Calls for Service – An Officer’s Aftermath

Last week’s post ‘This Week in Policing – Feb 13, 2009’ touched on the tragedy of innocent lives lost to avoidable circumstances.  A comment from MB87 asked how death and other life altering events can change the lives of the officers responding to those calls, and asked how officer’s deal with such tragedies that occur on a somewhat regular basis.

For most, the secret is to not keep everything bottled up inside.  Exercise. Eat properly.  Expect that some things are going to bother you. Talk about them; with your friends, your peers, your spouse.  When something is really getting under your skin, it’s not ‘shop talk’ to bring it up and debrief whatever call is causing you trouble.  Everyone has a different trigger.

For me, it’s the kids – I simply cannot stand to have anything bad happen to little children.  The problem is this – bad things DO happen to children.  As a police officer, I’ve seen the cases and the heartbreak, and I cope by not taking for granted the gift of my own family.

When a call bothers me, I talk about it.  If it’s really affecting me, I write about it, much like I did several years ago after my partner and I were dispatched to assist the Ministry of Children and Families when their case worker assessed a family.  The result was a non-fiction account of that experience:

 

TEMPEST FEATHER

My partner’s knuckles made a hollow sound on the cheap door.

The door creaked open an inch, held from within by a security chain. A woman, her eyes a rich dark brown, peered out at us. She was my age. There was a faint rattle as the chain was removed, and in a show of reluctant compliance the woman stepped back and opened the door to allow us entry into the apartment.

The low scent of garbage and old cooking assaulted my senses and I was instantly stifled in the cramped space. From out of nowhere a small kitten pounced on my boot and batted at the laces before racing away, another kitten in pursuit. It was cute and I thought I should smile. I could not.

The social worker we were assigned to for the day was talking in soft tones to the woman, explaining why the government was concerned about the welfare of her children. The social worker’s voice was not without feeling, but the gravity of her words was unmistakable. The mother’s response was a gasp, an ironic contrast to the filthy apartment. The encounter took on a dreamlike quality as my gaze wandered, taking in belongings strewn about with everything covered in a layer of grime. The stench of cat urine was starting to give me a headache.

I decided my dark blue uniform would not touch the walls or furniture. I was so tired.

All those thoughts were struck away when a little girl toddled into view. She appeared at the end of the short hallway and made her way in my direction in the manner that belonged only to very young children. Her chubby legs pumped over various household items, her eyebrows knit together and her arms straight out for balance as she concentrated on not falling down. The only difference I could see between her and my own 18 month old daughter was the color of her hair.

My eyes welled up at the sight of her drooping diaper, dirty shirt and soft curls pulled up into pigtails that bounced in time with her footfalls. She closed the last few feet between us, her steps marked by a tremor in my chest. The gun on my hip and badge in my wallet were a clear testament to the authority I had been granted, but I was powerless in the face of this little child.

For in the few moments it took her to stumble towards me, I saw all the obstacles she would face. She would have no access to the privileges I had been fortunate enough to experience. Her single mother would likely struggle to raise her on an income classified as poverty, and the chance of her being apprehended to a foster home was high. Her full potential, held in an uncertain balance, was as fragile as a feather carried on the high winds.

My emotions threatened betrayal, unfallen tears blurring my vision as the little girl came to a stop in front of me. I knelt down to be at her level and her bright smile got bigger as she looked at me, her eyes small pools of wonder. The voices of my partner and the social worker faded away; the little girl was a small perfection. There was not a sound as her hand plopped onto my bent knee and as she reached with her other hand for the radio strung across my chest. Crowing with delight, she grabbed the mike and grinned when it made a short burst of static in her hand. I stopped her moments before she squeezed the talk button and I grinned back when she squeezed my finger instead. She giggled and squeezed again.

The moment was over when a voice came back into focus. The social worker was still speaking to the little girl’s mother, but the child’s mother was not really listening; instead, she was watching me. Her lips were pressed into a thin line and her eyes were dark flint. My insides roiled as I gently pried my finger loose and stood up. With the social worker’s voice floating through the air like unimportant bubbles, the little girl’s mother came towards me, her eyes held fast on mine. Even though it exhausted me, I did not look away. She picked her daughter up, finally breaking eye contact and giving me her back.

The little girl peeked back at me over her mother’s shoulder as she was spirited away, pigtails bobbing as she bounced against her mothers hip.

Later, that evening, I wept as I hugged my daughter close.

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6 Responses to "Calls for Service – An Officer’s Aftermath"

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