What happened to the ‘good’ in ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’?
When I make presentations for Peace Officer Ministries at churches and community groups, I usually open with the question: “How many of you have called the police this week and said, “My spouse and I are getting along great, my children are obedient and brought home straight A’s and all my neighbors love me. Could you send over a couple of officers so we can have some tea and share with them all that goodness?” Never? Yeah, well I never received that call either!
We chuckle at that idea because it seems so absurd. We all know that we only call the police when something bad is going on. Even if it’s not murder or mayhem, or some other minor dust-up, the police only get called when things get out of line. So, the person as a police officer might, after hundreds upon hundreds of these calls, wonder if what they are doing is only a necessary evil.
I remember a call I got early in my career while I was working as a patrol officer. The call was that someone had been shot in an apartment complex in my beat. I was not too far away and after acknowledging the dispatcher, I headed to the location of incident. It just so happened, that one of the fire stations was right across the street from the incident and yet, I somehow beat the ambulance to the scene.
I shut my siren off and pulled into the parking lot. I grabbed my night stick (this was before ASP batons!) and put it into its ring on my duty belt. As I approached the building several angry people were in front of the building. They were shouting at me, “What in the *&^%$ are you doing here? We don’t need you. Where’s the ambulance?” I didn’t have much time to process what they were saying at that time and one person pointed out the apartment where the incident occurred.
Several boys had been sitting on a bed in the apartment and somehow got the bright idea to play with a handgun – a revolver. But it was not mere curiosity that had them handling the gun. They began a game of ‘Russian Roulette,” and as you can imagine, I was called to the scene because someone lost. I made my way into the apartment and as moved toward the back bedroom, I instructed the people in the house to go to the front.
There he was, maybe 8 or 10 years old lying on the floor between the bed and the wall. The revolver which had erupted loudly just minutes before now lay quietly on the bed. There was a lot of blood, and the injury to the boy’s head was devastating. He made no noise except for what sounded to me like one last gurgling exhale. The medics arrived and he was pronounced dead on the scene. Other officers arrived and as they began interview people, I stayed in the bedroom. We didn’t need anyone else in the crime scene and since I was already there, watching the room and the boy fell to me. I did have a bit of a helpless feeling as I heard that last gurgle and knew that if the medics couldn’t have done anything, my first aid skills wouldn’t help. (I found out later when I got into the Homicide Unit that it was probably just some remaining air in his lungs making its way out as the chemical changes in his body had already started.)
I had all my issued equipment - clean, dry, and serviceable - I had my training, and my desire to do a good job, but there I stood basically helpless to do anything. I began to think about the greeting I received from the people there. On one hand, looking at that boy, I understood why they were upset. On the other hand, “Hey, I’m one of the good guys coming to try and help!”
I came to learn that in many neighborhoods the police are not seen as heroic figures, but as the ones who have “carted away in handcuffs my dad, my uncle, my brother, etc.” But, it is not only people who are not fond of the police who see them as, at best, avoidable, and at worst a necessary evil. Officers see the bad and the ugly and wonder, where’s the good? As incidents such as this one pile up in an officer’s career he too can begin to see his work, and as an extension, himself as a necessary evil. Some then can find ‘religion’ as being ridiculous and others say, “Oh, I’m too far gone for God.”