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Can Being a Nice Guy Get You Hurt?

Is there really such a thing as Karma?

A few days ago, I became aware of an officer from West Bloomfield, MI who made the ultimate sacrifice.

I suppose the ‘hardened’ side of me might have taken the news much like the ultimate sacrifice that is made by 150 (or so) cops each year across our Great Nation.  But, this one was different.

Hitting close to home

On Monday morning, my phone rang with calls from my former partner, members of a couple of the crews on which I’d worked over the years, students I taught at the academy and others from our Community.  The thread was common, “Did you hear about the guy fromWest Bloomfieldwho was killed overnight?”  Of course, I said, “No,” to the sad news.

In the overview, I get lots of phone calls, emails and other messages with hot, late-breaking events.   I’m known as a writer who is Hell-Bent on saving Just One Life.   I speak about it.  I travel the country and teach classes on it.  I moderate an email discussion group with hundreds of members where it is frequently the center-stage topic.

In short, when we lose someone from our esteemed group of some 700,000 cops (nationally), other cops believe that I need to know and know right now.  The truth is: I do.

The common job shared by every cop (first & foremost) is this: go home at the end of your shift.   If you think that you don’t minimally owe that to yourself (you do), you owe it to those in your life and in your world who love you; those who depend on you.   (Note: have you ever heard a sweeter, more meaningful word than, “Daddy,” when it’s spoken by your own child?  I haven’t.)

As a result of circumstances beyond their control, as of that night, there are now FIVE people (wife + 4 children) whose lives have been suddenly dismantled and shattered.  Reading the accounts of what happened in West Bloomfield on that night, Ofc. O’Rourke’s world came to a jolting end.   Sadly, O’Rourke’s story is not all that unique.

He had been sent to a house with another officer (or two) to investigate a possible family dispute.  There were reports of shots fired within the home as well.   I strongly suspect that the approach was done as carefully as O’Rourke knew how to make it.

I remember being dispatched on calls to a residence where we were told of a “suspicious person” or maybe an “unknown trouble” by dispatch.  But when the radio warned of “SHOTS FIRED” I can only expect that all of the hair on the back of O’Rourke’s neck was at full attention, along with every sensory receptor he could muster at the time.

The unofficial word: O’Rourke was shot though either a wall or a door on his approach from outside the house.   WOW!  The shooter could not even SEE O’Rourke.  How does that happen, I pondered.  The cop and the bad guy hadn’t even made contact.  No visual, no audible, NO NOTHING.   And yet, there lay O’Rourke in a puddle of his own blood.   His life had been abruptly ended by someone who had little or no reason to end it.

In the hours that followed, I mused over who (or what) had failed.  As a professional trainer, I couldn’t help but wonder if a trainer had failed him.   Was O’Rourke preoccupied with one of life’s many issues that tend to grab our attention?

You all look the same to me

There are volumes of data from studies that support the long-standing belief that it’s truly difficult for people of one racial or ethnic background to identify folks from another.  Ain’t no BS there.

Now, take a bunch of masculine guys all walking around with the same (or very similar) stances, mannerisms, demeanors and (oh yeah) uniforms and gear.  Add to the mix some moron who is holed-up in a residence with a gun.   Make that moron feel edgy and possibly have prior experience being in jail or prison, and then consider how rational his/her decisions are at that moment.

One needn’t believe in Karma or any other kind of spiritual kinship to see how things could go sideways in a hurry.

Can I get a grant to fix this?

Nope.  And, even if some-knuckled head with a pilot program and lots of cash to spend were willing to give some to you, it would almost certainly be a total waste.

It comes down to concern for the COMMON GOOD.

I’m taken back a few years when I was working as a reserve in an agency serving a Ghetto-Suburb of Metro Detroit.  There was more crime, drugs, prostitution and bad sh** everywhere than could be handled by our small gang of well-meaning cops.   I had just finished some task in the jail, waiting to get back on the street when one of the ‘regulars’ arrived one of our finest in tow wearing department-provided bracelets.  Said visitor was in the backseat and being escorted to the holding cell, being freshly arrested.

My colleague asked if I would handle the booking.  He would take the paper report and we could both be back on the street in a flash.  As a dutiful reserve cop, I was happy (ahem) to comply.

