Back of the Book
More than traffic tickets: talking in public about police duties
By Kevin Richard
By Kevin Richard
The tragic events that can befall someone and the terrible things a person can do to another can be so awful that just hearing about them can permanently scar the soul. You’d think that such incidents would be rare, but they are not. In fact, there is no shortage of them. And while we are often exposed to negative news reports, most of the suffering around us goes unreported.
There’s indeed a lot of pain and despair in this world, and there are some who come to experience a certain type of personal hell here on earth. I’ve seen it; I’ve contended with it; and I’ve felt its burning heat.
Often times when I meet someone, and they learn that I am a police officer, I am greeted with some comment or story about a traffic citation of some kind. It’s often a complaint about how they felt they should have benefited from the officer’s discretion, but didn’t. Traffic code enforcement is indeed the context in which there is the most contact between citizens and officers, so I can understand how this may be the default subject of conversation, but I’m nonetheless struck by the lack of knowledge about the many other police duties.
For the most part, my responses to such comments are limited to a smile and a shrug, or perhaps changing the subject entirely. At times, however, when I am feeling fairly energetic and sociable, and when I sense that I am in the company of a reasonable person, I will respond by carefully steering the conversation towards other aspects of my work. I let them know that the pain and suffering in their community is probably far worse than they believe, that they likely have a friend, neighbour, or family member of whom they are unaware, who struggles with suicidal thoughts, and that a large part of our work is dedicated to responding to such people in crises.
I must admit, however, that with the passing of time, I am finding it increasingly difficult to simply shrug off such comments, regardless of their either innocent or resentful nature, and regardless of my ability to socialize in the moment.
At times, while I’m listening to stories about traffic tickets and the like, I’m also discretely tending to my latest wounds. Though others may not notice it, my body sometimes aches from the burns of repeatedly reaching through the fires of hell. Though others may not hear it, my ears are sometimes filled with mothers’ and fathers’ high-pitched screams of horror. And though others may not see it, my mind sometimes struggles to un-see what it cannot un-see and to forget what it cannot forget.
“So you’re the guy who gives us tickets eh,” she said, in a somewhat passive-aggressive tone.
“Yes ma’am,” I responded, while feeling a tidal wave about to leap from my chest. “It’s not all I do, however. I also hurry off to help those who are descending into the pits of hell. You see, sometimes I get there on time, before hell completely devours them, but sometimes I don’t. When I do get there on time, I have to contend with the hell they’re in, hoping it doesn’t devour me in the process. When I don’t get there on time, I have to grapple with hell’s destructive power, and I have to contend with how it will now be unleashed on the loved ones left behind as I break the news.”
“Oh,” she responded.
“Yes ma’am,” I replied. “I could go on at length about death and tragedy, pain and despair, but know this: many people around us are suffering, and while I am indeed the guy who gives you tickets, I’m also the guy who contends with the forces of hell.”
*Note: The French version of this piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post Québec: bit.ly/2BTVFrZ.