As I type this there is one week to go before Christmas. Two months ago in October, I marked my 30th anniversary in law enforcement. It’s quite literally what I’ve done all my adult life (minus eight months between turning 18 and reporting for the Army to become an MP). Today I mark five years with Cygnus Business Media: more than four as the Editor for Officer.com and now a few months as Editorial Director for the Cygnus Law Enforcement Group. For all that; for everything I’ve been taught; for everything I’ve experienced; for everything I’ve taught as an instructor since 1989… I have no answers to this one simple question: “Why?”
Anyone who watches the news or follows social media in any form has seen the reports about the heinous events that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. As the mainstream media tries to milk every minute of coverage out of the crimes and losses, the reporting evolves from straight fact (which often proves incorrect), to opinion about the facts (which is now subjective information about incorrect facts) to pure opinion about various political ideologies. For several days we’ve seen pro- versus anti-gun debates resurface not only because guns were used but what kinds of guns were used. Now, today, I’ve seen the pro-choice / pro-life debate brought up in connection.
I don’t know the answers to everyone’s questions and while I can reasonably debate my own opinion and perspective the stark reality is that none of this conversation will bring back the 26 murdered innocents. Nothing can turn back the hands of time and stop one human being from murdering 28 others before committing suicide. Each time I see someone comment about potential motivations, possible causes, the empowerments of too few of these laws or too many of those laws… I sit back and think, “But we still can’t answer ‘why’.”
The reality is that we rarely, if ever, can. The reality is that isn’t our job. It is not the job of law enforcement professionals to explain WHY a criminal commits a crime unless INTENT is part of what we have to prove. If INTENT isn’t part of our case, then we only waste time if we focus on it. Sure, the mainstream media wants to have endless debates about WHY someone commits murder or HOW someone was victimized. When a man goes into a school and hunts innocent children and then kills himself, WHY doesn’t matter. It is absolutely part of our human nature to want to know, but it’s not a question we’ll ever be able to answer with confidence.
Instead, what we in law enforcement have to deal with is the clean-up. As much as I mourn the loss of those teachers and the precious young students, I worry about my brother and sister officers who had to respond to the scene. Nothing will ever remove the images they’ll forever hold in their memories. Nothing can relieve the pain they’ll feel every time they do remember those images. For as much as we try to help officers involved in shootings and other life-threatening events, I’d wager that nothing we do is as stressful or trauma-inducing as responding to the scene where multiple children have died; all the worse when those deaths were caused by acts of violence.
In as much as you believe in prayer or the power of positive thought, please keep our brother and sister officers in your memories and your hearts. We need to support them in every way and help them balance the horror they viewed against all the good they do every day, day in and day out.
It behooves us all – every law enforcement professional in the country – to remember that we are instruments of good; that we protect and serve; that we defend the underdog; that we protect the innocents to the absolute best of our ability, not only on duty but even as we go about our day-to-day lives off-duty. We need to remember that we are not alone; we belong to one of the largest “families” in the world: that of the law enforcement profession. The Thin Blue Line that we not only balance precariously upon but are also the essence of is also our lifeline if we need salvation from traumatic memories or destructive thoughts.
Although we can never fully answer, “Why?” as we solve crimes and clean-up scenes of violence, we CAN hold each other in comfort both literally and figuratively. Especially during the normally stressful holiday season, added to by this tragedy, let’s make sure we do.