I miss my badge. You see, I never wanted to be a cop. The joke was on me though because I did an internship and realized I loved it. A series of events led me to a city I never even wanted to visit and plopped me behind the badge of a department that has had its fair share of blemishes. More than that, it was chock full of men and women working miracles with little support and few supplies.
As my mom pinned my new badge on my chest, it shined with the pride of thousands who’d gone before and had selflessly gave of themselves as they served with dignity and honor. It also bore the weight of the wrongdoings of the few who were the complete opposite. After five action-packed years and marrying another officer, I decided to turn in the badge when we moved cross-country. As time passes, I realize more and more how the imprint of the badge is seared on my heart forever.
I still think through scenarios, don’t like having my back to the door, and feel the need to keep my gun hand free.
I remember the pride I felt when I reunited with a domestic violence victim at court. I hadn’t seen her since the night my sergeant and I pulled together money for her so she could make it until her flight out of town the next morning. I had called her father the next day to make sure she made that flight. I learned this wasn’t the first time she had to escape. Yet, it ended up being the last! She had turned her life around and had a freedom she hadn’t felt in years. As she thanked me, I was humbled and so proud of her.
I remember the stares I felt searing through my badge as I went to eat with my partner. An academy classmate had just been arrested for various sex offenses committed in uniform off-duty. I had done nothing but I felt the judgment and shame. I was also in shock myself. I had considered him a friend and rode with him to each lunch on multiple occasions. I was slowly adding up all the lies I’d been told.
I remember seeing bodies riddled with bullets and no one wanting to speak even though they were screaming. I remember the kids struggling to make it in a tough neighborhood and the kids who I felt deep down wouldn’t make it. I remember strangers giving me money to help pay the rent deposit for a mom and her five kids who had just lost their house in a fire while I was handling a case for them. I remember how I almost didn’t recognize a good friend I saw sitting in the homicide office after he was involved in a fatal officer involved shooting. I remember taking him out to lunch later and listening to all he was going through. I remember being a detective and walking the guardians of child abuse victims through what was to come. I remember hearing gunshots and a call for help come across the radio and not knowing who was shooting who and where.
Mostly, I remember facing evil and continuing to walk towards it rather than running or living in denial.
Recently though, I’ve been angry and fighting the urge to lash out at the haters and ill-informed. I want to shout about the good and explain officer safety and tactics. I believe, however, that we must address every headline and every conversation individually- good or bad. When dealing with facts and circumstances, emotions can’t come into play. But, on the flipside, we have to be willing to address those very real emotions. I believe the masses and media are getting stuck on a few high profile cases that are often misinterpreted and sensationalized. Doing that, we miss the opportunity for real dialogue. That to me is an ultimate tragedy- a greater divide is being created which will only cause confusion, resentment, and crazies on both ends of the spectrum to lash out.
So officer, please know that I see you taking insults being screamed inches from your face. I see you dealing with kids who have no clue saying “hands up- don’t shoot me officer” while you’re trying to conduct a traffic stop or simply talking to another citizen. I see you picking up the shield every day and keeping the ugly from exploding even more. I see you give selflessly to your blue family when you’re off duty (seriously- thank you for helping with the unplanned bathroom renovation!). I see you wanting to speak out, maybe just to explain something, but not being able to. You may defend free speech but the ironic thing is that you don’t often have it. And, I literally see you every time I pass you because I always check to make sure things seem code 4. And if I could, I would pick up a new badge and join you in a heartbeat.
Cop supporters- I see you feeling lambasted. I see you struggling to find the other side of the story, sick of political agendas. I see you afraid to have honest conversations with people not knowing if they’re willing to do the same.
Spouses and close family- I see you so proud and yet struggling. Trying to be strong, but sometimes on the brink of exploding.
We all have a role to play in this game called life. Just please know that no matter your role, it has value. We mustn’t lose hope. We can’t stop fighting the good fight.
Officers- keep fighting evil and at the same time making people’s days with your service, protection, strength, compassion and kindness. Get all the training you can- legal, use of force, tactics, managing stress, anything and everything. Make sure you know how to articulate every action you take.
Supporters- do so with tact and actual information. While you speak out against the media’s message, you must also be willing to talk about the real issues and the heart behind the frustration. Be willing to honestly admit that the blemishes of the badge, while rare, are real.
Haters or people confused by all the information, or lack thereof – open your mind to consider the other viewpoint scenario by scenario. Don’t let your experiences completely cloud your judgment of each headline and simply add to the divide. Know that admitting (even if it’s just to yourself) that an incident is not as it seems does not mean that your emotions and experiences are not valid. Try to separate them. By focusing on false narratives the ability to discuss the real heart behind the matter is minimalized and the point loses validity.
So, while I will always be a cop at heart, I’ve come to realize that I can still be a part of the solution on this side the badge. Indeed, we all have a role and we all can have influence. But we must ask ourselves with each discussion- are we actually trying to bridge this great divide or are we merely adding to it?