Beyond the Badge
I should be ecstatic, but I’m sad. Not about leaving law enforcement, but about leaving behind the men and women who wish they could leave, too. The ones who needed to be done already and those who won’t even make it to the finish line. Those who now face hatred that is often born of assumption and perpetuated by ignorance. Those who find little joy in service because they’re consumed by fear, disgust, anger, and/or indifference. Those who still deeply desire to be peacemakers, but realize that evil and unrest are a growing tidal wave.
It was never easy. Quiet? Maybe. Rewarding? Often. But never easy. Victories were almost always born of someone’s loss or pain. Doing it right meant never really having downtime because you always had to be prepared to defend yourself. A meal break or sitting at a red light still required you to watch your six. While standing in line at the bank meant formulating a plan for a robbery. The take-home car in your driveway was an imposing advertisement.
Big decisions usually didn’t mean immediate closure. Taking someone’s freedom, meant having to defend your actions sometimes years later, faced by those who were grateful for your response, along with those who would decide, after the fact, if it was appropriate. While you tried to recall the details of a brief moment so long ago, your testimony looked more like a script than a confident, first hand account. Relying on an arrest affidavit and/or an offense report, and a memory clouded by hundreds of calls and thousands of people between then and now, it’s easy to look and sound unbelievable.
Having the defense magnify your errors or omissions and tirelessly work to discredit you, just makes it that much easier. Often, in the end, the guilty walked on technicalities or deals made by overworked attorneys just trying to clear caseloads. It always left an “all for nothing” feeling with a tinge of failure, even if you did everything right.
We enter this profession as vibrant, ambitious, and dedicated people with good hearts and values. Through the years, we are broken in mind, body and spirit. Eventually, it’s not as much about the journey as the destination. It has to be that way, because our roads are those less traveled, shared only by victims, criminals and other cops.
We are the most judged and the most judgmental. It’s a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other life that we rarely regret, but eventually all wish to fast forward. Then, so many get to the end of their careers and start all over. They look for another agency to join or, as of late, ask their departments to let them stay. It’s a habit. Sometimes, it’s to help finance a lifestyle they could never afford, but buried themselves in, as self reward. Many times, it’s just about status. They feel worthless without the title and uniform and they just don’t know how to be anyone else.
My own father was one of those men. In the best case scenarios, they’ve lost their hobbies, and in the worst case scenarios they’ve lost their families. They have each other: people who understand and accept all their flaws and quirks. It’s a comfort they become desperately afraid to lose. The outsiders see cops sticking together because they naturally do, no different than any pack animal, especially when threatened.
We claim to be family, far and wide, by profession and a mutual respect for being another human willing to face the unthinkable to protect others everyday. It is not without exception, though. What civilians don’t see is that our disdain for our own, when they tarnish the badge and act criminally, is far greater than anything the public may feel. It’s humiliating, and the consequences reach much further than the violator. It becomes personal, even continents away, and we are madder than anyone else. When it happens close to home, or worse, in our own house, our disappointment in the offender is compounded by disappointment in ourselves for not recognizing or stopping it.
Then, we become disappointed in the public, for assuming we are all the same, and letting another officer’s actions become every officer’s biography.
I leave with stories . . . stories that people outside of this life always ask to hear, but often wearing expressions of disbelief or horror at the details. The ones they sometimes decide, mid-sentence, they don’t want to hear after all. Stories that we, in the life share like battle scars and, often, therapy disguised as entertainment.
I leave with a numbness that comes from years of necessary coping mechanisms, but that is perceived by outsiders as an ugly, unfeeling callous. I’ve witnessed birth and death. I’ve saved lives and participated in taking one. I’ve returned lost and stolen property and found children. I’ve made grown men cry in happiness, grief and humiliation. I’ve resolved problems when police weren’t really needed, and I’ve run out of solutions for situations that remained volatile.
At times, I slept for days, and others, I went days without sleep. I have been commended and chastised for the same event. I can go from overbearing to indifferent in a microsecond. I have remained stoic at horrific crime scenes, yet broken down as witness to other people’s pain.
There are names and faces from brief encounters that will stay with me forever, yet traumatic moments I can’t recall. I’ve watched cops take on unhealthy habits and act recklessly. I’ve attended police funerals for everything from untimely, natural to self inflicted death. I’ve seen cops go to prison. I have hurt the people I love and I have shown love to complete strangers. I am changed, maybe not for better, and it has all still been so worthwhile.
I leave feeling accomplished, fulfilled and excited to begin a new life. The people I leave behind remain family who I will always care for. The police I encounter in the future, who may never know I also walked in those boots, will have my immediate respect and trust in an assumption that they are also good.
I know my replacements have it tougher than I ever did and are expected to be infallible. I am sad because I can’t save them from the public or themselves, but mostly, because I’m ready not to.
I am sad BECAUSE I am happy. It’s a survivor’s guilt, even if the survival is more about freedom than mortality. I won, and I hope to be reunited with many more beyond the finish line, still youthful, mostly unbroken, and ready to live Beyond the Badge. I know there are some already waiting for me, to swap stories that aren’t work, politics and gossip.
Until then, the torch is passed and you must carry it, now, as a weapon rather than a beacon. I leave you with a mostly silent fan club, but a never ending convoy of bandwagons of hateful people that you are expected to serve and protect. I’ll be rooting for you. May God bless and keep you as you face hell on earth. You are noble. You are good. You are necessary. You are and will always be my heroes.
– Sgt. Jennifer Arcuri (Ret.) 31/429, Pembroke Pines Police Department