By. T. Lefever
It was a cold and windy Tuesday night in late January and I was freshly out of the police academy about to start my fourth week of field training with my field training officer. I showed up to roll call early as I always did, because like most rookies, I just couldn’t wait to get out on the road and police. There was something about the excitement in the air and knowing that anything could happen that I felt like I was on the world’s grandest stage witnessing and taking part in the great human drama as it played out. I was ready and eager to prove myself and show what I learned during the six months I was cooped up in the academy. On this fateful night, I learned that this job we work was no joke and that the “anything can happen” aspect of it should never be taken lightly.
I was working morning watch so the tour began at 2230 and ran through the night until 0630. I had one other buddy from the academy going through the FTO program with me this rotation and we each had a steady FTO assigned to us. My Academy mate had to sick out for the night so I was the only rookie on the watch. I learned a great deal from my trainer, who we’ll call Keo, but he was on the books to be off as well. There was only one other field training officer on the watch. We’ll call her Angel. Angel was everything you’d expect out of a veteran officer. She had been on the job for nearly twenty years and had worked her way around our department’s many units. She had done it all from Honor Guard to our most elite crime fighting unit during the course of her career. Retirement was in sight for Angel, as she was closing out a life of public service by mentoring the new crop that was just starting out. As we stood lined up at roll call, I was sure I’d be riding with Angel since my trainer and her trainee both had the night off. To my surprise, Sarge called my name and told me I’d be riding with Bing, a young go-getter of an officer that had less than one year on. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I actually was kind of relieved that I’d be riding with someone my own age for the first time and the pressure I had been carrying on my shoulders got a little lighter. There was no way anyone could have known what the night would bring.
Bing and I took the road ready to go out and make something happen. We got our first call of the night, an audible alarm, at a downtown apartment building. We got out of the car and walked the perimeter of the building, checking any windows and doors we came across to make sure they were secured. It turned out to be a false alarm and Bing told me to radio it in as such. I pressed the button down on my shoulder radio only to be given the tone that you typically get when someone else is trying to transmit. I waited. Dispatch advised that there were calls coming in that an officer was struck by a vehicle on the interstate. Bing yelled, “Come on!” and we ran back to the car. When we got into our vehicle, we looked on our MDT and saw that Angel was out on a traffic accident on the interstate. Radio advised that the officer was down. My heart sunk. We started to the location of the call and were dispatched a suspicious person call on our beat which forced us to reroute. Officers continued to show up on scene and you could hear in the stress of their voices that the situation was not good. Officers advised radio to “speed up the 4” and that “she’s low”. Any cop knows this means that the officers are watching helplessly and asking radio to speed up the ambulance because Angel is in dire straits. We handled our call and waited for the news to break. It didn’t take long before the update that everyone was dreading was given.
Angel died on scene that night. She was out on foot working a traffic accident in the far left lane of a busy highway when she was stuck by a drunk driver. Angel got pinned in between two vehicles and literally cut in half. The watch was heartbroken. As the chaplaincy units and command staff held a meeting at the precinct, I watched the reactions of my fellow officers, some of who had known Angel for years, range from disbelief to agony. My FTO, Keo, showed up in sweats and a t-shirt after someone called him and gave him the bad news. Some people cried, some stared off into space, everyone dealt with it in their own way.
Whenever anyone dies, people mourn and grieve. When a fellow officer dies, we go through the same range of feelings, but we also come face to face with our own mortality. We think about how it could have been us and we wonder how our family would get by if we got taken out of this world. I never really understood why I rode with Bing that night instead of Angel. I was told that they decided to give her a break from training rookies for the night and that is the reason they put me in the capable hands of Bing. I didn’t really know Angel. I only knew of her by the way she smiled and said hello when we crossed paths in roll call and how she told me to listen to Keo and learn from him. For a long time I thought about how things would have played differently if I rode with her that night as I would typically be her assignment on any other night. Part of me thought I could have saved her. Maybe I would have been asking her a question and keeping her tied up someplace else or maybe I’d have been standing next to her to either see the speeding car approaching or to get taken out with her. Maybe we would have taken a moment longer to get on scene if I was the one driving. The what-if’s are endless.
I’m almost five years into this career and I’ve learned many lessons on the way from other potentially life threatening situations. To this day, I pay extra caution when I am out on the road handling the mundaneness of just another traffic accident. I always wear my reflective vest, move to the safest possible place, and check my six frequently. I still sometimes think of Angel’s family and what she’d be doing with herself had she gotten to retire like she deserved to.
Saint Michael is the Patron Saint of Law Enforcement. If you’re superstitious or spiritual, maybe you subscribe to the idea that there is someone or something watching out for us while we’re out there fighting the good fight. I don’t know why Saint Michael protected me that night and had me ride with Bing and I don’t know why he didn’t protect Angel. One thing I do know is that we all have on the job experiences that leave us driving home at the end of the watch thinking, “That could have been it for me”. All we can do is honor the memory of those that answered their last call by taking every precaution to better our odds of making it home to our families whether putting in a night’s work means chasing after an armed gunman or directing traffic. We confront violent criminals for a living. Yet sometimes the greatest danger is just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I ask the reader this. What are your “close call” stories and what did you learn from them? Thanks for reading and be safe out there.
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