Dispatchers routinely call a crew number over the radio and utter two words, “Check up”. The crew knows what is being asked and usually replies with a signal code that indicates they are OK, or they might indicate they could use another crew or two to assist. Some crews even go so far as to tell the dispatcher there is no need for further checks.
The most terrifying radio transmission to hear is when a crew yells “99””, or some other signal, alerting everyone the officer is in trouble. Every officer on duty drops everything and races to assist that officer. Sometimes the “99” is dropped even though just moments before the officer indicated he was OK. Why? Things can change rapidly and unexpectedly when we are doing our job, especially if it is just a “routine” call.
Our careers need checkups as well. We go through our career and treat everything as routine and see no need for the occasional check up. That is until there is a signal “99” moment. We have treated the struggles we face, the death we see, the hatred we encounter, and the criticism we endure as just routine, just part of the job.
Then, some of us have signal “99” moment. It might involve alcohol. I might be the end of our marriage. It might even be suicidal thoughts or actions. Regardless, we are in deep trouble. Some of us silently endure the moment and don’t let on we are in trouble. We find shelter in knowing the exact date we can retire and walk away from the job and people we have come to hate.
We end up displaying the two worst qualities that Teddy Roosevelt spoke of when he was quoted saying, “I think there is only one quality worse than hardness of heart and that is softness of head.” In responding to the daily calls of service we gradually become hard of heart and soft in the head. We justify our demeanor and attitude as a psychological defense mechanism against the death, destruction, stupidity, and violence we witness daily. I call that hardness of heart and being soft headed. I know I did the same thing.
I failed to see or believe the scripture verse that says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Although I initially felt called to law enforcement to protect and serve others, I eventually saw nothing blessed about being a cop. I didn’t see myself as a peacemaker. Rather, I adopted a saying from one of my Academy classmates, “Though I walk through the Valley of Death, I fear no evil, for I am the meanest SOB in the Valley.” I needed a checkup.
That check up came in the form of a question from a former cop. He asked me one day, “Are you a flash in the pan or the real deal?” It was his way of being the dispatcher asking, “Check up”. My immediate gut reaction was to say, “I’m okay, no need for further checks.” I thought I was the real deal. I thought I was a true Warrior. I wasn’t afraid of anybody or anything. I even had a couple of good use of forces and injuries to prove it. I failed to see my job was also to be a peacemaker.
This former cop did not let it end there just because I said I was the real thing. He pressed me about what I was thinking and doing to make a difference in the lives of people I met on the job. He made it clear he also meant what I was doing to make a difference in the lives of my fellow officers, not just citizens and bad guys. This got me to thinking. I came to the conclusion I wasn’t doing very much, because I really didn’t care.
My job was to arrest bad guys and I had arrested a lot of them. My partner and I in one eight hour shift made seven separate felony arrest. We were the real deal. We were real Warriors. I didn’t care about the peacemaker stuff. Until the day I handled a barricaded suspect call.
I wasn’t even dispatched on the call. In fact, I only found out about the call because I had stopped into the dispatch center to drop off some paperwork. The dispatcher, a sworn officer, was on the East board when I walked in. I was a West side Sergeant and we were on a different channel than the East side. I had no idea there was a standoff brewing with a depressed, suicidal armed subject whose wife and kids were asleep in the upstairs of their home.
Multiple crews were dispatched and already on scene. The standard protocol would be for SWAT and Hostage Negotiating Team to be called out, and a long night of wait and see would begin. As I stood listening to the dispatchers side of the phone conversation he was having with the subject I was shocked when the dispatcher told him he had more important calls to deal with and he, the subject, needed to quit messing around and go open the door for the officers outside.
At that very moment I heard the former cop asking me, “Are you a flash in the pan or the real deal?” I turned to the dispatch Sergeant and told him to get the dispatcher off the board and I would take over the phone call with the subject. Now I was not a trained Hostage Negotiator, but I had some common and tactical sense and deep down I still wanted to help people. I still had a shred of empathy and concern, not only for this guy but his wife and kids asleep upstairs.
After about 20 minutes of asking some of the right questions and mostly listening, I was able to convince the subject to follow some simple instructions and surrender to the officers outside. After it was all over I had a real come to Jesus private meeting with the dispatcher. In the end, he didn’t have a change of heart about doing his job. He actually told me he didn’t care about “shitbags like him”. But a few years later he did quit, he wasn’t the real deal.
After that day I still had my struggles. Struggles with my attitude. Struggles with caring. But they were struggles because I had been forced to have that check up. I learned I was in need of some assistance. I needed some back up occasionally. I learned to call on other cops who were the real deal. I learned from them and tried to teach other cops the blessedness of also being a peacemaker not just a Warrior.
I even created my own check up word, CARE. Did I care? Did I Commit All Resources & Energy to protect and serve others? Was I willing to endure the struggles or quit? That one word reminded me what it meant to be the real deal.
So here is my check up call to you. Are you a flash in the pan or the real deal? Do you CARE?