Why are you still a Cop?

After a far too short night’s sleep, you pull yourself out of bed. There’s enough time to jump in the shower and put on your uniform. The family is sitting at the kitchen table having spaghetti with your favorite garlic bread. Your seat is empty, not even a place setting to mark your existence.

You grab your thermos of coffee that your spouse thoughtfully prepared for you even though she had her hands full with her job, the kids, making them dinner, and doing a little shopping. You tell everyone to be good and that you love them. Working around the table you kiss each of the kids on the head and your wife gives you a better kiss while she feeds the baby. Within seconds you’re out the door and off to work a twelve-hour shift.

You tune the radio to the news to get the weather. You want to be prepared for whatever hits you tonight. Fifty percent chance of rain. The news continues with a story about a demonstration today by the school teacher’s union. Several of the speakers accuse police officers of being racist pigs killing their students. You change stations to some music.

You get to the station with enough time to rush to your locker and dress for battle. You don your duty rig with your sidearm, Kevlar vest, hat, gloves, and duty bag. In the roll call room, they’re beginning to line up for roll call. You drop your bag at a desk and fall in while zipping up your jacket and making sure your hat is on square. After roll call, you go to your squad car where your partner is waiting with a comment on your running late tonight.

Your first call that night is a disturbance with the teen at a convenience store. One eighteen-year-old male is out front slamming the ice cooler with a bat. The store employee sticks his head out of the door and tells you the kid is trying to get free ice. He agrees to sign a complaint so you and your partner approach the kid with the bat. The Louisville slugger can be a deadly weapon and you know it. If nothing else, it will break your forearm if you defend yourself against a blow. Tonight, the kid is willing to listen to reason when he sees you and your partner each have your Tasers aimed at him. He drops the bat and you place him in custody. A crowd of onlookers has gathered. They shout insults from the safety of the crowd; insults that would embarrass and insult any civilian.

You take it all in stride because that is the way things are now. You wonder how you looked on the videos taken by the four phones filming the arrest. You had your uniform hat on, so you know the department won’t gig you for that. The ride to the station with the prisoner isn’t quiet. From the back seat, the guy shouts more obscenities at you. This is nothing new. You ignore it and wonder how one four-letter word could be a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb all at one time.

Your night continues like this. Around midnight you get a few moments of peace. You break out the thermos for a cup. Your partner does too. His wife packed him two pieces of cheesecake she made so you each have a snack. Moments after you’re done the radio flairs up again and you’re off on another assignment. A domestic disturbance this time.

All night is like this. Job after job. Dealing with those that life has taken a dump on and those that chose the life. Insults at every turn from the citizens you protect. Your tour can’t end soon enough. In the morning you go to court. Misdemeanor branch. It can be a cattle call with hundreds jammed into a courtroom. You sign in and join the other officers in the jury box. Looking around the room you see some familiar faces. Local gangbangers, drug dealers, prostitutes, and junkies.

The judge is late this morning, so the call runs late. You finally sign out at 11:30 a.m. You should take the car for a grease and oil, but the Jiffy Lube is crowded so you go home. The house is empty. Kids are at school or daycare. Your wife is at work. You work tonight at six, so you kick off your uniform and try to sleep. It is slow to come. You’re overtired but still, have an elevated level of adrenaline. You drift off knowing you will repeat everything this evening.

Why would any sane person live like this? The family sees you for twenty minutes while you run around getting ready for work. You never get a good night’s sleep except on your days off. Your days off are spent trying to get things done around the house and spend time with the kids. In the end, something gets neglected.

If you come from a police family, you grew up with quick glances of your father as he got ready for work. Your mother managed the house by herself for the most part. If you didn’t you were warned in the academy and by your FTO.

Now you are beginning your tenth year. You sewed your second five-year bar on your uniform jacket last month. You love what you’re doing. I was there and couldn’t imagine anything else. The kick from a chase or building search. The satisfaction of finally catching that corner coke dealer with his product on him. Finding a lost child and bringing him home to his mother. It can be better than a free trip to Disney World.

Ninety-nine percent of the time you deal with nothing but the worst society has to offer. You know you make a difference for those good people who live in the district you work. Those that slept while you worked. You know them, you see them leaving for work in the morning when you are getting off your tour. You seldom see these people because your paths don’t often cross. But then something happens.

Here in Chicago, a district commander was shot down while trying to stop a man in a Kevlar vest. When the funeral procession left the church for the cemetery people lined the streets. Most of them, civilians who stepped outside their homes and places of employment for a moment. To show their respect for the fallen officer. Many wore something blue. Some men lining the street stood at attention and saluted as the procession went by. Others simply stood in silence. Many shed a tear.

Knowing there are some people out there who need you is the reason you do what you do. Deep down inside that big macho exterior is a good person who really wants to make a difference. There is that person who would never admit to being so corny but believes in serve and protect.

To paraphrase the saying, there are good people out there that sleep safely at night because there are people like you working to keep them safe.

You will hear many people shouting insults. Ignore them and know that the people who matter are safe because of you.

Thank you.

Run low and zigzag,

– Robert Weisskopf