look after each other.
---Charlie Pitt

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Thoughts on Law Enforcement Appreciation Day

Your news feed is filled with ideas for showing appreciation for law enforcement officers. Saying thank you, paying for their coffee and waving with all your fingers are kind gestures.
There's no downside to kindness.

But, do you really want to show them you appreciate them?
Then take it a little further.

Contact your legislators when I share a bill that ensures wounded officers have access to the care they need.
Donating to a GoFundMe is a kind gesture, but a charity fund is a bandaid on an arterial bleed.
No officer should have to beg for help paying the bills while recovering from traumatically-acquired holes they weren't born with.
No cop's wife should get a bill for her husband's mediflight from a crime scene, while he's still in ICU. It happens.
It shouldn't.

Help get laws changed in states that allow cities to put officers on the street before they've even gone to academy. It's not safe, and it's not fair, to the officer or to their community.

If communities want to show they appreciate their law enforcement officers, they won't wait till after they get killed or hurt, and then call them heroes, and name things after them, so mayors or selectmen can have a photo op by a road sign, or a building.

They'll buy them vests.
Buy them tourniquets.
Send them to training.
Fix the brakes, and replace the tires.
Find them help after critical incidents.

That's how lives are honored.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Decide What You Want

*Photo credit Mercury News*

It's time to decide what we want from law enforcement.

Social workers?

Do we want the cheapest cops possible?
Or, do we want well trained and well screened cops?
Well equipped cops, with every tool needed for every possible eventuality?
Or the beat cop from grandaddy's hometown, with nothing but a smile, a wheelgun, and one set of cuffs?

Really, we want it all.
Admit it, we do- and we want it all, without paying for any of it.

Every officer needs to be an empathetic, well-spoken, SEAL-trained ninja, with double majors in psychology and social work, who considers the job a calling, and has no bills to pay, no nerves to fray, and enforces the law completely objectively while also using discretion at all times, unless it's going to result in arresting--or not arresting--the wrong person at the wrong time, for the wrong thing, in the opinion of every member of the public.

If that person existed, he wouldn't work for you.
So we've got to deal with what exists, and what exists are humans.

Humans are fallible, and their bodies are frail. Their brains play tricks on them when they're under stress, and then keep them from sleeping by replaying the stressor on an endless loop later, trying to find ways to 'fix' whatever went wrong.

Humans come in varieties, not exactly like dog breeds, but close enough that the analogy works:
If you need a bite dog, you don't start with a Golden Retriever.
Possibly, you can teach the Golden to bite on command, if you're persistent enough, and mean enough,but in the process, you'll ruin everything that made him a Golden to begin with.
*Photo Franklin County Sheriff's Office*

Now translate that back to people.
Warriors, soldiers, great war generals like Patton, may live for the fight but they don't always play well with others after the battle.
They can be harsh.
They can use bad language in settings where you wish they were polite.
They find humor in ugly, dark places that just frighten the rest of society.
They're not always...nice.

If you want only a cuddly, soft, empathetic officer whose first response is always a soft answer and compassion, you can have that.
She'll never embarrass her chief at Coffee with a Cop.
He'll present well on camera, every time, and remind you of someone's grandfather.
He'll be the perfect SRO, until there's an active shooter at your kid's school.

Suddenly, society insists on the warrior.
They want the crack-driven demon Malinois, 55 pounds of rawhide, springsteel and gator teeth, driving into the gunfire and doing anything it takes -- anything -- to keep the children safe.
And once the threat is gone, society wants the Malinois to morph back into the therapy dog.
They want the warrior gone, the counselor returned, the off-switch thrown.

That's not how it works.
And it's not fair.

I tell you now: the unicorn doesn't exist.
You can't have it.
What you can have is a human.
If you recruit well, background thoroughly, and train constantly, you can have a human with a kind heart, and good ethics, who is willing to fight hard, be uncomfortable, even get hurt, for you.
You can have a human who tries. You can have someone who struggles, who sometimes fails, who gets better with time and experience, and who has setbacks.
You can't have perfection.
In fact, you can break perfectly good humans by insisting they be something they can't be-- things no one can be.

Decide now that, as long as cops get recruited from the human race, they're going to be exactly human, with everything that means.
The rest of society is also human, after all.
Maybe it's time we decide what we want from the rest of us, too.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Why 'War'?

'War' is a loaded word.
It carries baggage, history and emotion.
It evokes pictures and memories, from personal experience, or news articles,or art, or history.

