Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A personal perspective on police officers

By Pat Remick

My eldest son is now a police officer and although I am immensely proud that he followed his dream and spent nine grueling months training for it, the idea of him being a cop in Washington, DC, unnerves me beyond words. As long as he was in the Academy, I could remain in the Land of Denial. Graduation means the end of this illusion of safety.

There was a moment last week when I feared someone might have to push me through the opening of the hallway where my husband and I nervously waited our turn to pin Badge No. 4891 on his dress blue uniform. This reaction would not have surprised my son, who earlier half-jokingly said he'd considered the possibility that I might grab his badge and go running off the stage in front of his 19 fellow rookie officers, their families, the Police Chief and the Mayor to keep him from becoming a policeman.

The thought crossed my mind. But then he told me he'd been formally commissioned the day before and issued the gun that is his until he retires or it's taken away.

It was an excruciatingly long walk across that stage. But I was walking toward a young man who looked so sure, so proud and yes, so ready for his new life. It's difficult to tell from this photograph whether I'm smiling or gritting my teeth as he hands me his badge. I suspect it was a combination of both. I also was incredibly relieved because I'd just learned his district assignment wasn't the very toughest in the city (though I've since discovered it averages about 20 murders and 6,000 other major crimes annually, and is home to members of one of the nation's most dangerous gangs).

When it was time to go through the receiving line of Police Department dignitaries, the Chief -- an amazing and imposing woman named Cathy Lanier – told me, "We'll keep him safe." I suspect she makes that promise to all the mothers whose smiling faces cannot hide the deep fear in their hearts. Nonetheless, it gave me some comfort.

Intellectually, I know my son's career choice should not feel so scary. As a mystery writer and former journalist, I’ve frequently written about law enforcement and crime. I've been on police ride-alongs and interacted with police officers on a not-infrequent basis over the years. But having a son become a policeman gives one a whole new perspective.

When I first held my son's bulletproof vest, I thought I might pass out from the realization of what it signified. Lifting his duty belt that holds his gun, flashlight, handcuffs, chemical spray, etc., nearly gave me a lump in my stomach, literally and figuratively. This is not a job for the weak or faint of heart (or their mothers).

It also is a job with its own foreign vocabulary and alphabet soup of acronyms. When my son talked about showing up the next day in 3-D, it took a while to realize he was referring to his assignment to Police District 3 and not a movie requiring special glasses to view. His first arrest, which came his first day on the streets, was a POCA -- involving a prohibited open container of alcohol. He advised us the demonstrations on the national mall are handled by SOD (Special Operations Division), not beat cops, and so forth. When he said he took a report from a woman beaten in broad daylight for refusing to surrender her diamond ring to a couple of bandits, I asked what he knew about that gang.

"Bandits are not a gang," he patiently replied. "That's what we call the bad guys." Oh.

Even if I do learn all the terms, I'm not sure I'll ever become used to the metal lump under his shirt when I hug him. Or the idea that he's made a commitment to risk his life every day for others. But I do know I will never forget that every policeman has a family concerned about his or her safety. I hope this makes me a better crime writer, but I doubt it will make it any easier to be a policeman's mother.


Annette said...

Pat, my nephew recently became a cop. Even though his "beat" is a small, rural Pennsylvania community, he had to draw his weapon on his first day of duty. It's scary out there all over.

Congrats to your son. May he enjoy a long, safe career with the force.

Joyce said...

Congratulations to both you and your son! He sounds like a smart young man, and I've heard that the DC police chief is one of the best in the country. When she says she'll keep him safe, believe her.

My son--a historian-not a cop--works in the Capitol building. Is your son stationed anywhere near there?

PatRemick said...

Sometimes I wonder if he'd made a different career choice if I hadn't banned toy guns from the house when he was a child... Now being a historian at the Capitol , that sounds so interesting... and a lot safer!

My son's district is in the Adams Morgan section in the center of DC so he's not near the Capitol. We did visit the Capitol's new Visitors' Center last week and were very impressed, though it was weird to be on a tour of a place where I once roamed freely as a reporter~ We did get lots of history on the tour, too!

Karen in Ohio said...

Pat, I have spent some time in Adams Morgan. It's a lovely area. I hope his time there is relatively peaceful.

As the former wife of a former cop, I can relate. But please thank your son for his service, which is a commitment of the sort that few citizens ever share.

PatRemick said...

Thanks for sharing your connections to the police world.... and good wishes for my son's safety!