Monday, January 26, 2009

Cops Delivering Bad News

CNN had an article on their website this morning, “Cops: Bearing News of a Loved One’s Death is Worst Part of Job” . The issues brought out are not normally considered by the public when they think of police work.

“You ask yourself: How would you want to deliver this message, because people are going to remember this for the rest of their life,” said Danny Agan, a retired police officer who spent 29 years on Atlanta's force, including heading up its homicide unit.”

A little further down in the article my night shift police humor landed on a line, purely out of context; it came off as a bit morbid.

“But, he said, “leaving somebody hanging is a bad choice as well.”

I know; he was referring to the idea of closure and making sure the information was given properly; all the same I couldn’t help the image which popped into my mind of walking away from the scene of a body with a rope suspended from the rafters. I heard rumors, and they must have been made up, of a homicide detective who’d been told not to work overtime because the budget was already stretched beyond its limits; anyway, according to the rumor the detective “clocked off” and left a suicide victim hanging because his shift had ended.

Working evening shift as a young police officer, my partner and I were sent to deliver a “death in the family” message. It wasn’t the first time and neither of us felt comfortable being the spokesperson when we knocked on the door. Upon entering the house everyone knew bad news was coming as shrieks and wailing began.

The shrieks and wailing quickly turned ugly with a couple of folks turning their sorrow into anger directed towards my partner and me. They were cursing and screaming at us when a “solution” presented itself. I quietly informed one of them that my partner was an assistant to the police chaplain and requested they refrain from using the Lord’s name in vain. It was like a blanket had been thrown over them; each of them quickly shared the information and began apologizing for having shown anger.

My partner wasn’t sure what had happened as I whispered in his ear so he’d go along. There was no arguing the fact that my “solution” had worked. From then on we each would take turns being the assistant police chaplain on calls where folks were swearing and making things ugly; amazing how well that worked. It didn’t have to be a death in the family call, most any mild disturbance that didn’t require immediate wrestling skills could be brought under control once they understood that a man of the cloth was present.

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