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Photo credit: Peace Officers Ministries, Inc.
As I sit to write this, the colors of fall are in full bloom and Thanksgiving is on the near horizon. I have recently taken a call to a new parish and as with every ‘new start’ I can sometimes feel like a rookie all over again. But, I also think of all the folks who have been my back up over the years and those who continue to be that much needed back up in my life.
I am also thankful for all the peace officers I have met and the so many I have not who work to keep us safe and sound, who come into the midst of the muck and mire of people’s lives – sometimes to the detriment of their own physical, emotional, and spiritual well being.
In short, I want you to know that you have the back-up you need as you deal with the vagaries of human interactions and the aftermath of the foolishness in which people find themselves.
And so, as I shake this feeling of being a rookie all over again, I offer to you a brief ‘war story’ of a night I had as a rookie peace officer and the all important lesson about the importance of ‘back-up’ both as I needed it and as sometimes, I needed to be it for others.
“Radio ... I Need a 10-78”
He snatched his large travel coffee mug, got out of the cruiser and after slamming the door with disgust he lumbered into the 7-11 convenience store to get the mug filled. Several minutes later, I got out from the driver’s side closed the door and followed him into the 7-11. I went to the coffee station, grabbed a cup and sheepishly signaled to my training officer that I’d like a cup when he was done filling up his. The several minutes were not quite enough. He was still not a happy camper.
The night started off innocently enough as the radio crackled and we heard, “King Four, I’m out on traffic …” I didn’t quite hear where he was and so I hesitated before heading to his location. A few minutes later the radio crackled again, “King Four, can I get a 10-78?” My training officer grabbed the mike and said, “King Nine, we’re on our way.” Then he looked at me like I better get going and get going now.
I started to drive and he said to me, “You don’t know where King Four is do you?” A bit dejected I said, “No, I didn’t catch what he said.” “He is covering the beat right next to ours, you need to know where he and the rest of the squad are at all times! He should never have to ask for a 10-78 [request for back up]!” My training officer said it calmly but it was evident that he was not pleased. Strike one! He told me where King Four was and I headed to his location. The traffic stop went off without a hitch and we were soon off to the next call.
Later that night we saw a motorist with a broken headlight and driving way under the speed limit. “King Nine, traffic.” Just being on the police radio was exciting. I activated the blue and red lights and the siren. The driver pulled his car over and I informed dispatch where we were. I turned on my bright headlights and used the spotlight in the rear-view mirror of the vehicle. I cautiously approached the car, just like they taught us in the academy - touching the trunk, peering into the backseat, standing just behind the driver’s door - and always observing the driver’s hands and the interior of the vehicle.
“Driver’s license and registration, please,” I said with more confidence than I actually had. While the driver fumbled with his wallet, I noticed my field training officer, out of the corner of my eye, on the other side of the vehicle just behind the trunk. He was not only watching how I handled myself; he was also keeping an eye on what was going on inside the vehicle. He was my “10-78.” I didn’t need to call for back up.
Suddenly, he started yelling at me. “Let’s go, give him back his stuff; Let’s go!” “Let’s go?” I thought. “What?” “Where?” I gave the driver his license and registration back and mumbled something about “be careful” and “you can go.” I hurried back into the driver’s seat of the cruiser.
“Follow King four,” my training officer said. He had a real sense of urgency and I was just trying to figure out where the rollercoaster was going - not to mention where in the world King Four was. (He had, unbeknownst to me, responded to our location to back us up!)
I began driving in the direction in which we were facing. “Where are you going?!” my training officer yelled. “Follow King Four, he’s going the other way!” I got the cruiser turned around and he then told me that there was a more serious call, that someone had been shot. Far more important than our traffic stop. So, it was a ‘priority’ response – lights and sirens. Since King Four was well on his way, my training officer gave me the location. Again, I missed it on the radio! Strike two!
About half-way there my training officer, calmly but very firmly said, “just where are you going? Didn’t you hear the (expletive) dispatcher?” Apparently, we were told we weren’t needed as the first officer on the scene determined it was not the urgent call we thought it to be.
Again, I missed it on the radio! He reached over and turned off the lights and sirens. “Go to the 7-11 just ahead.” My training officer’s voice dripped with fury. Strike Three!
Now, we always pulled behind the 7-11, and then parked our cruiser on the side facing the entrance to the parking lot in case we needed to get out fast. As I pulled around the rear of the store, I completely missed that there was a huge sink-hole. I bottomed out my training officer’s brand new cruiser. Gulp. Strike four! I parked the cruiser at our usual spot.
While this was not the only night or shift that I made some dumb rookie mistakes, the good news is that I didn’t have a lot of shifts like the one I just described. And more, even though, I thought on that night that I might flunk out of the field training program, I made it through - largely thanks to having such a great field training officer. A great “10-78” - much needed back up.
Situational Awareness .... or lack thereof ...
You see, on that shift, I was not being as situationally aware as I needed to be. Although I was taught the importance of back up, I didn’t have it in the forefront of my thoughts. The importance of having and of being a good partner – providing back up was forever etched in my mind.
It wasn’t until a bit later in my career that I really understood the need I had for Spiritual back up; and that the ultimate Peace Officer, Jesus Christ, was just that back up. My career and life has been all the better for it.
And now, twenty plus years later from that ‘four strike’ night, I want to share with you brave folks who “protect and serve” us that there is that ultimate back up for you too. You see, as peace officers you always take care of others. When a problem occurs, everyone looks to you, the officer, to "take charge," to "solve the problem." Some say the cop is never off duty. It is taken for granted that you don’t need to be cared for. Regular folk just aren’t situationally aware of what a peace officer deals with day-in and day-out.
But, even if you officers were (as I felt as a rookie) “ten feet tall and bullet proof,” in the face of all our responsibilities and our failure to live up to God’s high standard, how do we face God’s facts and find hope and peace? It is only through the ultimate Peace Officer, Jesus, and what He accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection. And peace officers need this peace just like everyone else.
And so, as Thanksgiving approaches, I (and those who seek to ‘serve you who protect and serve us’) “give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope ...” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 ESV)
I want to encourage you to use your spiritual backup – let your Chaplain be a sounding board for you. Give him a little room to bring to bear God’s word on whatever it is you are facing and then “test everything [and] hold fast [to] what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 ESV)
I also want to encourage you to call on the Ultimate Peace Officer, Jesus Christ, the One who took the bullet with your (my!) name on it at the cross, that you and I would in due course get to the ultimate retirement and rest – obtaining help, hope, and home in Him as He reminds us of the back-up He provides for us: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
May your Thanksgiving celebrations be filled with joy and thankfulness – and for those who will be working on the holiday while others celebrate, I pray yours is uneventful!
Stay safe and watch your six!
Rev. Frank C. Ruffatto
Executive Director & Chaplain
Peace Officer Ministries, Inc.