My husband is a police officer. I find that humorous. Why? Because it's not what he was when I first met him, nor what he went back to school to be. He used to be the inventory manager for a grocery store chain in the suburbs of Chicago. He hated it. So, one day early on in our marriage, he said he wanted to go back to school to be an accountant. He told people he liked accounting because "two plus two is always four…unless you work for Enron." He was looking forward to a job where everything fit into neat little columns and rows and there was predictability. In my mind, that is NOT my husband, but being the loving and supporting wife I am, we ran with it.
Right until the point that he'd been working in an office for a year and half and decided it wasn't for him, that pushing paper and being in a cubicle was not a future he was looking forward to. He came home from work one day-I remember this so clearly-and came into the nursery while I rocked our daughter. "What would you think about me being a cop?"
"Okay?!? Just like that?"
"If it's what you feel that God has called you to, then who am I to stand in the way?" He was shocked. He decided to push the envelope.
"What about SWAT Team?"
And so began a long, long process of him becoming a police officer. He loves his job. I mean, seriously loves it. As in, not a single week has gone by in the 13 months since he graduated that he hasn't said, "I love my job." It's music to this wife's ears to see hear him so fulfilled. He feels it's a calling on his life and I couldn't agree more. It's great to be in the place that God has for you.
All that back story to get to the meat of my post. A few weeks ago I went on my first ride-along with him. As his spouse, I can sit in the front seat of his cruiser any day I choose, watching him pull people over, run their plates, scan their driver's license, even get out and talk to people myself if I feel like it. I've heard random stories either when he comes home at night (if I'm up) or the next morning (if the kids have worn me out and I've gone to bed). Seeing it was a whole different world.
First off, there's roll call. No, they don't say, "Let's be careful out there," like they did in Hill Street Blues, but there's a lot of, "Be safe" said back and forth. On this day the lieutenant talked to the guys about things citizens complain about: officers leaving their cars on while eating or filling up with gas, not stopping at stop signs and stop lights. Ridiculous. Their cars are their OFFICES and sometimes they need to get moving in a hurry. Sometimes it's five below zero and they have to jump into a cold car and get running. And I didn't realize that-even while officers are "running hot"-lights and sirens-they are required to stop at stop signs and stop lights. The lieutenant reminded them that they need to be looking out for themselves and to be careful. More about the effectiveness of this later.
And then we were on the streets.
My husband has a beat that he's on all six days of his work week (six days on, three days off) so his job is to patrol around, being proactive and keeping an eye out for traffic violations. He does this until dispatch gives him a run to take, and then he drops everything to do that. Not every run needs to be run hot, but it does require knowing his area, driving up and down streets, through alleys, and across the neighborhoods at top speed, while waiting for Joe Citizen to realize there's a police cruiser coming up FAST and get out of his way. And, of course, stopping at all signs and lights. Sheesh.
Joshua (my husband, in case I didn't mention it before), has never mentioned the mental energy that his job requires. He is always scanning the area, always referring to his laptop to see what's going on, always listening to all the radio traffic in his district, always typing in license plates while driving, always mentally assessing. As his wife, who knows he's not a multi-tasker, this part of his personality was a shock. He's on. For eight hours. Six days a week. I joke that my job never ends, but it's not nearly as mentally taxing as his. Who knew?
Our first stop was lunch, where a few officers joined us. We had just sat down and ordered when a call came over the radio. It was quite humorous; four officers chatting away merrily when suddenly they all go quiet, their heads bent toward their radios. It looked like they were robots, and someone had just pulled the plug and they all stopped. Sometimes it's just radio traffic and doesn't apply to them. In this case, they were needed, so we told the waitress to hold our orders and off we went. When several of us showed up at the house, the man said, "There's so many of you," to which one officer replied, "That's how we roll." Before being married to a police officer, I always drove past scenes with three or four cars and a swarm of officers and thought, "Geez. How many people do they need for a speeder?" but there is a deep, strong bond among police officers, and now that it's my man out there, I welcome the back up. You never know when things might turn ugly, even from a simple traffic stop. (See what can happen here A Hero's Farewell)
So I won't give a blow by blow, or explain each stop he made. Most were simple things; turning on red when there's a sign, not using a turn signal, speeding, stuff like that. For the most part, my mother-in-law's prayers were answered and it was a slow night. However, I did get to "run hot" which means speeding across town with lights and sirens. One minute we were cruising down the road, the next minute his laptop rings like a phone and his run comes up on the monitor. He hits the lights and sirens and off we go. We were driving 50 then stopping. Then 65, and a stop light. Driving one-handed, he'd turn on the air horn to clear the intersection, then race back up at top speeds. Shocking how few people get out of the way. Around corners, through alleys, the wrong way down the street, we arrived on scene. After it was over, he asked if I was scared. Not at all. He had evasive maneuvers driving classes, and he's always been in good control behind the wheel. I thought it was cool.
The area that he patrols is a pretty depressed neighborhood. Small houses huddle close together and there's the thinnest of lines between people's homes and the boarded-up houses next to them. We drove right through people's lives, their world as they knew it, because they probably didn't know any differently. Joshua has been in homes that were cared for and well-kept, and he's been in some that have shocked him at the filth and squalor. Those are the nights he is especially grateful for our warm, clean little toy-strewn home. There is a whole other world out there, and it's a million miles away from where I am. I thought about the families who lived in those houses, and by families I mean the conglomeration of people that make up a home; not the mom, dad, and brother I grew up with. I thought about the people who were struggling hard to get by, those touched by violence, held down by hard economic times, working to make ends meet, even if that means having to pay $7 for cereal at the gas station, because it's the closest thing to a grocery store for miles. Me? I have three grocery stores in a 2 mile radius of our home, two of which are within half a mile.
This isn't meant to be a "poor them/lucky me" post. I'm not even sure how to process what I saw. It was just a whole life that is completely foreign to me. Joshua and I have been talking about where to move in a few years when we're more financially prepared to do so. Neither of us are against moving into the city. Do I want to live in his beat? No, although there are a few amazing houses in there. He's not sure he wants to live where he works either. But we are called to reach out to those around us. Sure, I can do that here, right where we live, but there seems to be much more hurt and helplessness and need for hope there.
I think I need to sit with this some more and see where God is leading our hearts.