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The reattachment of severed limbs such as fingers is
becoming a fairly common medical procedure experiencing
more success as time goes by. When some hospitals first
began attempting those procedures with some regularity, I
was still a patrol officer.
It turned out that the victim was an area drug dealer, and he was involved in a verbal argument with a rival drug dealer. As the argument escalated, our
victim tried to remove his sawed-off shotgun which he had concealed inside his pants with the barrel running down the inside of his right leg. He
immediately experienced difficultly in freeing the gun from his pants, so he reached down with his left hand and grabbed the end of the barrel to push up
on the gun.
Well, you know what happened next. His stress and lack of coordination resulted in the shotgun discharging through his pants and into his hand. The
blast completely severed the index, middle, and ring fingers of his left hand.
To say that this victim was receiving no compassion from anyone would be an understatement. If any family or friends were present, they didn't show
themselves. The officer handling the call did exactly what he was supposed to do. He called for paramedics, collected the shotgun, identified witnesses,
and responded to the hospital to attempt an interview with the victim, before he charged him with the gun violation.
As the ambulance departed followed by the other officers, I decided to locate the victim's fingers. It turned out that the blast had carried those fingers
far and wide from the point of impact. When three teenage girls asked me what I was looking for, they offered to help, and we soon located all three
fingers. I was amazed at how cleanly severed the fingers appeared to be. Talk about a lack of compassion, the ring finger still bore what appeared to be
an expensive ring, and one of the girls ask if she could have the ring. Even though I denied her request, she still graciously emptied her paper soda cup
providing me a container to collect the fingers.
I had one more stop to make. I walked to a liquor store nearby where the owner provided me with a plastic bag filled with ice. I placed the fingers into
the bag, and I drove to the emergency room where I delivered the fingers to the hospital staff.
To say that I showed compassion for this victim of his own stupidity would be a false assumption. I felt absolutely no compassion toward him. I only did
what I thought to be the right thing to do, and that's where it ended. I never made any attempt to learn if the doctors had any success in reattaching his
fingers, or, if the doctors had even attempted such an operation.
You'll soon learn that there are many people who are not, and never will be, deserving of compassion. With all the terrible things you're going to see,
you don't want to waste any compassion on those who don't deserve your compassion. Of course, you will frequently meet those who are deserving.
As a young officer, I was assigned to foot patrol in a residential area that was experiencing a rash of weekend street robberies. It was 8:00 on a Sunday
morning as I stood at the corner of a very empty intersection. As I looked around, I saw one elderly woman walking toward me. The woman, who I
would later learn was 78 years old, was all dressed up for church which I would also soon learn.
She was a small woman and frail as you might expect a woman of her age to be. As she walked directly toward me, she made eye contact with me, and I
smiled and said, "Good morning." I received no smile or similar greeting in return. The woman simply stopped and looked up at me as she spoke,
"Officer...I need you to come to my house. I just killed my husband."
We walked in silence to her home which was in the same block. As we walked through the front door, I asked, "Where is he?" The woman simply
pointed to the stairway leading to the second floor. I quickly located her husband on the stairway landing between the first and second floor. The 80
year old was a big man, and he looked to have been fit for his age. He was in an awkward sitting position with his back against the wall and his head was
slumped forward. The large hole in his left eye socket was quite noticeable, and it was also noticeable that he was quite dead. There was very little
blood, and it was not immediately evident that the hole was the result of a gunshot wound since I observed no exit wound. That question was soon
resolved when I moved his head back to get a closer look at the wound. His skull was shattered, and it felt like I was holding a bean bag.
I turned toward the woman and asked, "Where's the gun?" She led me to the kitchen where she pointed to a 4-10 gauge shotgun leaning against the
wall. The small gauge of the shotgun accounted for the lack of an exit wound as well as the frail woman's ability to use the weapon. I then simply
asked, "What happened?" She explained that she had gotten ready for church when her husband denied her permission to attend church. He was
standing on the top landing blocking the stairway when she retrieved the shotgun from the upstairs bedroom. She explained that she simply pointed the
gun and pulled the trigger. Her husband tumbled down the stairway and came to rest where I'd observed him. She told me that after nearly sixty years
of marriage, she "just couldn't take it anymore." She went on to say that she'd intended to go to church and tell her pastor what had happened, but,
when she saw me, she realized she should tell me what had happened.
