The stories in this book fall loosely into five categories and are identified as:
Some walk a beat in the inner city, others patrol rural highways or small towns. Some wear blue uniforms, others wear khaki. Their patches are as different as their badges, but what they have in common is that every time one of them puts on his uniform, straps on his gun, and pins on his badge, he knows that he will be facing the unknown. The hours of his shift may crawl along with nothing more than checking out a broken burglar alarm to break the monotony. Or time may sail by with lights and sirens from one emergency to the next. You just never know, and that s why it takes a certain kind of person to do the job. There are some certainties: heartache, cruelty, and death are constant companions in the career of every law enforcement officer. So are humor, irony, and courage.
At the end of the day there are stories to tell. Stories from the beat.
The lone bugler will stand tall among the silent headstones. He will be ramrod straight, uniform crisply pressed, badge polished and gleaming. A salute will be passed and the mournful melody of taps will tear into the souls of all present. The flag of our nation will be folded by those who have chosen this solemn duty and handed off, as the ultimate symbol of sacrifice, to widow or parent, child or spouse.
Uniformed arms will rise in final salute as the piper plays Amazing Grace and seven rifles will fire as one, each of the three volleys causing the survivors to flinch.
This sad scene will take place today in one part of our country and tomorrow in yet another. The ceremony is always the same, yet as different as the individual officer being honored. It is the one time in law enforcement when all personal differences and politics are forgotten and empathy unites those who share the profession.
It is the time we honor those who have given their lives in the line of duty; we call them the fallen.
Every cop has them. You will hear them in the locker rooms of police stations in the largest cities, in the station parking lots in the smallest towns. You will hear them in neighborhood bars and hangouts where off-duty cops let off steam after the end of their watch. They re called war stories. These are the tales that will work their way into private conversations with other cops, and with those lucky enough to be taken into their confidence. Some are poignant, some absurd; others might offend delicate sensibilities. Some will make you laugh out loud; some will make you shake your head in amazement. These stories are a cop s way of sharing the moment, a snapshot from his album of memorable moments in a long and riotously varied career.
Line of Duty
Much of a police officer s work is routine; it is simply interacting with people who have problems, or issues, or even illnesses. The truth is, the majority of the calls won t even be remembered at the end of the week. But there is always that one call, the one that changes your life. The revelation experienced may come from inside when suddenly the cop sees something in someone or in himself that he never saw before. These stories are epiphanies they are the stories from a cop s life that will never be forgotten by those who have lived them. What these stories have in common is that they define the line of duty : the line that separates cop from civilian, the line that no cop can retreat from, where every cop makes his stand, no matter what it costs him.
The reality of killing another human being is never what we expect, despite the hours on the firearms range and the intensity of our training. The changes may be subtle, dramatic, destructive, or inspiring, but change is inevitable. Most of law enforcement officers know that the taking of a life is the most foreign yet compelling experience of their career. Despite Hollywood s portrayal of America s cops as trigger-happy, troubled men and women, the reality is that less than one in two hundred will ever fire a weapon in combat during an entire career. Many of the bullets fired will never find their mark, never leave a legacy of blood, but even the act of pulling the trigger will change the course of an officer s life. The decision may mean their own life, their partner s life, or the lives of the people they are sworn to protect. It is called many things, but a cop calls it deadly force.
Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran and the national spokesman for the American Council on Public Safety (www.defendingtheshield.org). He served 10 years in the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of Lieutenant with numerous awards for valor, lifesaving, community service and exemplary service. Sutton has trained thousands of U.S. law enforcement officers and is the author of True Blue: Police Stories by Those who Have Lived Them, A Cop’s Life: True Stories from the Heart Behind the Badge, True Blue: To Protect and Serve and The Power of Legacy: Personal Heroes of America’s Most Inspiring People. Reach him via his website at www.thepoweroflegacy.com.