A 'war on police' has been angrily, tearfully debated for at least five years now.

Writers who embrace the term choose it deliberately, and cite high profile conflicts, and line of duty death statistics to support it.
Video clips of activists carrying vulgar pickets, marching and calling out for the killing of cops, and quotes from political speeches defending them, filter through their articles and circulate on social media.

The writers who reject it cite their own statistics, full of rising survival rates over decades (without mention of influences like the invention of Kevlar), and anecdotes of police misconduct to support their position. Those writers vilify the term 'war' as hyperbolic and divisive:
How, they ask, can an officer who regards his community as the enemy--or even a potential enemy--truly act in their best interest?

Commentators and activists who reject the phrase 'war on police' most forcefully cite an 'us v. them' mindset, and the imagery of officers as soldiers, as opposed to 'peace officers' and 'public servants'. Words like 'oppressor' are offset against concepts of protectors of their communities, and fellow citizens.

Dozens of the officers who have been shot, stabbed, beaten or run over in the recent past--some who recovered, some who died, and some who will battle pain and disability for the rest of their years--were military veterans.
'War' is a literal thing to them.
An entire generation serves in uniform now, who do not remember a time before we were at war abroad.

I think they have chosen the term 'war' for what they face in the streets at home because it does separate them, and set them apart. I have heard from vets, now law enforcement officers, who've said they feel more anxious here, now, than they did overseas.
There, they knew who their enemy was. They knew what they could expect. They knew their families faced no threat from that enemy. They knew when their deployment was over, they would fly home, and leave that enemy behind.

Now wearing a badge, they re-deploy every night, try their best to switch gears every morning to come home, and often find the streets have followed them home, to threaten their families as well.

Many officers fallen to gunfire are military veterans. They survived sandbox deployments to fall at the hands of fellow citizens in the streets.

If it's war, then those are enemies-- foreign, exotic, impossible to explain, separate.
If it's not war, then officers will have to admit to themselves and the ones they love that it's their neighbors who wish them gone, wish them harm, wish them dead.
I think it's more than they can manage, to accept that, to try to explain that to their children or their parents.

I don't like the phrase 'war on police'. Loaded language makes people stop reading, stop listening , unless they already agree with you, and that's part of the problem.
So, I don't use it much.
But I can understand those who do.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Rural Badge Problems #3

*photo Massachusetts Environmental Police*

If you've ever transported a violator to post bond via canoe, you might be a rural badge.

If you prepare a search warrant, request that city and state assist, and that gets you all of two extra units, you might be a rural badge.

If you ask dispatch for admin response, and chief responds he needs to clean up first because he's been in the garage butchering a deer, you might be a rural badge.

If you arrest an out-of-towner and the drive to jail takes so long that "Are we there yet?" turns into, "Where are you taking me??" as his eyes get wider in your rear view, you might be a rural badge.

If you've forded a creek with a 4WD to serve a paper, then stopped on the way back to eat lunch on a sand bar right in the middle, you might be a rural badge.

If you've been on a pursuit at night, on dirt roads, backed up a game warden and a Forest Service officer, you might be a rural badge.
Bonus if there was rain.

If you've been called because an elk fell through an egress well, you might be a rural badge.
*photo credit Idaho Fish and Game*

If getting to a call involves a ferry, or a road that takes you into Canada before circling back to your patrol area, you might be a rural badge.
*contributed photo*

If transport to jail first requires transport by ATV for ten miles just to get to your truck, you might be a rural badge.

If a Code Brown involves keeping your duty belt out of the snow, and your south end off random game cameras, you might be a rural badge.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Making Sense of Forgiveness

*Originally published in April, 2017*

The veteran law dog smoothed his white mustache, and trained his blue eyes on me.
They were lit by anger decades old, and frustration.
He was a new follower of the Jesus who leads me,too, and was struggling furiously with the ideas of forgiveness, and loving his enemies.
The more he read in the new Bible he'd brought to the little home group, the clearer it became:
he could not escape this instruction. And it made no sense to him, at all.

He first put on a badge during riots; he'd fought and won in three gun battles on the streets of Los Angeles, and seen bank robbers roll past the branch where his detail was posted, to start a little war outside another.
He'd been to far too many funerals.
When he 'retired', he started another career working with and watching the back of a rural marshal who valued his loyalty and years on the road.
He was a deputy, a friend, a brother who would willingly kill or die to protect the defenseless, and those whom he loved.
He was a warrior, and the father of warriors.
And he was a Christian now ; reconciling all those pieces wasn't coming easily.

