I was blessed to have spent twenty-four years working for the Grand Rapids Police Department. Though I did not leave unscathed by the trauma and violence we experience on the job, it was always worth it in the end! It was an incredibly fulfilling career, with all the good and bad that the job entails. There were those times when one wondered if they had any positive and lasting impact on the people we serve.
This story begins about one year post-retirement, right after an unpleasant divorce. I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely woman for drinks and a few rounds of pool at a local establishment. Our conversation was easy and relaxed, and the pool games were competitive but friendly. At some point, when my police career came up in conversation, my date casually commented that she thought we had met about seven years prior. During that period, I was working at Narcotics and highly doubted having contact with her in that capacity. She related how she was in the city with her abusive ex-boyfriend, and I intervened to help her. Still skeptical, I told her it was unlikely because I did not respond to domestics in those days.
As she continued her story, it suddenly came back to me as if it were yesterday. I recalled it being a sunny spring day, and I was parked in front of Jimmy Johns on North Monroe to get lunch with my friend, an assistant prosecutor. I noticed an impressive sports car pull into the spot in front of us. An obviously angry, agitated man exited the driver’s side and ran around to the passenger side to scream at the woman, who had locked the car doors in fear. He continued to scream and threatened to break the window and drag her out. I directed my friend to be prepared to call for backup in the event I was not able to deescalate the situation, and it got physical.
I approached the man and identified myself. In those days, I did not look like a cop, sporting long hair and a rather scruffy beard. This “man” proceeded to tell me to mind my business and make threats to my physical wellbeing. He soon decided to comply with my instructions to move away from the vehicle after I explained what would actually happen if he continued to act aggressively. I contacted the female passenger, who assured me she was uninjured, and they were merely having an argument. I explained she did not have to live like this, and she deserved to feel safe and loved; she deserved to be treated with respect and kindness. She ended up declining my assistance and leaving with the “man”, I recalled feeling sad for her.
Fast forward to the meet-up. At some point, she stopped playing pool and looked at me with a serious expression. She explained that my words made an impact on her, and on that day, she began planning to separate herself from the horrible situation she found herself in. She was able to see her true value after making some very difficult changes in her life. I am in no way taking credit for all the work she must have done to become the confident woman standing before me, but it felt good to know that I was a positive influence in her life. She thanked me with a wonderful dinner on our second date. While no lasting love connection came out of our interaction, I was glad we met again and thankful for the confirmation that what we do means something to the people we serve, even when we don’t see the outcomes.