Cops and ex-cops have past experiences that you just cannot find in other professions. These experiences are called “war stories.” If you ever have an hour to kill, walk up to an ex-cop and ask him a question on any subject and he will have a corresponding war story.
I have been punched in the face, spit on, puked on, almost hit by an 18 wheeler, chased around a junk-yard by an ax-wielding lunatic and bit….and that was just in one winter. I wore the badge for 8 years so I have a wealth of stories at my disposal. A close friend appreciated the blog I wrote on being bitten by the prostitute and requested another. I think he takes evil pleasure in picturing me in these unusual circumstances, so distant in time and place from the person I am today.
It was about 7pm, it was hot, it was August. The kind of heat you feel steaming off the streets after a rare summer shower in Texas. I had a new hire in the patrol car, riding shotgun, about one week out of the police academy. I was his field training officer and he would ride with me for a six week final training period. We will call him Hal for the purpose of this blog. We were working on officer safety during traffic stops.
It is cliche, but it is on point. Police work could often be 5 hours of boredom, followed by 5 minutes of sheer terror or whatever is on the other end of that 911 call. Don’t look around for help, you are the help. No time to ponder your actions, …just move your ass and go do what they pay you for…notice I didn’t say “big bucks.” This was before the internet, Starbucks, and Lindsey Lohan. Police officers made very little money, we did it to serve the community. Some did it to be John Wayne, but I truly did it to serve people….to protect and serve.
I grew up watching Ponch and John patrol California Highways and Rampart calling Engine 51 about the next fire. All emergencies were settled in one hour or less, including commercials, then you went back to the station to goof around with your buddies. Count me in!
But I digress, back to the rookie. So there we were driving down the road talking about spotlight positioning and command presence on traffic stops when the dispatcher called out my number. 221?
221 here, go ahead. Proceed to 118 Elm (not real address), code 3, woman screaming…all I can get out of her is “my baby, my baby!”
Hal was a country boy, married with 3 kids. I tell you this because men with kids have a harder time with calls like this than those without them. They put themselves in the position of the caller and sometimes lose professionalism….they lose the distance that cops have to have in place in order to take care of things…when the shit hits the fan.
I flipped on the overheads and siren and hung a U-turn to head towards the call location. I began talking to Hal and getting him prepared for what I thought we were about to see.
I had been to calls before with screaming moms, with similar outcries and they had involved crib deaths, SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). I was talking Hal through what I expected him to do upon arrival at this house. We began discussing CPR procedure on infants.
I could see him tightening up in his demeanor and his breaths were coming quick. Deep breath Hal, we are going to do whatever it is we need to do…and we are going to start doing it in about 2 minutes.
I pulled into the cul de sac, parked and we ran for the front door. The ambulance was enroute, but about 5 minutes behind us. The door was open and the mother was standing in the middle of the living room screaming. “My baby, my baby!!” I asked her where her baby was and all she did was point up the staircase. I didn’t break stride, running up the stairs with the rookie right behind me.
At the top of the stairs I looked right and saw an empty bathroom. I turned left quickly. I ran right into a teenage girl. Her eyes were half way open, her mouth had a white foam seeping out. The girl was suspended from the top of a closet door jam by a rolled up bed sheet. She was sixteen years old, on the high school volleyball team, and she had killed herself 6 hours earlier.
The rookie handled it that night pretty well. It was a tough call for his first dead body. Dealing with cases like this is not like you see on CSI the TV show. The reality is you request the medical examiner and you work the scene. And you wait…the examiner’s office is usually busy,… you have to secure the scene until the person is declared dead and the body is removed.
The rookie spent 2 hours standing in the same room with the suspended body. He did everything that was asked of him and wrote a superior report and schematic of the crime scene.
I spent my time between him and the mother until her pastor was called and neighbors arrived to help. The father arrived home to a horrific site. I told him his daughter was dead. No matter how many times I advised people of a loved-one’s death, it was never easy…shouldn’t be easy.
Why did she do it? Whatever I tell you won’t be good enough, so we will skip this part of the story. That is not the point really anyway. Dead is dead, gone is gone….forever, like they say, is a mighty long time.
The point I am trying to make is all about perception. That woman’s “baby” died. My “rookie” handled a tragic situation admirably. And “war stories” are not just an old cop’s way of shooting the bull…they are sometimes graphic reminders of what it was like to protect and serve.