Every police officer I know, at one time or another has been asked by someone if the violence and the suffering we see everyday bothers us. Without question, the constant exposure to tragedy and man’s inhumanity to man does, to a certain extent, change us in the way that we perceive things. I doubt that if it didn’t, we could long last in this profession. None-the-less, some things that happen leave a long-lasting impression. I have often referred to it as a scar upon our soul. For me, one such incident occurred some 32 years ago when I was a very young detective.
As I recall, it was the day before Thanksgiving and the weather was nearly identical to what it is today – cool almost cold, damp and foggy. I was getting ready to meet my wife and head out the next day to my in-law’s house in Phillipsburg, Kansas to celebrate Thanksgiving. We had a two and a half year old son at the time and I knew that his grandparents were eager to see him. About two o’clock in the afternoon, we received a call from the Detectives Division of a child fatality; a possible drowning in the bathtub. Detectives are called to investigate these incidents and as you will see, for good reason. When I got to the hospital, I was led by the five or six seasoned and hardened police officers in the Emergency Room, each with tears in their eyes as they somewhat stood guard over the limp body of this little two and half year old. It was apparent that these otherwise stoic individuals were deeply moved by the tragic death of a little girl they had never known. I was taken aback by the bruising on the child’s body, some of which was apparently recent and some of which was several weeks old. When we questioned the mother’s boyfriend, he stated that he had put her in the bathtub to give her a bath before her mother came home and that the little girl had drowned while in the tub. I knew based on my own son who was of the same age, that he would jump in and out of the bathtub with relative ease. This story just did not make sense. The cause of her death was obvious. Our investigation revealed that she had not drowned but was instead the victim of abuse at the hands of the boyfriend. Of course, there is a lot more to this story and the details would horrify any parent, but the point of my discussion centers around the perils of this occupation. For you see, I cannot recall a single Thanksgiving since that day that I have not thought of the tragedy that occurred to a little blonde hair, blue-eyed girl who I never really knew, but who left a lasting impression on me.
When we celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, I would ask that we consider two very important things: 1) To be thankful that we are able to hold close those persons in our lives that we love and cherish as this is a true gift; 2) To be thankful for the men and women of our police departments who deal with tragedy, violence and abuse on a daily basis and deal with it effectively and compassionately; doing so without losing sight of their own humanity.