The other day I had an experience that reminded me why I wanted to be a police officer. It started out as a routine 920J call, (critical missing juvenile). When I looked at the call, I immediately noticed that I had been to this same house on at least three other occasions for the same reason.
The family, we’ll call them the Browns, live on a crime ridden street in a part of Long Beach that is overrun by gangs, drugs, and violence. Nestled in the midst of all these problems is the Brown’s home. The house is very neat and well maintained. It also has a well-cared for lawn that looks very out of place in the neighborhood.
Of course, I wasn’t thinking of all this as I drove to the Brown’s house. I was only thinking of what I wanted to do. Like look for the gang members that had just committed a drive-by shooting. Or arrest the drug dealer that was selling his wares on any of the street corners of the city. But now I was being forced to spend my time looking for a mentally retarded 19-year-old kid that had slipped out of his parent’s house because he wanted to go to school.
And what about Brian? He was a 19-years-old boy with the mind of a 6-year-old. The only thing he really had in his life was school. And all he wanted to do was go to that school, where he could interact with other members of his peer group.
When I arrived at the Brown home, Mrs. Brown was waiting for me on the porch. She began to apologize for being such a bother and taking me away from my other duties. She explained to me for the third time in the last four months how she and her husband had to keep the doors and windows locked all the time or Brian would get out and start running towards the city of Norwalk where his school was located (some 30 miles to the northeast).
As she was explaining all this I pretended to listen as if I had never heard it before, when in reality I was thinking “why can’t these people keep these doors locked so that Brian can’t get out and cause me all this trouble? I promised Mrs. Brown that I’d find her son and return him soon. As I walked out the front door Mrs. Brown said, “God bless you for being so kind and understanding.”
With that I felt the first pangs of guilt; I was being neither kind nor understanding. I was only doing a very good job of hiding my true feelings. Here was an obviously distraught mother putting all of her faith and trust in me to bring her handicapped son home safe and sound and I was only concerned with how I was being inconvenienced.
As I drove around the neighborhood looking for Brian I started to think about how Mr. and Mrs. Brown must have to live their lives. They were virtual prisoners in their own home, having to keep special locks on all the doors and windows so that Brian can’t get out. It must have been real hard for them to find someone wiling to watch Brian while they get a night out together.
Thinking about all that, I really began to feel guilty. Here was a lady that had big problems in her life, living in a crime ridden part of the city with a mentally retarded adult son. But she still expressed concern with how I was being inconvenienced.
Ten minutes later I had found Brian and had him in my car taking him home. In order to relieve some of my guilt I let Brian play with the Lights and siren as we drove down the street. When I had found Brian, I radioed in and asked the dispatcher to call Mrs. Brown and tell her that I’d found Brian so she wouldn’t be worrying needlessly.
When I pulled up in front of the Brown home, Mr. and Mrs. Brown were waiting for us on the sidewalk. Mr. Brown shook my hand and thanked me and then took Brian into the house. Mrs. Brown began to thank me over and over to which I replied that it was no trouble. As I was walking back to my car, Mrs. Brown said “I wish there was something I could do for you, I feel like giving you a hug.” I turned back to Mrs. Brown and said “I’ll take a hug.” We then hugged, a big warm bear hug of a hug. Mrs. Brown said over and over “thank you, thank you.”
As I walked back to my car, I said a silent thank you to Mrs. Brown. Thank you for reminding me what police work is all about, helping people. In reality it doesn’t happen very often, as most people just can’t be helped, but it sure is nice when you can.
Remembered by Ski Ingram August 1992