The woman had initially admitted her guilt to me with the unsolicited statement that she'd killed her husband. Feeling a sense of compassion toward the
woman, I purposely did not give her Miranda warnings at that time. I wanted to know more about what had happened, but I did not want any further
statements she made to me to put her in more jeopardy. At this point, I gave the woman her Miranda warnings, and I emphasized her right to say
nothing to police officers; until, she had counsel from an attorney. I then ask the woman if she had any family members or others she'd like to have
contacted. Following her wishes, I telephoned her granddaughter and explained the circumstances. I also promised to stop by her church and explain to
her pastor why she was absent from church.
As we waited for arrival of the Homicide detectives, I explained to her that the detectives would be very nice to her, but she should not talk to them
about what had happened; until, her granddaughter could arrange for the arrival of her attorney. Even though she indicated her understanding of my
directions, I knew the detectives would have her talking in no time...she had the innocence of a child.
As your police career progresses, you never want to lose your capacity to show compassion; however, you don't want to go the other way either. When
you watch the television cop shows, you often see police officers agonizing over the tragedies of others. Of course, you'll also see the so called
documentaries and breaking news stories where real cops are gushing with hand wringing emotional displays of compassion. One could begin to wonder
which is imitating what.
As a police officer, you're the person who's suppose to keep your head when those around you are losing theirs. If you let your compassion go too far,
you'll quickly run out of energy and time to fulfill unrealistic commitments to others to whom those commitments should have never been made. You
need to understand that you'll have many ways to aid others in time of tragedy that are completely within your powers as a police officer without
personalizing that aid.
Why do you think psychiatrists and psychologists treat each other. It's because, unlike you, they have fewer meaningful ways of influencing or
controlling the behavior of others. When you let your compassion take you beyond what you can realistically do, and into that murky world of
psychology, you're going to suffer the same stress of frustration from overcommitment and failure.
A friend of mine was barely past brand new when he got his first assignment to make a death notification. He had to notify a mother that her son had
been murdered in another state. After he got all the information from the Communications Division, he rehearsed several versions of what he might
say as he drove to the woman's residence.
He knocked on the door, and a woman answered. He verified that the woman was the woman he was seeking. Forgetting most of what he'd rehearsed,
he simply came to the point as best as he could, "I'm sorry to have to tell you that your son, Marcus, died this morning in South Carolina." Actually, he
did quite well. He didn't use words like murdered, shot to death, killed, etc. He braced himself for an emotional response from the woman.
The woman paused for a few seconds with a puzzled expression on her face. "Which one is that," she asked? The officer got his response, but one for
which he was totally unprepared. As it turned out, the woman had ten children, most of whom had left her care at young ages for various reasons, and
she was simply having a problem putting the name with the face. She displayed no emotion as the officer ended his non-event by giving her all the
information he had regarding the death of her son.
The most important thing for you to remember is to never do anyone harm through insensitivity. Even when people are undeserving of any display of
compassion from you, it won't kill you to show a little anyway. When you encounter those who are truly deserving of your compassion, just don't let
yourself get carried away.
On one occasion I responded, with other officers, to a report of gunfire. We found a young man rolling around on the sidewalk grasping his left hand
with his right hand. He was screaming and bleeding, and his sawed-off single barrel 12 gauge shotgun was laying on the sidewalk nearby.
From the physical evidence and witnesses, it didn't take long to learn the whole story. In fact, in an area where witnesses were often scarce, there were
no lack of witnesses eager to describe the details of this event.
Whatever expectations you have concerning your police career, you will, with absolute certainty, frequently witness real human tragedies. You may, or
may not, have some control over your level of involvement in those tragedies.
It's important that you possess compassion and display sensitivity for tragedies experienced by others. However, you have to consider the human
capacity for inflicting harm, and the unbelievable number of ways that harm can be inflicted.
Think about this...in the space of one week, you could handle two separate homicides, a sexual child abuse, a dozen or so domestic violence calls, a couple
of street robberies, and any number of other things. If you end up working in a high crime area of a large city or metropolitan area, experiencing this
high level of activity is not unusual, so you'll be interacting with a lot of people who are experiencing extremely stressful situations.
Some police officers will show little to no compassion toward victims of crime, or they may be very particular in choosing those to whom they display
some level of compassion.