The reattachment of severed limbs such as fingers
is now 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
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.
Too Much
"The most important thing for you to
remember is to never do anyone harm
through insensitivity." ~ Barry M. Baker
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.
Copyright © 2019  Barry M. Baker