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I was on field training, which meant I had a trainer (veteran officer) with me on every call, every traffic stop, wherever I went as a new police officer, my trainer was there.

I was on my second phase of training, if I had to guess, I was roughly 9 weeks into my career as a Dallas Police officer. I was still very “green” and naïve. I don’t even know if I’d seen crack cocaine yet.

We worked an odd shift, 7pm – 5am which meant we stayed pretty busy. Southeast Dallas is known as a rough part of town. It was my number one choice of where I wanted to work when I filled out my wish list in the academy. I know, I have some screws loose.

Just south of downtown, we made a traffic stop. I don’t remember all the details to be honest. All I remember is the driver was clearly drunk. He wasn’t incoherent, but he was bad enough to where SFST testing was futile, so it was a relatively easy DWI arrest.

My trainer wasn’t particularly my favorite person in the world. He’s no longer a police officer.

Needless to say, he was a big guy. No, not eats 15 donuts a shift big. He was probably 6’4” 260 pounds nearly all muscle. Maybe bigger. Needless to say, he wasn’t worried about people trying to pick a fight with him.

So back to the DWI traffic stop. As I’m about to put the guy in handcuffs, my trainer says, “Don’t do anything stupid, my rookie has an itchy trigger finger.”

Really?

Needless to say, I didn’t appreciate that comment. I didn’t have an itchy trigger finger. How would he know? I hadn’t shot anyone. I was brand new and still learning the job. I wasn’t overly aggressive or said or done anything crazy to suggest I was eager to shoot someone. Quite the opposite actually. No police officer wants to shoot someone. In fact, despite many close calls, I never shot anyone in my 12+ years with the Dallas Police Department. Thank God.

It should come as no surprise, the person being arrested didn’t appreciate the comment either. Insinuating he could be shot despite the fact he was cooperating was rather ridiculous, so I understood why he wasn’t thrilled. But being new, I just ignored it and continued on with the arrest.

Later on at jail, I was able to apologize to the guy. I told him I was sorry my trainer was such an as*hole and I didn’t understand why he said what he said. The guy thanked me for being cool. The person being arrested wasn’t upset with me. He knew he was wrong for driving in his condition. He knew it was nothing personal on my part, I was just doing my job. Thankfully he wasn’t an aggressive drunk.

Fast forward a month or so later.

I’m now on a different phase of training with a different trainer, different shift, same neighborhood. A call about a house with water pouring out of it comes in. The call also mentions that the owner of the house hadn’t been seen in a few days.

Awesome. (Sarcasm) Immediately I thought, “Today is the day, what every rookie is inevitably subjected to, a decomposed dead guy.”

If my memory serves me correctly at this point in the summer, we were well into double digit consecutive days where the high temperature surpassed 100 degrees. Needless to say, I was prepared for the worst on this call.

We arrive and sure enough the yard around the home had standing water and it is clear something has gone amiss inside to cause the flood. Turns out, a pipe under the house burst open and was spraying water all over the place, flooding the yard. That busted pipe was a blessing!

As we walk up to the house and began doing what police do, snoop around looking for a way into the house, the neighbor who called walks up.

As my luck would have it, it was the guy I arrested for DWI on my previous phase of training.

Awesome (Sarcasm again). At first, I was nervous. Seeing people you’ve arrested is naturally awkward and avoided if possible for obvious reasons. Luckily, this guy not only remembered me, he remembered how I treated him compared to my previous trainer.

Minutes later, that same guy was boosting me into his neighbor’s window. He was now helping me. A guy I had arrested just weeks before.

In the end, I found his neighbor deceased from natural causes. Thankfully, the broken water pipe kept the home cool and the deceased person had not begun to decompose. That stroke of luck started my streak of 12+ years without ever standing in the same room as a decomposed body.

Yes, you read that right. I went 12+ years in Dallas, Texas, as a police officer, and never once stood in the same room as a decomposed body. I was slated to go to homicide for a 6 month training program at one time in my career. Had that happened, my streak would have surely ended. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I’m definitely okay with that.

The moral of the story is simple. Today’s arrestee could be tomorrow’s witness or victim. Just because someone is going to jail today, doesn’t inherently make them a bad person. More importantly, as a police officer, you never know when you may need help or from whom.

If the only person around to help you, is someone you’ve arrested, I sure hope the arrest went well. If it didn’t and the guy was a complete scumbag or pain in the neck, so be it. Obviously those people exist too. Not every arrestee is rationale and takes responsibility for their actions. Not every arrestee realizes it’s usually their (bad) choices that led to them being in handcuffs.

Despite all that, we still have control over how we treat people, even if they are the worst of the worst. If that’s the case, let the arrest report do the talking. No sense in stooping to their level and having to answer to internal affairs over a pissing match or letting them get the best of you.

I was glad I learned that lesson so early in my career. I always tried hard to be fair and professional to the people I dealt with. Sure, I made mistakes or had bad days. We all do. I am far from perfect. But for the most part, people respected me and I respected them. That’s how it works. Or at least how it should. If someone fought me, I fought back. If someone was cool with me, I was cool back. Pretty simple really.

It was much easier to walk a prisoner into jail, instead of dragging someone kicking and screaming, acting like a child because you made them mad. Let me be clear, sometimes people just act like that because they’re childish and it may not be the fault of the arresting officer. Videos on social media would surely lead you to believe otherwise, but that’s a whole other topic.

I’m not suggesting police officers need to coddle everyone they encounter, just be professional. Comments like my trainer made, only stood to create more division between us and the community. Something we don’t need more of in our society.

So if you’re reading this and you want to become a police officer, I hope you enjoyed this story and maybe learned something from it.

You just never know who will be there to give you a boost when you need it.

Thank an officer today.

The Officer Next Door

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2 thoughts on “A Dead Person, A Broken Water Pipe, and Not Poking the Bear – Lessons From The Streets

  1. Nailed it! You’re absolutely right. You control you and you have a choice as to the type of person and type of cop you want to be. What the other person chooses is on them, but, by and large, being decent to people gets you decency in return. BTW, I *cannot* believe that in an agency with Dallas’s call load you managed to avoid a decomposing body. Kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

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