7 hours ago
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Composure, and the ability to maintain it, is something that's very important in any profession where you have to interact with people on a regular basis. I would say it's even more important, if not a critical skill, for someone in law enforcement. It's something that has to be maintained, regardless of what your true feelings are.
For example, let's consider the following tableau that I experienced today. Our office receives a tip, that someone we have a warrant out for, is at a location just outside of the city limits. It's a small trailer park. Now that might immediately conjure visions of rednecks into your minds, but you'd be wrong. We have, in my experience, four different types of trailer parks in our area. The first, is what you might expect, mostly white, mostly redneck types. The second, would be composed mostly of Hispanics, and the third, mostly of blacks. These first three, while being separated from each other, based almost solely on skin tone and language differences, all share some common things. They are almost universally composed of older trailers, very run-down, and the people who live in them don't do anything to improve them in any way. Trash usually litters the area, not just around the outside of the trailers, but the inside as well. Things are allowed to sit where they fall, and any pets people may have running loose are, at best, indifferently maintained.
The fourth, and final, type of trailer park I interact with is the nicest. The trailers may or may not be older, but they're generally well maintained. Instead of being surrounded by dirt, gravel, and weeds, they usually have lawns and shrubs and flowers that are neatly trimmed. Pets look healthy, well-fed, and are either on a leash run, or inside of a small fence. What type of people inhabit these trailer parks you might ask? People who take pride and responsibility in themselves and their surroundings. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, what have you. They're all mixed in there together, living side by side, and it's just like any nice neighborhood you might visit, except for the fact that the homes were once considered mobile.
Now, the place where we were going to today, was a small mobile home park, less than a dozen trailers, and fell into one of the first three categories. Skin color isn't important, but it was one of those run down and trashy looking places. We approached the targeted residence, with myself on perimeter heading around the back side to cover any rear entrances. As we approach, we notice a dog, a young Boxer mix, near the front door. Two entry agents make contact with the resident, and secure consent to search. The subject was not there, but was supposedly nearby, and on foot. The warrant team leader steps off towards the car and gets on the phone with the county sheriff's office to appraise them of the situation and probable location of the subject, as they have a warrant for her as well.
Meanwhile, myself and a female agent engage the residents in conversation, trying to see if we can find out any other information. The Boxer-mix pup is hanging around, and fairly friendly, when I notice another pup, similar to the first, peeking out from underneath the trailer. It's standing on three legs, as it's right front paw, is grossly mangled and swollen. We ask the resident about it, and he informs us that there are two dogs underneath the trailer, who have been hit by a car. He doesn't have a car to be able to take them to a vet, and he says he can't get Animal Control to do anything with them, they won't even return his calls. The other agent with me, is immediately on the phone, calling a friend with connections at Animal Control, as I walk over to peek under the trailer and see if I can see the other injured dog. It's lying there, under the trailer, with an injury to it's left hind leg. I know immediately that it's not broken. How you might ask? Because all of the fur and flesh has been scraped from one side of it's leg, and I can see the bones, and how they articulate at the joint.
I suddenly feel this cold, burning sensation building in my gut. I don't notice it right away, but my off-hand is gripping the butt of my baton and twisting it, as I struggle to come to grips with what I'm seeing. These two injured dogs were hit by a mini-van, that never stopped, two days ago. Two days of what must be almost un-endurable agony. Yet they look at us with tongues lolling out of the side of their mouths, and wags of their tails. That look of unconditional love in their eyes that confirms that these are in fact, young puppies, not more than six to twelve months old, and just want to please people.
That fire in my gut is now a full on blaze, and I feel the anger awaken within me. I begin to turn around so I can confront the resident, when I hear the female agent with me, start to get a strained quality to her voice, as she's alternating between talking to Animal Control on the phone, and questioning the resident as to the specifics of the incident and the injuries to the two dogs. From past experience, I can tell that she's about to launch into a tirade. I look past her, and see about eight people, in front of one of the other trailers, watching the proceedings with interest. In front of the trailer next to that are four more people, also watching, as are the six people at the next trailer, and the seven or eight people gathered in front of the last trailer in the cul de sac.
Reality comes crashing back down on me. This is not a 'nice' trailer park, and we're not in the best of neighborhoods anyway. We're easily outnumbered by the residents watching the proceedings, by about seven or eight to one. One thing crashes through my brain. This Can Not Escalate!! The stoneface goes on, and I step away from the trailer, and approach the agent. I tell her to stay on the phone, and get Animal Control out here ASAP, because we're not leaving those dogs here. Then, I get a grip on the anger, push the fire down, and turn to engage the resident in conversation, gleaning what I can from him about the hit and run on the dogs. I have to be polite, and understanding, as I listen to him explain that he just didn't have any way to get the dogs to a vet. He doesn't have a car, and he's not friendly enough with any of the other residents of the trailer park to get them to give him and a the dogs a ride to see a vet. I nod, and mutter platitudes to keep him calm and relaxed, while the only thing I'm aching to do, is pull out my baton and OC, and administer the beating this guy so richly deserves, then make sure both is knee caps are broken, stuff him under his own trailer, and come back to check on him in a couple of days to see how he thinks it feels.
This is where the composure part comes into play. I can't let what's going through my head and gut show on my face. As much as I believe that I would be morally justified in administering the aforementioned beat down, I know it's not going to happen, and can't let my own desire for moral justice, make me prod this guy into a fight. So I keep a leash on myself, make sure the other agent stays calm, and we wait while Animal Control comes, writes the guy a citation because they'd come out two days ago and ordered him to get medical attention for his pets, and take not only the injured dogs, but all dogs at the residence away.
I swear, abuse of animals and kids are the hardest things to see, especially as an LEO, because you can't do what you want to do, but have to enforce what the law says should be done. Composure is a difficult thing to maintain in such situations, but it's something you absolutely have to do.
My hat's off to all you regular patrol guys, who have to deal with crap like this on a daily basis. I don't know how you do it. I'm sure I would step across the line in short order if I had to see and deal with this kind of thing regularly.
Well, I'm off to see if a beer or three can't help me forget the look in that pups eye, when it licked my hand as we loaded it into the truck for transport to a vet. It was just heart-breaking.