"Why should I forgive them? Pray for my enemies?
They tried to kill me. I survived because I was angry, because I could fight back.
They don't deserve to be forgiven."
And he was right.
I've heard the same from other officers: some betrayed by those they trusted--family blood or blue,
some broken by the work they undertook so eagerly, now in pain, too often alone, crippled by bitterness and disappointment as much as by bullets, or tons of high speed metal and wheels.

I knew the right answers, and I could find the passages from the Sermon on the Mount,in both Matthew and Luke :
pray for your enemies. Love those who hate you.
Forgive others so you can be forgiven, because the measure you use will be the one the Father uses to measure out your own reward. I could move on to New Testament letters, reminding me that because Christ forgave me, I have no right to withhold my forgiveness from someone else.
I'd read all that.
So had my confused and angry friend.

He understood command structure, and this was a command : Forgive. Pray. Love.
Police work is paramilitary; an imperative was familiar ground, like it was for the Roman commander who asked Jesus to heal his dying servant--
"I am a man under authority, with men under me. I say 'go' and they go and say, 'come!' and they come. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed."

So, I started with that: the things of God don't always make human sense, so we choose to do what He says as an act of personal discipline, even if that's all it is, at first.
I reminded him that he chose this new Captain, this King, and that this was the direction he was given.
My friend accepted that as a place to begin, and stepped forward on the next part of his new path.

I still felt like my explanation was lacking. It really said more about my friend's faith than my wisdom, that he'd accepted it as enough.
Then, a few church services ago, I pulled out the insert in the announcement bulletin--the one with all the little Q &A's , and pithy columns, that everyone glances at, and throws away.

A board member was still reciting bits of churchy news, so I gave the little pamphlet a second look, and stopped. I read it again. This week's question was about....what forgiveness isn't. That was new.
And it made so much sense, I kept it and read it again, at home.

It said, simply:
Forgiveness doesn't ever mean that what the other person did was okay.

Forgiveness doesn't nullify your suffering.

If someone shot you, or ran you over, if your marriage fell to infidelity or addiction, or someone you trusted stood you up on a hot call--that happened.
Consequences echo in the physical world; forgiveness is in your heart and mind.

Forgiveness doesn't mean you have to trust the other person.
In my friend's case, that could never happen anyway-- most of the people he was still angry at, were dead.

Forgiveness doesn't always mean you have to reconcile; sometimes that's not possible, and sometimes it's not safe or healthy. God expects us to be wise.

Knowing what I didn't have to do made forgiveness easier to accept, and a lot easier to understand.
From personal experience, grudgingly at first (okay,fine, for months ) praying for people who had caused our family harm---the kind that makes bad dreams, and interrupts careers-- we had learned letting go of anger and bitterness meant new peace in our minds, and in our home.

You would never continue to wear your body armor and duty belt when you retired. You don't need it any longer, and it's heavy.
It digs in all the wrong places, and you can never forget that you have it on. Over time, the weight damages your back.
You don't have to carry the things from the past that you don't need any longer, either.
That's why we're told to forgive, even--especially--when the other person doesn't deserve it.
It's not about them. It's about what permits us to heal, and become who we're meant to be.

My friend never needed that brilliant little epiphany, by the way.
He's run far ahead, growing in peace and wisdom that few men of his years and his past get to know.

I was the one who still needed the explanation.
And, there it was.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

To the Deputy in the Shooting Yesterday

Dear Deputy,
A reader sent a headline to my inbox yesterday. It didn't say much, yet, but it was about you.

You are the deputy who shot a gunman in a remote little lake resort yesterday.
I don't know you, but I know your life.
It's my family's life, and we've walked your walk.

You work alone.
You're always far from backup.
Your radio doesn't reach dispatch, as often as it does.
Nearly everyone you contact out here in the country is armed.
A lot of them have rifles, and you know your vest doesn't stand a chance.
Your department doesn't have body cameras, or dash cams, and they don't send you to training often enough, or have range except when you're qualifying, so it's all on you.
And yesterday, it was all on you , again.
*photo by DanSun Photo Art*

When you could go home, you were exhausted and keyed to the breaking point---but you went home.
Your friend who's a deputy too, drove you and stayed with you for hours; he sat where you could see him, so you'd feel safe and finally get a little rest. Every time you opened your eyes, he was there.
You'll never forget him for that.
Eventually he had to go home, though ; his wife had to go to work, and there's no childcare provider in this small town who works her shift.

