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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thousand-Yard Stare

I've seen it, in the eyes of a young State Trooper. When I was in high school on a ride-along with another officer. I've never forgotten what that officer and a friend of mine told me; that look belonged to a man who had been involved in a shooting. He didn't talk about it. No one asked. It was the unspoken rule that one never speaks to a person who has killed another on the Job. Those who have been there know what it's like but the "uninitiated" have no right to infringe on that sacred ground.

Today at work, (yes, in all the chaos) a conversation came up; someone learned that I was once in Law Enforcement, and she asked what it meant to be a Catholic and be wearing a gun. Sadly, I was not a practicing Catholic at the time, but admittedly, that career was one that brought me closer to God in a multitude of ways. I can still hear the sound of a round being jacked into the chamber of an SKS as I stood on the other side of the door realizing my vest would not protect me.

That person asked me...what about now? Now that I am a practicing Catholic? Have my views changed?

No. Because unfortunately, sometimes the police have to pull the trigger. They don't want to. But they train for it, and all that is needed is for training to take over. In the end, it's not really the cop that shoots the perp; it's the training that does it. A wealth of knowledge and understanding that takes hold in a fraction of a second, for the purpose of defending life. And even at that, it's not an easy decision; it's a necessary one.

A devastating one for all involved.

Most people don't hear the real stories of the shootings that you see and hear about on the news. Most people just dissociate themselves and depersonalize all those involved, for that tends to be the nature of crime reporting.

When I was in training, I remember some guys talking about shootings as though they were a good thing. I knew a lot of guys who never aspired to the Job (thank God!) who spoke of police killings as a feather in one's cap, a badge of honor. And indeed, oftentimes, an officer who finds it necessary to pull the trigger and is justified (after a lengthy and in-depth investigation) is often given that proverbial badge-made-reality. But he doesn't want it. She doesn't want it.

Killing people is never a good thing. Even in self-defense and with the authority of the State on behalf of the lives of others. But it's better than allowing innocent lives to be lost. Judge, jury and the hands of someone you hope and pray is properly trained to make that decision.

And in reality, there is no real training that can prepare one for such a result. That's part of the reason why cops are taken off the Job for awhile after a "Critical Incident". It's not just for the investigation; it's about the officer's sanity.

I'm glad that even before I was deeply into my training I met that Trooper with the "thousand-yard stare". It gave me a depth of understanding and made me truly consider how I'd feel if I were called upon to make that terrible call.

But yes, as a Catholic, a practicing Catholic, I could pull that trigger. I still own a gun, and I have no doubt that if it came to it, I could take a life. But I'd be changed forever.

Talk to Veterens. Talk to ex-police officers. Speak to those who have seen the worst. They'll tell you stories and they'll tell you all sorts of gory things you've never wanted to know. But they won't talk about THAT. They won't discuss it. It goes too deep, it has changed who they are and has placed a scar upon their souls that cannot be healed in this life.

Pray for police officers. Pray for soldiers. Pray for all those who are called to those fields. You'll never know the stories and you'll never see the scars, and that makes your prayers all the more necessary.


Lillian Marie said...

I often come in contact and talk with Officers of the agency I work for. I remember one meeting I had with the Police Chief, Deputy Director, and several other Commanders and Lieutenants (yes, I brought jelly donuts, too! *grin*). When asked about the most memorable experiences, they paused, then mentioned the car chases. I knew, however, that the pause was not something they would or could talk about and left it alone.

I have the utmost respect for Police Officers. The hell they have to go through day in and day out is unnerving enough. Add a gun, tazer, and some lunatics and the day just got that much more stressful. They did mention, like you stated, they are trained to react, not think. Saving innocent lives is the key.

Adoro te Devote said...

LOL! On the Job, I avoided donuts or pastries WITH A PASSION!

Will have to tell you a donut training story when I'm in Cleveland this summer. Or via phone if we talk before then.

Anyway, it's true; reaction comes through training, but of course, we're trained to think through the situation. But thinking has to take a back seat to what has to be done. It's hard to explain.

I wasn't good at of the reasons my career ended. Because I had a hard time keeping things so mind was always going and it made me second-guess myself. I could see ALL the consequences and it was paralyzing, so it was hard for me to let training take over so completely. I couldn't disengage my mind. But at the same time...I've done EXACTLY that many times, both on that job and outside of it thanks to my training.

One of those things that's hard to explain.