What Really Matters?

Police training and equipment has only gotten better over the years, and for the most part we can prepare ourselves for what this job is going to throw at us. The man with a knife may be a surprise, but if we've trained for it we will have a response that should reduce our risk of being stabbed or killed. The unknown trouble, the 911 hang-up, the violent domestic, the high-speed pursuit--we can prepare ourselves in terms of our skills and our attitudes. But how do you prepare for the time when you accidentally kill one of your own? I don't know how to answer that question, and I desperately want to answer that question because it's happened again, and this time it was someone I knew.

I know Minneapolis isn't the only place this kind of tragedy has happened this year, or in previous years. Law enforcement nationwide has seen far too many accidental deaths in the last few months; the majority of them involving motor vehicles. Mark Bedard's death was no exception.

Mark was one of my recruits. I say that with a sense of pride. As the supervisor of the Minneapolis Academy I was proud of the way the staff (my partners in this endeavor) prepared the recruits for the street with a big dose of officer survival training moderated by some sense of their limitations. He wasn't the first of my recruits to be killed in the line of duty, but this one was different because Mark was run over by another Minneapolis Police officer who was responding to help him. An accident for sure, but in many ways that makes it worse.

There is nothing we can do for Mark at this point. He's in the hands of his God, and knowing Mark, I'm sure he's in a better place. There is something we can do for each other. First of all we can say a prayer for the officers that were in the car that struck Mark. I'm not a religious man. When I do go in a church I look for the lightning to strike, but I do on occasion say a prayer and those officers need our prayers; because on any given night--that could have been us behind the wheel. Most of us drive too fast and it's only luck that we get away with it.

We are supposed to take care of each other so that we all go home at night. I know it's not possible, but that's never stopped me from trying before, and I know lots of Minneapolis cops that think the word impossible is spelled "I'm Possible." These are the same cops who have never used the words "quit" or "give up" unless they are yelling a command.

Mark was one of those cops. He never quit. He fought till the end. He was a wonderful man. He was a great big teddy bear of a guy with an infectious smile and a gentle touch, and he's gone. And he leaves behind a young widow and a two year old son who also need our prayers and support as they try to make sense out of this senseless tragedy.

None of us will get out of this life alive, and maybe I'm getting old in my way of thinking. Thirty years ago I was willing to take incredible risks that I wouldn't even consider now. Maybe it's because I have children, and grandchildren, that I take more time to hold them and tell them I love them. I never end a conversation with family anymore without saying "I love you" because I realize now, more than ever, that I may not get to say that to them again. They matter to me in ways I can't express.

Look at the officers killed in the last few months; many of them were responding to calls at high speed. Where is our indignation at the senseless loss of life? Where is the partner that says "Slow down. I want to go home tonight"? What's really important in your life? Do you take unnecessary risks with your life, and the lives of other cops in the name of policing? I'm not asking you to give up the courageous acts and I realize that us old guys need the young blood of enthusiasm to keep reminding us of why we took this job in the first place. I'm just asking you to take a minute to think about what's really important. That squad car is a deadly weapon and we are killing ourselves with it just as effectively as a nine millimeter round from our own weapon. And like the accidental discharge from our handgun, it's preventable, and it needs to stop.

Like I said earlier, none of us will get out of this alive. What are you doing in your off time? Are you watching your kids play sports, maybe even coaching, or are you working three part-time jobs so can afford that new boat or oversized SUV? Do you think your kids are going to remember what a great boat you had, or will they remember spending time with you? Are you spending time with your spouse or life partner, or are you partying with your work partners? Until someone proves otherwise, I have to believe we only get one shot at this, no pun intended. Take time for the things that really matter.