Maybe you shook or threw up, once you knew no one could see you, except your wife.
She doesn't care; you came home.
You held each other that night instead of sleeping, and wondered if it was okay to cry now, or if you shouldn't, because maybe you wouldn't stop. No one ever trained you for this part---everything up to pulling the trigger, sure.
Not a thing for anything after that, so , you just don't know.
But you did come home.
She looked at your hands, and in your eyes, and wondered if you were different, now that you'd killed someone. Then she felt weird for thinking about that, even to herself. Who thinks that? Who ever has to?
Yes. You will be; but you're still you, and you came home.

People you work with don't know what to say.
One said 'Congratulations, great shot.' That was awkward.
A lot of them shook your hand, and a few patted you as they walked by,and nodded, and tried to decide whether to make eye contact. A dispatcher hugged you, and she cried. And then, she walked away as fast as she could.
They're glad you came home.
But, they don't know what to do either. No one trained them for this.

The investigation is still going on. Your name hasn't been released yet, but it's a small town. Everyone knows. Everyone knows the suspect's name, too.
Everyone knows where you live.
Your kids go to school with the suspect's siblings and cousins, or kids, and there's nothing you can do about that because, well--
it's a really small town.
There's only the one school.

There's only one grocery store; while your wife is waiting in line there, she'll hear two women in front of her talking about 'what you should have done.'
Her cheeks will burn, and her eyes will narrow and fill with angry tears, but she won't confront them.
And she'll never forget it.
She'll buy her fresh green beans, and chicken thighs, and juice boxes, and head to the car in the rain, rehearsing all the things she could have said to them, but didn't.
She'll tell you about it later, words like automatic fire, and you won't know what to say back.

You'll be criticized and second-guessed online, by people who weren't there and didn't have to make that choice.
Teachers will talk about the suspect, no matter how long ago he graduated, and insist there had to have been some other resolution.
Even though the toughest choice they ever faced was whether or not to send that suspect to the office, they'll still talk about what you should have done, when the choice the suspect gave you was 'die' or 'shoot him instead'.

It's not fair. That's okay to think.
You did deserve better. It's okay to be angry, at least for now. The final choice was in the suspect's hands, not yours.
You did your best.
It's okay for your wife to be angry, with the suspect, with anyone who speaks badly of you. It means she loves you.

Remember, you came home. Start there.

When you have your fitness-for-duty evaluation, and they send you back on the road, if your sheriff is lazy and doesn't find resources to help you find your new normal, find them your own self.
The interwebs are an infinite resource. I wish we had had it, when we walked your walk.

There's Cop Church , and they're always there. You can call them, and email them, and their messages stream online and in podcasts. They're real people, cops like you, with families like yours; it's just that they're ministers and counselors, too.
Trust me, the nice marriage and family counselor in your little town has no idea what your life is like now. 'Police stress' is not a relationship problem, but it can make one.
We already tried that, so I'll save you and your wife that step.

There's Under The Shield Foundation , and they're always there. They know stuff, and they know people, and they exist to help you find the right ones.

There's The Wounded Blue , and Call4Backup, too, and Safe Call Now --- some professionals, some peer support, all confidential, all there for you.

And there's the First Responder Support Network , too, on the west coast. I really, REALLY wish I'd known about them.
You're not alone. I promise.

You'll discover other officers right where you live, ones you never knew much about before, have been in shootings, too.
They just don't talk about it much. If they reach out, reach back.
They won't offer if they don't mean it.

And they know some things you'll face weeks or months from now, when everyone else acts like they've moved on, or that maybe your trouble is contagious:
They know you're not crazy, no matter how you feel.
They know it's normal to have an abnormal reaction to an abnormal event.
They know this won't last forever.

You don't have a peer support system, or critical incident management team, or a chaplain. We didn't either.
Ultimately, it was faith and family who brought us out the other side.
You're just starting down this road. We walked it.....well, a long time ago. But we're still standing, and so will you.

I can't fix it. I can only offer what I know, and what I have, and hope you'll take it.
When I run out of words (even I eventually run out of words), I pray. When I run out of prayers, I read this psalm.
I'll give it to you, now, and wish you peace tonight, and rest.
Your world won't always be upside down.
*photo by DanSun Photo Art*

Psalm 91
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

You're home. You came home.