Growing up I went with my parents to a lot of funerals and wakes. Great aunts and uncles, family friends, you name it, there was always a wake or funeral to go to. I would shuffle up front at my parent’s side and always feel so uncomfortable. I never knew what to say to the grieving family but I was always amazed that my father knew exactly what to say. His words to the family were comforting. I got the impression that when he walked away the family was better for what he had just said to them.
I never knew how he did that. My mother seemed to be good but not anywhere as comfortable at it as my father was. Once I became a police officer, I started to realize just how my father got so good at what he did at wakes and funeral. It was certainly not a natural talent that he had inherited. It was a skill he had developed. He developed it because he went to so many wakes and funeral as a police officer. If it wasn’t a police officer or retired police officer it was a member of a police family. Practice, practice and more practice.
With as many officers as the Chicago Police Department has, there are a lot of wakes and funerals to go to. When you approach 30 years on the job you could go to a wake almost every other night. By that time you have been at these wakes as member of the immediate family and as member of the police family. That is what we are at those times, family. We come together to grieve together and to support each other.
I don’t know if places other than Chicago do the same thing but here we have what is known as a St. Jude memorial service. A department chaplain leads a prayer service at the wake. All police officers, active or retired are invited to come up to the front around the casket. The chaplain says a few prayers and adds a few words. Then all the sworn officers pass by the casket and then file past the family to offer their condolences. It doesn’t take long and it really can’t because there are usually a lot of on duty officers in uniform who need to get back out on the street. You see old retired officers with walkers in line. You see young new rookies who may never have met the deceased or family but his or her partner dragged them along. The rookie is learning the importance of the St. Jude Memorial.
The St. Jude service does two things. First it lets the family of the deceased know that we care. It lets them know that they are important to us. I have heard people at wakes who had never seen a St. Jude service talk about it. They are very impressed and very appreciative. I have been part of the grieving family and know how the support of my fellow officers made me feel when my father and mother passed away. I know how it made my in-laws feel when my father in-law, a retired sergeant, passed away. I know how it made my sons feel when both of their grandfathers were honored by this outpouring of sympathy and respect from police officers.
I also know how it makes me feel to be an officer attending the service. It allows me a chance to pay my respects to a fellow officer or to honor a senior officer or to quietly thank a boss who was good to me at some time.
More importantly it allows all of us to realize just why we really do what we do. We get up out of our warm beds and suit up to go to work in some of the most miserable wicked weather. We miss out on birthday parties and family get togethers. We put up with insults and threats and physical harm. We do this to protect our families. We do this by trying to make our communities a better place to live in. We do this by racing into calls of shots fired. We do this by doing the dirty work that no one else wants to do but needs to be done.
Even though we may not work in our home neighborhood we know that if we do not do our job, the crime we fight will spread and endanger our families. If we do not do our job then we will be going to even more funerals and wakes. We do not need that much practice.
This morning when I sat at my desk and checked my computer I saw that a Florida Corrections officer has been stabbed to death. I scroll down Law Enforcement Today’s Facebook Fan page and see where several other officers have died or been killed over the last few weeks. I turn on the radio and hear that a 47-year-old Chicago Police officer from the 004th District Tactical team was shot last night when he and his partner went to stop a couple young guys for curfew violations. He had just gotten out of surgery and was in critical condition. Details are still sketchy; the bullet missed his vest and logged in his neck along his spine. He had lost a lot of blood and is in critical condition. People around the operations floor are wondering if they know him. We are all praying he pulls through.
Yeah, I now know how my father got so good at saying the right things at wakes. Over the course of his lifetime I wouldn’t venture to guess how many hundreds of wakes he had attended. I cannot imagine how many St. Jude services he had been part of. I really hope that I never get that good.
Lt. Robert Weisskopf is a 30-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. Lt. Weisskopf comes from a law enforcement family, including two uncles, a nephew, and his father. Weisskopf wears his father’s lieutenant’s star. Lt. Weisskopf is a graduate of Lewis University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently serves as commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department’s Alternate Response Section, which has approximately 200 officers, a unit bigger than most police departments in the United States.
During his decade-long tenure, the unit has increased officer response from handling three calls per day to 8 calls an hour. He has been a patrol officer, a district rapid response sergeant, and a watch commander in the 17th District. He spent a year detailed to HUD performing public housing narcotics investigations.
Weisskopf is an expert in collaborative leadership and informally mentoring younger officers. He enjoys the constant challenge of policing and problem solving. He just finished a five-year term as President of the Chicago Police Lieutenants Association, the collective bargaining organization for the Chicago Police Department’s lieutenants and was chief negotiator of the current contract.