You’ve heard this line before. “Every day, I kiss my family goodbye, hoping I return the way I left.”
It’s just another shift, another day in the life as a police officer. I walk out the door and head to my car. My mind already starting to think about the shift ahead. I’m in uniform, so naturally I’m in “police mode” as I drive to the station. I wonder what will happen today.
As I near the station, the stress settles in, I wonder what kind of internal nonsense will be thrown my way. Will it be internal affairs saying they’re conducting another investigation? Could my promotion be in jeopardy? Or will it be my sergeant with the latest policy changes or list of new “initiatives” they’re implementing. Which is code for “another hat to wear, more work to do, but no more time to do it.”
It seems every shift starts with a barrage of negativity from within, we need to do this, stop doing that, do more this, nothing positive, nothing but negative that rolls downhill. It just never ends. The “beatings will continue until morale improves.” That t-shirt couldn’t be more true most days.
We wear many hats during our shift. We are police officers, mental health workers, social workers, civil dispute solvers, armed secretaries, accident investigators, and worst of all, “uniformed parents” for those who don’t know how to parent themselves.
Luckily, today was a good day. No scolding from the command staff, no negativity, just the usual information on recent crimes. No good news of course. We are police officers, so inherently all we hear about is crime, sadness, and people being harmed. It takes a toll, but we don’t admit it.
Finally, I’m out in the field. A small sense of reprieve washes over me as I enjoy being out in the neighborhood I patrol. I get my usual coffee and head to take care of the list of “checks” I was assigned from my supervisor. Drive by this vacant house, stop by a recently vandalized park, and check on a business that was robbed last week. As I’m approaching my first “honey-do” item from my supervisor, an officer calls out for help on the radio. Shots were fired in the area and he’s in a foot pursuit. I’m not far away so I rush to his aid.
The “honey-do” list from Sarge will have to wait another day, surely I’ll hear about it tomorrow. Driving fast with lights and sirens, I rush to help my fellow officer. His voice was elevated, as he was running and trying to talk on the radio. I round the corner and see the suspect running across a field with an object in his hand. My adrenaline is pumping as I get closer and closer to the suspect. Before I know it, I’m on the ground running after a guy I’ve never met. I don’t know why he’s running, what he just did, or what he plans to do next, I can only assume the worst but hope for the best. I’m really hoping that isn’t a gun in his hand.
Before long, the suspect tires and is taken into custody without incident. It turns out he did have a gun. Thankfully he tossed it to the ground just before giving up and laying down. The gun is reported stolen, taken in a home break-in the week before. The guy is wanted for aggravated robbery and happens to be a convicted felon. A great outcome all around.
A gun off the street. A violent person in jail for his warrant and new gun charge. As we walk him to the squad car, we hear the usual appreciation from his friendsin the neighborhood. “F*ck the laws!” As they video us talking to their phones like reporters for the 5 o’clock news. Their account of what happened filled with embellishment and anger. “Y’all are racist!” Another kid yells as he videos us defiantly.
We’re recording too. The entire thing is on video. What should be a rock solid case, could very well turn into more probation. But that is out of our hands. Sadly, we will see this guy again. “Criminal justice reform” they call it. As I get back to my squad car, I notice a missed call from my wife. The kids are already asleep. I missed my chance to say goodnight.
The rest of shift is fairly uneventful. I even managed to grab a bite to eat with my buddy that works the same area. We had a few laughs and talked about the latest changes made by the command staff. It’s amazing how much policing has changed over the years. I head back to the station nearly an hour before my shift ends. It’s mandated I download my body camera and squad car footage before I go home every night. I complete the required paperwork that once took ten minutes, now takes almost twenty.
I head home almost on time. I sneak into the house trying not to wake everyone. The dog greets me at the door and my wife is relieved to hear the sound of velcro as I take off my bulletproof vest. To her, I made it home the way I left.
A quick shower and I hop in bed. My wife has already fallen back to sleep knowing I’m home safe. I lie down but can’t fall asleep. My shift plays back in my head as if it’s a movie. Did I do all the required paperwork? Did I forget to put anything in that arrest report? As I close my eyes, images from the dead body call just before shift end pop into my head.
Frustrated, I toss and turn for 30 minutes and finally drift off to sleep. It’s not a restful sleep. My dreams are vivid and unfortunately, I’m at work again. I can’t escape it as I’m in a yet another foot pursuit, only this time the guy turns quickly and shoots four times. I stop and squeeze the trigger as hard as I can, but no matter what I do, my gun won’t fire.
The bad guy keeps shooting and I’m panicking. What the hell is wrong with my gun!? Eventually, a bullet slowly rolls out of my gun and I wake up in a panic. My wife asks me if I’m okay. I lie and say, “Yes, just another dream.” She’s heard it before.
Physically, I made it home the way I left, but with each shift I’m forever changed.