COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER
Under the gun and behind the badge,
there’s a heart and a soul and a mind
and a fear that it’s clear everything he holds dear
disappears in the tunnel of time.
You look in his eyes, but you don’t know they cry
for all of the horrors they see every day.
You might see him fight, but he prays every night
for the wisdom and courage to choose the right way.
You may think he’s bad, but you’ve never had
to make the split-second decisions he makes.
You think he doesn’t care, but you haven’t been there
and you have no idea of the toll that it takes.
Under the gun and behind the badge,DLS ©1992
there’s a person a whole lot like you,
who loves and who tries, who lives and who dies,
and who’s doing the best he can do
to stand between those who would hurt you and you.
It’s been twenty-five years since I wore a police uniform and badge — although I still have my shiny gold sergeant’s badge and patches from those uniforms proudly displayed in a shadowbox in my office.
There are times when I look back and miss some aspects of being a cop. I miss the adrenaline rush when you get a hot call. I miss the “good kind of tired” that you feel after a long, hard day or night. I miss the camaraderie with colleagues, the bond between people who entrust each other with their lives every time they work a shift together.
Most of all, I miss the part of it that I did best: training new recruits. Taking raw “embryo cops” who entered the academy with hopes and dreams — some of them realistic and some not — and watching them grow in confidence and knowledge of the law and how it should (and shouldn’t) be enforced, and seeing them go out into the world and go to work for law enforcement agencies and put into practice what I had taught them.
Even now, out of “the job” for a quarter of a century, I am so proud of so many of those to whom I handed their certificates of graduation from the academy. Many have retired with honor after decades of service. Many are still serving. Some went on to rise up the career ladder and became lieutenants, captains, and chiefs of police.
Quite a few did as I did and moved on to other careers at some point. Some of the best cops I knew left for whatever reasons and are now in private security, private investigation, IT, and other related fields. Some are attorneys; one is a judge. Some ran for elected office — and won. Some pursued creative paths: music, writing, art.
Whether they wore the badge for a lifetime or only a few years, I love hearing from most of them. Many who discovered law enforcement wasn’t for them have told me that nonetheless, the skills they learned and the mindset they developed in the academy have enhanced their lives. I wrote this, a long time ago, for them:
They see a uniform, colored dark blue,
and a badge, but they don’t know what it means to you.
You’re young and you’re strong and you’re handsome and tall;
You’re a cop, and that’s a lot — but that’s not all
There’s a human heart beneath the steel plate in your vest,DLS ©1992
and there’s a man doing all he can to do his very best.
You’re somebody’s brother and somebody’s son, and somebody loves you a lot,
and somebody’s proud now of what you’ve become:
a damn good cop.
You stand up tall and you answer the call,
and you never let them see you cry.
You never show us your pain or your fear,
but they’re there, in the depth of your eyes.
And they don’t have to care, but they’d best never dare
say a bad word about you to me.
You do something they wouldn’t know how to do
and you’re someone they don’t have the courage to be.
You’re somebody’s hero and nobody’s fool,
and I care about you a lot,
and the people who matter respect what you do,
what you are: a damned good cop.
What I don’t love is the occasional news that one of them didn’t follow the principles that I tried to instill in them, the duty to uphold the constitution and the rights of all their fellow citizens to which they swore allegiance. I’ve had the terrible experience of hearing that a former student or fellow instructor or someone I worked with has been fired or even arrested for misconduct.
The other news that I don’t love is that one of those guys (or girls, but there weren’t many of them back then) has not just left law enforcement but has left this life. A few died in the line of duty, but more were victims of some of the byproducts of a job full of stress: heart attacks, strokes, alcohol-related illnesses, motor vehicle accidents, suicides, even domestic violence.
I’ve been to too many police funerals. I don’t want to go to any more anytime soon. But what’s going on in the world today makes me think I may not get that wish.
I am afraid for all of you who are still wearing the badge, in this tumultuous time. I know how good and caring most of you are. I know how hard you work, and how little appreciation you get. I know why you keep on doing it despite the lousy hours, the low pay, and the lack of support from the citizens you serve, the administration you work for, and sometimes even your own family and friends.
I know how difficult it is for your loved ones to say goodbye to you as you begin your shift each day, never knowing for sure whether you’ll come home when it’s over. I know how it feels to wear the black band across the badge in honor of another fallen officer and wonder if tomorrow it will be you.
I know how high the standards are that you’re held to. I know how frustrating it is to be judged by people who have all the time in the world to dissect the decisions you had to make in a split second — when the consequences of making the wrong one could result in your death or that of some innocent person.
I know how damaging it is to always try to leave your work at the station, to never talk about the horrors you’ve seen to your spouse or parents or children, to shield them from that ugly side of humanity with which you have to deal every day.
I know how much it hurts to never be able to let your emotions show, even with those who care, and how sometimes at night when you’re all alone and sure nobody can see, you let a silent tear trickle down your face. I know why you lie awake, toss and turn, even when you’re exhausted after a long, hard day – or night – on the job. I know why sometimes you drink more than you should.
And I know how it feels when a fellow officer crosses the line and brings shame and pain on every man and woman who puts on the uniform. I know how it feels when good cops get the blame for the mistakes, poor judgment, or deliberate brutality of bad cops.
I know how it feels to see that sudden flash of pure hatred on the face of a stranger on the street, not because of who you are but because of what you are and what you do for a living – even though he has no clue what’s in your head and in your heart. I know how it feels to be afraid, not for yourself but for your family, and to wonder if continuing to do the work you felt called to do is putting them in danger.
I know how it feels to feel some of the things that you feel. But I don’t know how it feels to be in the middle of a huge crowd of furious people intent on hurting me. I don’t know how it feels to be trying to keep the peace while dodging Molotov cocktails. I don’t know how it feels to be overpowered and beaten by an out-of-control mob. I don’t know how it feels to watch your police car go up in flames. I don’t know how it feels to have your superiors tell you not to arrest the people who are burning down the city you are sworn to protect and injuring the innocent business owners and random stranger you are sworn to serve.
I know what it feels like to be a cop. But I don’t know what it feels like to be a cop today, in this world that’s gone crazy. I can’t even imagine the courage, the dedication, the integrity, the self-control that it takes to walk that thin blue line and continue to uphold the oath that you took in the face of so much hatred and violence.
To all the good cops who are out there in the trenches today and every day, thank you for what you do. Thank you for putting your life on the line to protect even those who would spit in your face and defame your name.
“And I will remind the many now, if ill of you they speak, that you are all that stands between the monsters and the weak.”