Explorations in Policing, Faith and Life (With a hint of humor, product reviews, news and whatever catches my attention)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Telling Police War Stories

Work Stories

On Christmas Eve I responded to an assist the fire department call at one of our apartment complexes. When I arrived at the complainant’s apartment, I found the Grandmother sitting on top of her eight year old granddaughter in their living room. As I walked up to the Grandmother, she took her hands off her granddaughter’s wrists with the hope that I could calm her granddaughter down. The second that the granddaughter felt the pressure come off her wrists, she balled her fists and struck her grandmother in the stomach twice. I quickly re-secured the little girl’s arms and held them down while her grandmother sat on her legs. My partner then obtained the information needed for my report from the mother and let the fire department into the apartment. The daughter was then strapped down to the stretcher, taken to the hospital, strapped down again to a bed and transferred to a juvenile psychological hospital that could adequately handle a juvenile in the midst of a mental crisis. I spoke to the mother at the hospital, who told me that her daughter has had a mental illness for a number of years. The mother then told me what had happened prior to my arrival. Their family (grandmother, mother, two daughters) had been opening a couple of Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. Her daughter became angry because she did not get to open as many Christmas presents as she desired. She then picked up a long, two-inch wide, red ribbon and walked out of the bedroom and into the living room. She proceeded to tie one end of the ribbon around her neck and the other to the top of a serving table leg. She then knelt down. After a short amount of time, her mother decided to check on her daughter and found the daughter hanging from the table. She immediately ripped her down. The grandmother, upon hearing the screams of the mother, ran into the room and sat on the daughter so that the mother could call 911. I spoke to the daughter at the hospital but it was futile; she would only tell me that I had to cut her loose or she would kill me. Prior to this incident, the youngest person that I had dealt with who had made a legitimate suicide attempt was a twelve-year-old boy. He tried to slit his throat with a steak knife. I had to tackle and restrain him, too.
The day after this incident was Christmas and I left with my wife and two children and drove to my in-law’s home. While on the road, I attempted to tell this story of the night before to my wife. I was told to stop because she did not want to me to ruin her Christmas. When we arrived at the house, I also tried to tell this story to my father-in-law (a thirty year plus Police Officer) and he told me, “Not here, not now, not appropriate”. A short time later my wife found me and told me to knock it off, which resulted in a brief moment of martial discord.
The point to this story is not to tell work war stories to your wife/husband. I have come to understand that this should only be violated if something occurs in which you are having serious trouble dealing with it on an emotional level. There are many reasons for keeping a boundary between your spouse and your work experiences. The reason that I was attempting to relate this story was to tell someone else about a unique experience that I had at work. I was not trying to seek any advice or to air out an issue that I had been struggling with; rather I was just telling what I viewed as an interesting story, with the added perk of being the center of attention. However, rather this being an interesting anecdote, this story would have been received as depressing and troubling for the listeners, which is against the purpose in which I would have told it.
The reasons that these stories have a greater impact on a spouse are both numerous and logical. First, your spouse is a passive participant of the story. The Police Officer received the call, went to the incident location and attempted to the best of his/her ability to rectify the crisis. The person who is listening to this story does not have the ability to actively aid anyone in distress. They hear about the situation but can do nothing to affect any type of solution leaving them only to produce the negative emotions. My Police Department turns over more dispatchers than any other position because of this reason. Our dispatchers man the telephones, hear the problems and send the Police Officers out to respond to the crisis. They however, cannot provide any real direct tangible help. They must be satisfied with the help that their surrogates provide. Your spouse, when subjected to your war story finds himself/herself in a similar position.
Second, it makes the job look much more dangerous and depressing than what it is in reality. We only tell stories that are interesting, exciting (dangerous), grotesque or depressing. You are not going to tell the story about your three routine traffic stops or your two-hour telephone harassment case. What you are going to relate to others is death, violence or poverty (emotional, financial, and physical). I may have only three or four semi-interesting cases a week but if you look at it from my wife’s perspective it seems that I am always doing something harrowing. This increases her worry about my safety while I am at work and yet in reality I am rarely in danger.
Third, it makes your spouse worry about the job’s possible effects on your mental health. I told my suicide story with the simple intention of conveying my experience of dealing with the youngest person that I have encountered that made a legitimate attempt at suicide. The reaction to this story is bewilderment, in that how can one so young hate her life already, to sadness in that evil and pain are ladled out with no regard to age. I am not only not telling the story from that standpoint; I am also not emoting any sympathy or sadness. This leads your wife/husband to wonder if you have lost the ability to care for other people or to understand the proper context of the event. It is not a large jump for them to become concerned that if you do not have an emotional reaction after what you have been through, you could be losing the ability to connect with them on an emotional level. Further, if you have children, your spouse will wonder if you can be concerned with their daily little crises, if you are not concerned by these abominable calls. The bottom line is do not tell war stories or your wife will unnecessarily worry that you will become cold and uncaring to the family. I reacted to that child’s suicide attempt, as any one else would have. I handled the call, did the best that I could to help all those involved and internally processed all the emotions. I told the story only after I had sorted through my feelings and came to a conclusion. By telling that story it made me appear to others as cold and being entertained by other’s misery.
Fourth, it begins to skew your spouses view about the true nature of their environment. Since, you only tell stories that empathize the violent or extreme elements of society, your wife/husband begins to believe that the world is a much more dangerous and harmful place than it really is. I have found that I have to remind my wife that we are actually living in very safe times according to any objective standard. However, when all you tell them are these horrible things, they begin to think (quite logically) that if it could happen in the municipality in which my husband works, it could happen at my home. I was on station during a tour of midnights when my wife called me and told me that she had called Chicago P.D. for the third time in two weeks because she believed that a burglar was in the house. After I told her to stop wasting Chicago’s time, it struck me that I had for the last three weeks been coming home and telling my wife about all the car and home burglaries that I was encountering in my duties on the bicycle patrol. This had caused her to start to believe that this type of crime is much more prevalent in society and thus in our neighborhood than she originally thought. I stopped telling her these stories and the calls to Chicago P.D. stopped with them. Ephesians 5:33 states: 33So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. I realized I would not wish to hear the stories from my wife if she was a D.C.F.S. social worker assigned to sexual abuse cases any more than my wife should hear my retched Police war stories.
I believe that the best step is to tell your wife/husband each day that everything went well and find a good uplifting story to tell them and leave the “look what I did” stories to be told to your fellow Police Officers. Your work experiences are always best shared with your shift-mates because they have the proper context to deal appropriately with them. Do not unnecessarily burden your family with your exploits.


Eugene Fields, Jr. said...

I understandor that you are trying to get your new book published. That's great! I am a new self-published author. You can go to my website and see what I'm doing.
You can also try contacting Mike Dye at Christian Police Resources. He has published a great book entitled, "Peacekeeper." He may be able to lead you in the right direction. Stay encouraged and keep up the great work!

Badge at the feet of Christ said...

Thanks I appreciate your advice and will try Mike Dye. I was chuckling when I read your blog. I thought that I was all alone on my island with the book about Christian Policing and all...its good to know that I have company.