Over the last three years, I’ve told you countless stories about my job. Â To date, 2011 has seen line of duty deaths increase by 6% at 75 compared to the same period in time as 2010. Â That is a disturbing statistic. Â When I interviewed Gordon Graham a few weeks ago, he ended our interview thanking paramedics. Â Why? Â Because line of duty deaths were staggering when he started his career and have steadily declined since, thanks in large part to the emergence of paramedicine. Â The scary thing is deaths are on the rise once again. Â If we’re not able to be saved, why do we risk it? Â Who in their right mind would do this often thankless and possibly deadly job?
Every now and again, I need to remember why. Â I figured I’d share.
Fifteen years ago, I was a dispatcher with a Southern California agency. Â It was a small department on a college campus. Â Dispatching back then involved a lot of different hats. Â At any given time, there was only one of us. Â There were times when I would be dispatching an officer, running out a subject, answering 911, and handling the front counter. Â All at the same time. Â When I was asked during the interview process for my current gig, I was asked how I was at multi-tasking. Â I was able to answer without laughing. Â Barely. Â If you’re an officer and have any sense, you will treat your dispatchers with the deference and respect they deserve.
At any rate, I was working graveyard one night when 911 rang. Â As any dispatcher will tell you, nine times out of ten, 911 is some idiot asking about the weather or what time it is. Â At least that’s what it felt like to me. Â This time was different:
Pre-MC: 911, what is your emergency?
Lady: Garble, garble, garble…he…garble…tried to rape me…garble garble.
Adrenaline surged and focus became laser-like. Â When you call 911 from a land line, your location appears on a screen in front of the dispatcher. Â I already had units en route to her before I asked:
Pre-MC: Where are you?
Lady: Near the beach in front of some building.
Pre-MC: Where is he.
Lady: Up the road.
Pre-MC: Which direction? Â Is he in a car?
Lady: Away from the water. Â He’s in a white Toyota truck. Â I took the keys. Â He’s passed out.
Pre-MC (to units): Be advised, suspect is in a white Toyota pickup east of vic’s location.
I went on to get more info that I won’t bore you with; however, I had my units with her inside of 60 seconds of receiving the call and other units pulling the suspect (wearing nothing but his socks, by the way) out of his car. Â I presume it was by his hair and they were none to polite.
I stayed on to burn a copy of the dispatch tapes and help out where I could. Â A dispatcher never (or at least seldom) has the opportunity to interact with victims. Â Our little PD, however, offered me a rare look into the face of gratitude. Â I was walking down the hall when the investigating officer came out of the interview room. Â She asked me if I could sit with the victim for a minute while she made some copies. Â I quickly agreed.
The officer walked me into the room and introduced me as the dispatcher she had spoken with at the outset of the call.
Lady (beside herself): Thank you so much!
Pre-MC: Ma’am, I didn’t do anything. Â You were the one that picked up the phone. Â You did a great job.
When I am asked why I became a police officer, I have two honest, but equally valid, answers. Â First, I truly love being able to help people. Â When that lady called? Â At that particular moment in time? Â I felt like I was the only one on the planet that could have helped her. Â And I did. Â I wanted to do that for more than simply one person. Â I wanted to do more than answer the phone. Â I wanted to be the one doing the cuffing. Â Second, the rush was sick. Â Truly. Â It wasn’t just the adrenaline (although that was a huge part), it was the focused intensity. Â All the extraneous bullshit of the rest of my night went away with an audible *crack*. Â I have seldom felt so intensely driven and focused. Â I wanted more.
So, I have both a selfish and self-less answer for why I became a cop. Â Most days in law enforcement are boring, but they all have the potential to explode in a moment’s notice. Â Hell, if you get notice, you’re lucky.
I started this post with some scary statistics and the question of why anyone would put up with the rather large amount of crap that police put up with. Â Perhaps I just needed to remind myself why I do it. Â It’s a surprisingly clichÃ© answer.
“To Protect and Serve”. Â Seems there’s a reason you find that phrase on so many patrol cars.
What about you? Â Why do you do what you do?