I recognized Joe Slug in the back seat: he was a frequent flyer in our lockup.  At the old age of 20, he had a rap sheet nearing 10 feet long.  Drugs, breaking/entering, etc. and everyone considered him hopeless.  I tried very hard with Joe.  Could I alter his attitude?  I was positive, polite and encouraging.  When we had completed the booking, I walked him to a cell and told that we didn’t really want him (in jail) there.  Joe got really excited until he realized I was talking philosophically.  Everyone (including the arresting officer) wanted Joe back on the street, gainfully employed, obeying the law and contributing to a better world. 

Joe didn’t quite know what to make of it.  But, in the end, the surprise was on me.  As I was stowing Joe in the one-man cell, he asked, “Can you bring me a Bible to read?”  I was speechless - at least for a few seconds.  Upon regaining my composure, I told him I would find one and bring it forth.   None in the station, I found.  At lunch, I went to the Dollar Store to get one and take it to him.

Later in the shift, I took a few jabs from others on the crew for being, “soft” on this career criminal in the making.   “A useless piece of s**t,” as one put it.  Oh well, my investment was small, so there was little to lose.

Imagine my astonishment to learn about six months later, than Joe was now enrolled in the local community college; he was coaching a little-league softball team and had become a regular at church.  No, I didn’t do it; Joe did.  I was only there when Joe learned that someone actually cared about him.

What’s In It For Me?  (W.I.I.F.M.)

Too many of us have that as our first thought and response to an opportunity to help another.   Progress will be unlikely and almost impossible to measure.  Those are other reasons to give up before trying.  Force-feeding our subjects rarely (pronounced NEVER) work.  We cops are accustomed to getting our way.  Period.  You’ll either want to do it, or I will make you want to do it.

Challenges that are too large actually push a person in the opposite direction.

I remember joining Weight Watchers because my doctor told me that I was a tad over weight and needed to lose a few pounds.  A few pounds, eh?   At the first meeting the instructor (a very attractive female) told me that to reach Goal Weight I needed to lose only 100 pounds.  I nearly bolted for the door at the sound of those words.

Winning battles STARTS with winning their hearts and minds.  Yeah, you’ve heard that before about the folks inIraq.  But, it just a true when describing the folks who lived in one ofDetroit’s Ghetto Suburbs surrounding the City.

The common identity

When you needlessly piss someone off (trust me, the slugs know if you NEED to do it), they will seek revenge against you or against anyone who they think might be you at a future encounter.   Conversely, bad behavior with a bad person may be just the fuel he needs to seek revenge once he’s sprung from the can.   Would you give up a position of cover of your partner in a gun fight?

Remember this (typical) call:  You were sent on a family trouble call.  After 10-15 minutes, you have the wife, the husband (knuckle-head) and kids all calmed down – maybe even with a smile sprouting up here or there.  Then, in charges a well-meaning, under-experienced, overly-motivated rookie who thinks that he has something to teach everyone on your crew and raises the family’s group mentality to a furor.  You’d like to kick his...  well, educate him some.

On top of that, and I’m sure you’ve all heard this before (if you’re military or law enforcement): people get promoted to the limit of their incompetence.  That said, remember these failed notions and try to work around them:

Always make the boss look good.

Never look better than the boss.

When it comes right down to it, 



About The Author:

Jim Donahue is a native of the Midwest, getting his education at Michigan State University. He is now training patrol officers on Technology & Tactics which translates for street cops into how to use patrol car computers -- safely.

Previously, Jim was part of the Wayne County (MI) Sheriff’s Department and detailed full-time to U.S. Customs & Immigration at the Detroit/Canada border in the year following the attacks of 9/11. He has also worked as a reserve patrolman on the streets of a suburban Detroit community.

Jim recently finished a three year term as an Ambassador for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C. He is now supporting the Officer Down Memorial Page ( and the Under-100 initiative.

Jim has worked with police departments across the country on process improvement at the patrol car level, focusing on technology to improve tactics, safety, and productivity. He instructs in a variety of police academies and having taught "Technology and Tactics" to thousands of cops in-service nationally. He is an accomplished grant writer.

Jim is married to Paula and they have two children. He has six bodybuilding contests to his credit. Jim is active in his community and his church.