I have been all over the public safety employment world looking for what could further my art habit and maybe help pay the bills too. I figured out long ago that there was no security in art and my last name was not Rockwell. The start for me was as a dispatcher for the San Rafael Fire Department, then as an ambulance driver for a private company, a Coroner’s intern in Marin County and a Deputy Driver for the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office. I’d like to say I have seen all sides of this business literally, from birth to death.
I am one of a distinguished list of men and woman who can actually say that I literally worked the graveyard shift. While the Coroner jobs were unbelievably interesting and provided me with a unique perspective, and personal growth, I learned something about myself. I learned that “the big tough guy” I tried to be all these years, was defeated by way too many incidents involving children.
Some officers have safety valves and filters to help us through very difficult calls, and it’s usually never really a problem when the adrenaline is going and you are deep into the call, it’s the stuff that happens after the call, when you’re alone, that will “get you” if you don’t have a good support mechanism.
I am grateful that after all of these years, I never lost the grace to understand that tragedy is supposed to bother you. Its grounding. Guys like Officer (Doc) Joel Fay, our families, friends and our Chaplains help us navigate through the days when you don’t want to come to work.
Our department has a peer support team that keeps an eye on our people and they help plug in and offer resources or just a cup of coffee when we need it. Life can be hard enough sometimes without the complications or distractions from the job. Like many people, we also have off-duty issues, like providing for your family, helping our kids with their school or sports while keeping some of the horrible stories and images far away from them. Its funny, one day a pal asked me what I was going to do when I retired. I didn’t even think about it, and I responded “Something normal, like working at a winery.”
Our little microcosm of police work way too often is tossed upside down or shaken, kind of like a snow globe. When an officer is killed in the line of duty, or when and officer is accused of committing a crime, it is devastating to the entire law enforcement community. A death like the horrible events that lead to the death of the Oakland Officers is, not something that happens everyday. We train for it, but no matter how hard you train, sometimes the suspect will have the upper hand and fate takes over. The impact of an officer’s death, no matter where it is- can be like a pebble in the pond, the reverberations of that loss flow from the center outward to all of us.
Think about it, our lives depend on our partners; their courage and valor drive them into danger to help out their fellow officer or citizen. We spend most of our time at work with our teams, so it only makes sense that we sometimes are hit hard by these events.
So this little uplifting blog was really designed to share the dimensions and the depth of character of our officers. Anyone could have typed this because may of us have similar experiences and feelings. TV and movie cops don’t go far enough to plug their audience into the reality of our lives. Maybe it explains why we sit in restaurants with our backs against the wall.
Stay safe. Ralph