Police officers live out of their equipment bags.

Do you often wonder what treasures lie in the bottom of your gear bag? Is it a pit? With all the expected hustle, the organization can get away from us.

When you periodically clean it out, do you go down Memory Lane or do you just scowl at the buildup and madly throw things away? What does the inside of your duty bag reflect about you and your police life? Are you a messy keeper or an organized neat freak?

As I was cleaning out my old duty bags to take to a college class on criminal justice, I stumbled upon some history. It needed a thorough check before I put the class forensic equipment in it.

In a folder were a few operatives which detailed our special assignments for Vice President Cheney’s visits to our city. It was a common thing back then.  This discovery was followed by some stale gum, 3 hand warmers still in their packages, and a bottle of Ibuprofen. How many years past the expiration date is safe?

There was a funeral announcement in a zippered pocket from one of our own who passed from cancer. I found a handy box cutter shaped like a rainbow trout. Who doesn’t need one of those? Everyone. Everyone should have one.

It seemed like a never-ending sorting task. It also needed to be wiped out. In the front, hidden way down, I found some beef jerky still in its sealed pack. I am pretty sure it is still edible beyond Armageddon. Stencils. They must date to prehistoric times. Love those old accident art pieces.  I bet some should be displayed in galleries. Attached to a clipboard was a card from a victim thanking me after the conviction of the suspect in the case. That was a nice gesture which tugged at the feelers.

Some things can spark a story.

My gear bag seemed to have endless possibilities of hidden compartments. In another pocket I found a picture of Jake.

Jake was my sergeant’s retired police K9. I volunteered to take him on in my household since he did not blend well with the Sarge’s new dog. Jake fit in perfect from the start, always greeting me when I got home at 0400. We were buddies. Where I went, so did he.

Gear Bag

Photo: Jake, Casper Police Department K9

My daughter adored him.  He soon became her jungle gym and best friend. She took it upon herself to care for him, feed him, and let him out to potty. But he was still faithful to me when I came home from a long night shift.  We had our  special decompression time and recollection of the days events.

The first few days after his introduction, awakened an all new nine year old.  One day after taking out two bags of clothing donations and garbage from her room my daughter proclaimed, “Mom, I’m sweating fire. I have to have a clean room, so Jake doesn’t get lost.”

She knew he had arthritis and seriously, she knew he would get lost in that disaster. He had come to love the feather comforter on my bed and the rug by the fireplace. Jake was a dog after my own heart.

However, he had quickly developed my old police veteran view of “the chase.” In subzero weather, he would often chase rabbits. He would sprint about 20 feet, turn around, and come back. He slept for an hour. I felt his pain. We had to somehow figure out a better way how to chase bunnies. I suppose it would be inhumane to chase rabbits in a car with him hanging out the window.

We both truly knew the thrill of the hunt and relished in it. But, to know when the chase was futile was only known to me. He seemed to disregard that notion.

A few days later, the bunnies got the best of Jake. My daughter let him out to relieve himself. After he did his duty, he found a cottontail too irresistible. Unfortunately, he did not call off his pursuit before he hit the frozen river. A short distance from the bank, he fell through the ice into the deep water and was taken underneath the frozen crust downstream. We never did see him resurface.

My child, of course, was hysterical. She took the weight of the world upon her because she had let him outside. It does not matter how many times you tell your little girl it was not her fault. Nothing makes it better for either of you.

On top of this tragedy, I had to go to work and face telling my sergeant the news. I had donned my uniform, gun belt, and headed to town. On the way, I called to notify him of Jake’s demise. I was pretty sure a ton of bricks had hit me in the guts.

He was sad, but so gracious. He had said, “At least Jake went out with his boots on. It’s ok. It’s not your fault. He was doing what he loved to do.”

During a slow part of the night, I drove my patrol car into the basement and sneaked into the back hallway of the police department, where they kept Jake’s trophies, photos, and newspaper clippings. Not that I didn’t have access to go there, I just did not want anyone to see me cry. Jake was a hero to our department for many years and to my little girl for just a short time.

The guilt of letting so many down added to the sorrow. There are not many words which could describe the sadness of that day and the few after when I would return home from shift without my regular greeting from Jake.

Your gear bag is your office briefcase.

It did not take much reflecting to bring it all back again. But, it was OK to stroll through the reminiscences. I have missed those times even though some were painful.

Most of the articles I uncovered made me giggle. Why had I put off cleaning it out? The procrastination was a mystery. I cringed at the thought if someone else had gone through my equipment. There would have been many judging moments over the condition of that gear bag. Images of turned up noses and lots of “What the’s?” would probably top the list.

What does your duty bag say about you? Maybe you should go through it. You might find a treasure.