I Wasn't A Hero

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic


I never told you why I quit being a Police Officer. Not the whole story, anyway. Not until now.

Submitted: April 24, 2018

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Submitted: April 24, 2018

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So, you want to know why I left. Why I quit being a police officer. I guess I never really told you the story, at least not the whole story. It’s not something I like to speak about. I need to.

Most of my first memories are of wanting to be a hero. At first, my heroes were superheroes like Superman and Batman, the characters I watched on Saturday morning. I wanted to be one so bad. I would, as I imagine most little boys did, tie a towel around my neck and fly around the house looking for adventure. It’s all I ever wanted. When I got a little older, I became enamored with the heroes I found in books and movies, the old heroes of myth and legend like Hercules as well as the new heroes created by the greats like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. They inspired me and drove my dreams. They helped people, did what was right, and led the way. When I reached high school, I was determined that I was going to be a hero. And to me at that time, and still, there were no greater heroes that the Police. They were real heroes, not some fantasy played out on the big screen or in a cartoon. I guess, in retrospect, the ideas I had about them still held a little fantasy, but they were real people. I decided then that I was going to be a Police Officer.

I earned a degree at the local Community College and moved on to a University. My focus, my only focus, was on Law Enforcement, though there weren’t really any Law Enforcement degrees at the time accept for an Associates in Criminal Justice. I’d earned that in my first two years. After that, I took courses that I thought would help like psychology and sociology. My Mom insisted I focus my efforts on a Business Degree “just in case”; I’m glad I listened. Still, as soon as I graduated I applied for any Police job I could find, and I was fortunate; I landed a job with a city nearby where I grew up. I became a hero in October of 1995.

I worked hard and graduated in the top 5% of my Police Academy class. Then, I worked even harder to impress my Field Training Officer. I don’t think I ever did. But, in the end I achieved my goal and was patrolling the streets. I did that for three years, served with distinction, and when a Detective position opened I was offered the job. It wasn’t high profile like homicide or anything you see in the movies. In fact, most of my time was spent working property crimes. But, we worked as a team in the Crime Investigation Department and so I took what was given. I did a decent job and I received some awards for it. I moved from being the new guy to the young guy, and then to a tenured detective. I was respected, and I loved what I did. I didn’t see myself as a hero though. At that point, I was just a guy doing his job and I was ok with that. The best part, what I miss the most, was the feeling I had at the end of each day. If you’ve ever worked in the field, you know what I’m talking about. I had done something worthwhile…I felt that way every day. I haven’t felt like that since I left the department; I haven’t made a difference. No other job would ever make me feel like I truly contributed again, not like that.

I was into my ninth year with the department, nine years of dedicated service helping people. I’ll never forget the night that changed. It was May 3, 2004. I had just closed a case in record time. I’d had help from a couple of uniforms and had been able to recover $8700 in stolen computer equipment from a local business. It had been a 19-hour day, but I’d closed it within fifteen hours of the case landing on my desk. I was beat, but I was flying high. I had just pointed my cruiser towards home when a B&E call came across the radio. It was near my current location and, as I said, we all worked together, so I responded. I expected there to be lights on the scene when I arrived, but I was the first to make it to the address. I wasn’t the rash young recruit I’d once been, so I resigned myself to wait for backup to arrive before going in. it was about midnight and visibility was low; I wasn’t about taking chances like that anymore. That’s when dispatch informed me that the perpetrator was believed to still be in the home…with a mother and her two daughters. They were on the line with dispatch, hiding in a closet upstairs. I pulled my firearm and headed around to the back of the house to gain entry. I didn’t have a choice; a lot could happen in that house before backup arrived.

I moved around the house slowly, my flashlight resting on my gun hand showing the way. The back yard was pitched in complete darkness and the lights from my cruiser didn’t reach around the side of the house. As I walked, I did a cursory check of the windows along the back; none were broken. When I came to back door, I found it to be damaged and left slightly ajar. I used the barrel of my flashlight to ease the door open the rest of the way. Over my shoulder, I could make out the familiar blue and red lights of my backup entering the neighborhood. They would be there soon.

