Every year there are more cops going to prison than there are getting killed by felons. Many of them leave devastated families in their wake. I wonder if any of them took the time to think about what they could lose as a result of their misconduct. So, for a portion of the final exam in my Ethics in Criminal Justice class, I had each student pretend they were a police officer convicted and sentenced to a long prison term. I asked them to write a letter to their children about what happened. I admit to getting a little teary-eyed as I read over some of them. One student found herself crying halfway through the paper. I have never, as a street supervisor or academy supervisor, asked the officers or recruits to do anything I haven't done, so I sat down and composed my own letter. Emotions run deep when you think about all that you might give up when you violate the oath you took as a police officer. I challenge you to take this final exam, and then tell me that "the ends justify the means" is worth it. Here's my letter. I thank God that it's only a test. For far too many, it's a reality.
Writing to you today is probably the most difficult thing I've ever done. I know your mother told you already that I won't be coming home for some time. I wish I could say I was going to war or doing something important. I wish it was for anything other than what it really is. I am in prison.
I don't really know when it all started. When I was a new cop, I was told that certain rules were meant to be broken and that cops always stood up for other cops, no matter what. My supervisors and training officers all told me to forget what I learned at the academy and just keep my ears open and my mouth shut until I learned how real police work was done. I thought they were telling me the truth. Now I know different.
I already miss holding your littlest sister. I miss the way she was just learning to kiss and hug. I miss her sour milk breath, her saggy diapers, and the way she dances to your rock music. I miss the way she looked into my eyes, with complete love and absolute trust, a trust I've broken before she is even old enough to say "Daddy."
I miss you, my son, and I don't know how to ask for your forgiveness, but I won't be at any of your hockey games. I know we had plans for hunting and fishing this fall, but you will be out of high school and done with college before I get out of here, and I will probably never be able to hunt with you again. Things will be especially hard for you, because you are now the man of the house. My name will be in all the papers, with a story about how I was convicted of a terrible crime. People will be cruel. They will visit the sins of the father onto the son, and for that I am truly sorry. You don't have to defend me to others. The crime is real. I did all those things, but please don't hate me.
I have no excuse, but I want you to know that I am still the same man that loved to rock you to sleep as a child and carry you on my shoulders when you were too tired to walk. When you were sick, I would strip you down to your diaper and lay you on my bare chest, so you could listen to my heartbeat when you put your head down. I would lie awake for hours, afraid to move, lest I rolled you off of me. Now, when I can't sleep at night, I pretend I am back in my own bed and you are once again a baby lying on my chest, and for a few hours I am at peace. You have plenty of good reasons to hate me at this moment, but know that I will always love you.
I know you've talked about being a cop when you grow up. Don't let my mistakes turn you away from policing, if that's what you really want to do. It's a great career. If you do follow in my footsteps, please forgive me long enough to grant me one wish: be true to what you know is right. Don't let others set the rules for you. Others will tell you that the rules change as you get older or wiser, that it's okay to lie to get the job done. But that's the real lie and it will always be a lie. I love you.
My darling daughter, I can still smell that perfume you bought for your first date. You looked so beautiful, I cried when you left that night. Your mother thought I had completely lost it, but I realized as you left that you were growing up, and that before long another man, a stranger to me, would be the one to make you laugh when you were sad, to hold you when you cried, to pick you up when you fell, and I felt this terrible loss. Now I am lost to you by my own doing, and my heart aches in ways I can't even describe as I think of all the promises I made to you that are now broken. I hurt so bad inside that I try to quit breathing, hoping that I will lose consciousness and stop the agony, but I am kept awake and alive by the demons of shame and remorse. I know that the pain I feel won't take away the pain I have caused you, and I can only say "I am sorry."
Your mother loves me and I know that she has forgiven me, but I will be gone a long time. I don't want her to be lonely, and I ask you to be a friend to her when she finds someone she can laugh with again. She is a relatively young woman. She needs a man in her life, and it can't be me. Goodbye children, I love you all, and I am so sorry,