Gray skies and drizzling rain set a grim backdrop. The constant voices on the radio were nothing more than background noise until Officer Eric Taylor told me we had a call. After that, I listened more closely and eventually understood some of the unfamiliar speech patterns and terminology during my recent ride-along with police.
We parked in a busy intersection already partially blocked by a fire truck and an ambulance. Two cars were smashed. Bits of glass and plastic littered the road. I stepped carefully around the large pieces, but it was impossible to avoid the automotive liquids oozing across the pavement. A fire fighter was spreading kitty litter over the mess and warned me that it was slippery until properly cleaned and to be careful because my shoes would be slippery.
While Officer Taylor stepped into the ambulance to talk with one of the drivers, I watched the fire fighter begin to sweep up the mess from the wreck. There was so much debris from the two cars, much more than I would have expected. A second ambulance arrived for the other driver and, soon, both were on the way to the hospital.
All the while, life went on for the rest of the city.
A few cars slowed to gawk at the scene, and most looked irritated to have their morning commute slowed. An hour later, we drove through the same intersection and there was no remnant of the earlier devastation.
That is what first responders do – they clean up our mistakes and pick us up when we are not able to pick ourselves up. They keep our community moving along.
This accident was a “run-of-the-mill accident with injury” for the first responders and, yet, it was more destruction than most of us see up close. This was just the beginning. The day was a constant barrage of calls, some serious, some mundane (a truck parked facing the wrong direction). In between calls, Officer Taylor completed paperwork and helped people who stopped by the car and asked.
One poor lady was frantic about losing her car, but Taylor found it for her in under a minute. Her relief was almost tangible and her offers of thanks were truly heartfelt. It was a small thing for him, but saved her a lot of stress.
The remainder of the day was full of personal tragedies and minor infractions, but all were treated seriously and with surprising kindness. Officer Taylor said simply, “Every call we get is a crisis for that person. I try to treat it respectfully.” And he did, from the lady with the lost car to arresting a man recently released from jail. He treated everyone with respect and humanity.
There are a lot of stories and videos of police behaving badly or at best in questionable ways. These videos and news stories show police treating citizens as suspects, often not respecting their rights or being overly aggressive. While bad apples exist in every profession, when they are ordained with the power to arrest and use a deadly weapon, the consequences of their infractions can be irreparable.
Holding our officers to a high standard and questioning their actions is necessary. Because of the power they wield, our society relies on them to be honest and fair enforcers. When they deviate from what is expected our entire justice system is at risk.
The bad apples cause normal citizens to cringe at the sight of our police, to feel unease instead of relief at their presence. I recently heard a story about a little boy only 4 years old who is terrified of the police. He is not alone. Too many of our citizens feel fear, often warranted as they have experienced injustice and doubt that the police will be there for their benefit.
Transparency is the first step in restoring citizens’ faith in police. I do wish everyone could have a day like I had in my ride along with Officer Taylor. I saw professionalism couched in kindness. There was nothing soft or yielding about the enforcement, just simple human kindness in the interactions. I wish all of our citizens could expect that same kind of professionalism.
Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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