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My last working
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My last working

My last working day with the Department will be November 17th. It has been an amazing ride. As my last day gets closer I find myself examining my career and getting a bit nostalgic. One thing about cops is that we have stories. Its one common truth about us. If you sit next to a cop you're going to hear stories. Please indulge me for a moment as I share my favorite story from my career.

Do I Make a Difference?

Law Enforcement can be frustrating. We arrest the same individuals over and over. The court system is over burdened and seams to look for the quickest was to dispose of a case, releasing the suspects almost before we can write the report. Justice seems to get lost in the process. Victims don’t cooperate in the investigations of their own offences. The courts become more and more restrictive on Officer’s ability to do their jobs. Pay is down. Crime is up. At times it feels like we are just swimming in a circle. Sometimes it makes you ask yourself, “Do I really make a difference?” I used to ask myself that question too. Several years ago something happened that made me stop asking.

I was serving as the Services Division Captain for the Department when I received a phone call. The young lady on the line identified herself as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army. She said that she was completing her Bachelor’s Degree and needed to compare and contrast some different leadership styles for one of her management classes. She asked if I would be willing to let her interview me for that class. I agreed and we set an appointment for the following week.

The day came for the interview and she showed up at the appointed time in uniform. I ushered her into my office and shut the door. The Staff Sergeant set up her recorder and got out her pad of pre-prepared questions. Then, before she started the interview she said, “You know me. We have met before, you just don’t remember. Think about it for a while and if you can’t remember I will tell you after the interview.” As you might expect, I was a little distracted during the interview as I racked my brain to remember where I knew her from. As the interview came to a close I was still at a loss for where we had met.

The Staff Sergeant turned off the recorder, stored her notes and leaned back in her chair. She asked if I had figured it out. I apologized and said I could not remember her. She said, “That’s too bad, because you changed my life.”

She said that nine years earlier I had been a Narcotics Detective for the Department and had served a search warrant on her boyfriend’s residence. She was there at the time and was taken into custody with him. She was taken to the Police Department and placed in an interview room. After some time I came into the room and asked her about the drug dealing and embezzlement I was investigating. She said I actually took a ring right off of her hand that I said was stolen property. After a while I left her alone in the interview room.

The Staff Sergeant said that about an hour later I returned to the interview room and sat down. She said, “You talked to me like you were my Dad. You told me that life was about choices and that I was making all of the wrong ones. You said that I could choose to change my life if I wanted to. You said that my boyfriend was going to prison and that if I kept on the same path I would be going too. You told me that my choices would define the person I would become and it wasn’t too late change directions.” She said that I talked to her about making a difference with her life for about a half an hour and then I released her.

The Staff Sergeant said that the next day she moved back in with her parents. For the next three weeks she was furious at me. She said she thought, “How dare him. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know anything about me.” She was sure that it was all just a mistake and that her boyfriend would be found innocent; then he pled guilty to all charges and was sentenced to a year in jail. He sent her letters from the jail asking for money and for her to wait for him. She began to think about the things I had said to her.

The Staff Sergeant said that she began to look at her life and where it was headed. She remembered me saying that her choices would determine her future and she began to examine the choices she had been making. She said she looked at what she wanted out of her life and realized that what she was doing wasn’t it. The following week she enlisted in the Army.

The Staff Sergeant said, “I have been in the Army almost nine years. I have served one tour in Iraq. I am married to a wonderful man who loves me dearly. We have a beautiful three year old daughter. I am completing my degree and I have already been accepted into Officers Candidate School. In six months I will be a Commissioned Officer in the United States Army and I intend to spend the rest of my career serving my country. I have thought about you from time to time and the things you said. I just wanted to have the opportunity to tell you that I think you saved my life that day.”

I was at a loss for words. First, because this amazing young lady was crediting me for the hard decisions and sacrifices she had made. She had saved her own life and I am still proud of her beyond description. But secondly, because I still didn’t even remember the conversation. It was just one of those hundreds of “You need to get you life right” lectures that all Police Officers give young people they encounter in these situations. Most of them fall on deaf ears, but on this day, in this situation, to this girl it was what she needed to hear to help her make a change that resulted in this young warrior. Had she not needed an interview for school I may never have known.

As Police Officers we encounter people on the worst days of their lives. What we do during that encounter impacts them. Good cops know that our job is about more than just taking the bad guys to jail. It’s about trying to make a difference for the better in the lives of others. We correct, direct, council, cajole, sympathize, empathize, and sometimes just shake our heads and shrug our shoulders in disbelief. We touch people’s lives every day and most of the time we never know when something we have done or said makes the difference that changes someone’s life, but rest assured that we do. Whenever I begin to question if what I do makes a difference, I think of that Staff Sergeant and it reminds me of the awesome responsibility and opportunity we have to affect our society for the better. I never have to question if what we do makes a difference. I know we do.

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