by Sgt. Bernie Moss
The department was all astir, there was a lot of laughing and joking due to all the new officers, myself included, hitting the streets today for the first time. After months of seemingly endless classes, paperwork and lectures, we were finally done with the Police Academy and ready to join the ranks of our department. All you could see were rows of cadets with hugs, smiles and polished badges.
As we sat in the briefing room, we could barely sit still anxiously awaiting our turn to be introduced and given our beat assignment or, for the lay person, our own portion of the city to “serve and protect.” It was then that he walked in, a statue of a man, six foot three, and 230 pounds of solid muscle. He had black hair with highlights of gray and steely eyes that made you feel nervous even when he wasn’t looking at you. He had a reputation for being the biggest and the smartest officer to ever work our fair city.
He had been in the department for longer than anyone could remember, and those years of service had made him into a legend. The new guys, or the “rookies” as he called us, both respected and feared him. When he spoke even the most seasoned officer paid attention. It was considered a privilege when one of the rookies got to be around when he told one of his police stories about the old days. But we knew our place and never interrupted for fear of being shooed away. He was respected and revered by all who knew him.
After my first year on the department, I still had never seen or heard him speak to any of the rookies for any length of time. When he did, all he said was, “So you want to be a policeman, do you, hero? I’ll tell you what, when you can tell me what they taste like then you can call yourself a real policeman.” I had heard this particular phrase dozens of times. My buddies and I had bets about what theytasted like. Some believed it referred to the taste of our own blood after a hard fight. Others thought it referred to the taste of sweat after a long day’s work.
Being on the department for year, I thought I knew just about everyone and everything. So one afternoon I mustered up the courage and walked over to him. When he looked down at me, I said, “You know, I think I’ve paid my dues. I’ve been in plenty of fights, made dozens of arrests and sweated my butt off just like everyone else. So what does that little saying of yours mean anyway?”
With that he merely said, “Well, seeing as how you’ve said and done it all, you tell me what it means, hero.” When I had no answer, he shook his head and snickered, “Rookies,” and walked away.
The next evening was to be my worst call to date. The night started out slow, but as the evening wore on, the calls became more frequent and dangerous. I made several small arrests and then had a real knock down drag out fight. However, I was able to make the arrest without hurting the suspect or myself. After that, I was looking forward to ending the shift and getting home to my wife and daughter.
I had just glanced at my watch and it was 11:55, five more minutes and I would be on my way to the house. I don’t know if it was fatigue or my imagination, but as I drove down one of the streets on my beat, I thought I saw my daughter standing on someone else’s porch. I looked again, but it was not my daughter, but a small child about her age. She was probably only six or seven years old and dressed in an oversized shirt that hung to her feet. She was clutching a rag doll in her arm that looked older than me.
I immediately stopped to see what she was doing outside the house at such an hour. When I approached, there seemed to be a sigh of relief on her face. I had to laugh to myself, thinking she saw the hero policeman come to save the day. I knelt beside her and asked what she was doing outside. She said, “My mommy and daddy had a big fight, and now Mommy won’t wake up.” My mind was reeling. Now what to do? I instantly called for backup and ran to the nearest window. As I looked inside I saw a man standing over a lady with his hands covered in blood…her blood. I kicked open the door and pushed the man aside and checked for a pulse, but was unable to find one. I immediately cuffed the man and began CPR on the lady.
I then heard a small voice behind me say, “Mr. Policeman, please make my mommy wake up.” I continued to perform CPR until backup and medics arrived, but they said it was too late. I looked at the man, who said, “I don’t know what happened. She was yelling at me to stop drinking and go get a job and I had just had enough. I shoved her so she’d leave me alone and she fell and hit her head.”
As I walked the man in handcuffs out to the car, I again saw that little girl. In the five minutes that passed, I went from hero to monster. Not only was I unable to wake up her mommy, now I was taking her daddy away too. Before I left the scene I thought I would talk to her, tell her I was sorry about her mommy and daddy. But as I approached she turned away, and I knew it was useless, I probably would make matters worse.
As I sat in my locker room at the station, I kept replaying the whole thing in my mind. Maybe if I would have been faster or done something different, just maybe the little girl would still have her mother. And even though it might sound selfish, I would still be the hero.
It was then that I felt a large hand on my shoulder, and I heard that all too familiar question again. “Well, hero, what do they taste like?” But before I could get mad or shout some sarcastic remark I realized that all the pent-up emotions had surfaced, and now a steady stream of tears cascaded down my face.
At that moment, I realized what the answer to his question was. Tears.
With that he walked away but then stopped. “There was nothing you could have done differently, you know. Sometimes you do everything right and the outcome is still the same. You may not be the hero you once thought you were, but now you are a policeman.”
Sgt. Bernie Moss is a bomb technician with the Corpus Christi Police Department. This article originally ran in Police Beat Magazine.