I announced myself as I entered the door, and I made my intentions clear. I spoke with as much volume and authority as I could muster and ordered anyone in the home to come out where I could see them, hands out clearly in front of them. I repeated myself and added “NOW!”. I could hear someone moving through the house away from me; they were knocking things over and moving towards the opposite side of the house. I repeated my warning – “Stop! NOW! Come out where I can see you. Do it NOW!”. As I stepped around the corner separating the kitchen and the living room, a dark figure stepped out from behind a pantry door. He just stood there in the dark of the shadow. I instructed him to move out where I could see him. He wouldn’t move, so I tried to move around to my right to get a better look at the intruder. He was tall, about 5 inches taller than I was. He stepped out just slightly and pulled something from behind his back. I commanded him again to stop and drop whatever he had in his hands. He seemed frozen standing there for what seemed like minutes, but I know now the whole thing took only seconds from start the finish.  He moved his hand up from his side. He was definitely holding something, and it was rapidly moving into a position pointed directly at me. STOP! I pleaded with him to stop moving and to drop it. At least, I think I did. The whole thing is kind of a blur now, it was so long ago. He didn’t stop and whatever he had in his hand was out in front of him now even with my chest. I fired my weapon. Three shots, center mass, like I had been trained. He dropped. It wasn’t dramatic with eruptions of blood and screams of agony like you see in the movies. He just slumped over a bit, leaned back against the door, and slid down to the floor. For the first time, I could see my assailant fully as he rolled out of the black into the light from the hall. He was a boy, maybe 16 years old. A boy. In his hand, a controller from some game system he had wrapped up in his back pack. It was why he had broken in…for a damned video game. A boy with a toy in his hand was laying at my feet bleeding out onto the hardwood floors. I was out of breath, but I managed to send in the call. Shots fired. Ambulance needed on the scene.

Backup arrived and rushed into the house from the front and the back simultaneously. The scene was secured, and paramedics were called. We found the mom and daughter quickly and got them out of the house; they ended up at their neighbor’s house for the night while things were being sorted out. My supervisor arrived. He took my gun and my badge, as is our policy. I was placed on paid suspension pending a review of the shooting and the events that led up to it. I got a lot of “you did the right thing” and “you had no way of knowing” from my peers and my supervisors. But, did I? Was there more I could have done? I just don’t know the answers to that. Not then…not now. I was called a hero by the young mother and her family. I didn’t feel like a hero.

The review was fast; the facts were clear. I was a decorated officer and the young man had a record already for breaking and entering, robbery, and a couple of other lesser charges here and there. It was determined that I had no way of ascertaining whether the game controller was a weapon or not and had therefore acted properly in the defense of myself and the home owner. It was judged a justified shooting and I was reinstated. I guess that should have been the end of the story.

I did my required time on the couch with the department shrink. It helped, at least that’s what I told them, and I went back to work. But every night when I closed my eyes I saw that kid. He didn’t die by the way; he was very lucky the doctors told him and his parents. But, he wasn’t the same. He was never going to be the same. One of the bullets lodged in his windpipe and cut off most of the oxygen to his brain for an extended time. The result was permanent brain damage. Another bullet broke his back and damaged his spinal cord. No, he would never be the same because he had decided to steal a game system his parents couldn’t afford to buy him. He would never be the same because he was a kid and froze in fear when confronted by the policeman with a gun. Because he could only think to offer up the controller in his hand to the officer to show him he didn’t have a weapon. He would never be the same because I had shot him. I wasn’t a hero that day.

I still see his face when I close my eyes at night sometimes even now. I guess I always will. Please don’t misunderstand me, I acted correctly. I know that.  I did the proper thing and I would do it again if presented with the same scenario. That doesn’t make it any easier. Being right doesn’t always mean there is no guilt. I tried to carry on. I went through my days and I did my job. But I saw the kid’s face in every young man I arrested. I questioned my decisions routinely, even with the simplest apprehensions. I was afraid and that was dangerous.

The rest of the story, I’m pretty sure you know. I did the job for about another six months and when, on Thanksgiving Day, my brother introduced the idea of working in the private sector. He did so by sliding his most recent pay stub across the table; he’d been in the private job world for over a year now. So, I decided to leave the department and pursue another job. Another life. I’ve had a good life and been a success with several companies. I can’t complain. If I hadn’t left the department, I might have never met you… my greatest adventure. I sit around with you and the boys and I tell stories about my days as a police officer. I try my best to be a good man and I work hard to be an example to the boys and their friends. I hope that I am. I still want to be a hero.

Why am I telling you now…why like this? Partially because the dreams have returned. Mostly because I believe people need to know the truth of how hard it is to be a police officer, especially in today’s world. It breaks my heart to see our men and women in blue hunted down by the bad guys and vilified by the media. Nobody wants to go to work and kill someone. No one wants to die on the job. But it happens and what is needed when it does is understanding and empathy. On that day back in May of 2004, there was more than one victim, more than one person was affected for the rest of their life. That is what our heroes are putting on the line every time they put on the badge. I fear for them and a praise them. 

They remain my heroes.

 


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