There will come a time in every young officer's blossoming career when the realities of life will land on her doorstep. If you haven't heard it, listen to the old Country Western song by Porter Wagoner, called "Cold Hard Facts of Life."
Neither the academy, the field-training process, nor your prior life experiences will be able to prepare you for the dark side of life. You must realize that your path in Copland will never be bright and sunny.
The cruelty of man toward his fellow man never ceases to amaze me, after 30 years in the business. How and what some do to others is sad, senseless, and boggles my mind at times. You may think you have a handle on life and how you'll react, but there will be a crossroads. It could be a child victim of abuse, the devastation of drugs, a senseless accident, or a tale of victimization. You can't let this impede your response to helping or solving the crime. You've got to deal with it and drive on with a grip on reality.
Two viewpoints on this come from two distinct people. Years ago, I had a veteran patrol sergeant that had a phrase he'd repeat to himself in dire moments. He'd say to himself, "It don't mean nothing."
Once we had an investigation of human cruelty that shook the most rock solid of cops, and he'd retort with his saying. I later asked him what it meant. He learned it as an infantryman grunt in Vietnam. When he witnessed a brother grunt killed or maimed by hostile fire, he repeated this as a coping mechanism. It was not to lessen their loss or the lives of others; it was a coping skill.
I fully understood him, because we can't let our emotions get in the way of our performance.
A contrasting viewpoint came from my dear friend and police chaplain the Rev. Patrick O'Brien. One afternoon we were having a pleasant conversation. I asked about the stress of police officers on police chaplains.
In his Irish brogue and perennial smile he told me the following — it's our job to help the weak, infirm, and oppressed. Our duty is to seek and take the perpetrators to justice. We can't let emotions or feelings misguide our actions. We will receive strength, be cared for, and be rewarded for our proper actions.
This is sage advice for anyone. It's from these two men that I have often had to repeat their experiences to explain the inhumanity of life to young officers. When you took this job, nobody promised you pleasant days with the birds singing and the sun shining brightly.
There will be plenty of days of disgust and horror. You must learn to cope. Take my crusty old veteran sergeant's advice or take my chaplain's advice. It's a honor to serve mankind. When evil shows its face, it makes you appreciate your better days, the days to come, and your loved ones.