First I’ll state the obvious. Law enforcement experiences, what we see, smell, experience – breeds cynicism. Working so focused on the bad in society, it is easy to lose sight of the good. Moreover, seeing the terrible carnage, mangled bodies, and inhuman treatment inflicted on victims – especially when it involves a child – the emotional damage is deep and lasting.
Honestly, the only way we survive is through what I call a “cast iron shield” over our heart. Perhaps not a psychological term, it nonetheless adequately describes the defense mechanism our mind uses to survive. Without it, an officer will wash out an emotional basket case. I learned about it in counseling, after talking about life in growing up in an abusive home, all I witnessed in law enforcement, etc. The counselor mused that I was the “most emotionally shallow person he had met,” because as I talked I was emotionally flat lined. He explained the idea – that I developed a “cast iron plate” over my heart to protect my emotions. In essence, we learn not to emote.
The tragic truth is, the very shield that protects our emotions on the job, easily can shatter relationships at home. We can take off the uniform, the gun and badge, but the cast iron shield stays put. This is one reason 75% of LEO marriages end up in divorce.
However, another victim of the job, of the cast iron shield and the visual and emotional trauma and cynicism is our faith. Many officers grew up in a faith environment, attending church. They believed. But time on the job, especially for those who become an LEO after military experience, faith gets crowded out by the harsh reality of life. The job feeds the cynicism; it hardens the cast iron shield. And, the work schedule distances us from church and starves our faith for lack of input, not to mention peer pressure from those who have been there longer.
I know. I lived it. I joined the 229th Military Police Battalion in ‘70 and then the Norfolk Police Department (VA) in ‘73, where the guys who came on in the 50’s and 60’s trained me. Hard cases. My life centered on the job, first on patrol, then as a detective working burglary squad. They knew I was active in Church, and called me “deacon.” The pressure to fit in, to be as tough as they were took its toll. Church attendance slacked, even when I could go.
There was a direct impact. My language, physicality in arrests, and my cynicism blended easily. No one made me change – I chose that path.
After a year, with NPD I met Drew Grant. He and his Dad, the Police Chief, Charles D. Grant Sr. chose a different path. They embraced their faith, walked it daily. Drew became my partner, and honestly, thank God for two man units. I could easily see just how far I drifted. Without any condemnation, Drew’s life caused me to reevaluate my choices. Only once did he openly challenge my choice. I was ready to strike a person when I could just have easily chosen not to – and he suggested the latter. That saved my future, and made possible what I do today. We became partners on patrol, and went to the detective bureau together. Today, after all these years, we remain close friends, and he was the first call when I launched Serve & Protect asking him to join my board.
Now, do not be confused. When it was necessary, Drew got just as physical as the next officer. We got in our share of fights. He was every bit the officer as anyone else, but expressed it rooted in his faith.
Faith is not something you do, rather, it is who you are. It is all about a relationship with God through His son Jesus, and a choice to surrender my will to His will. Moreover, it is a commitment to live life in accordance with biblical principals. For me, it was a return to what I knew in my heart was right. Yet, it was not a sacrifice of doing great police work. We made as many arrests on the street, and closed as many cases in the detective bureau as anyone. In fact, we had a great closure rate with confessions. The guys with whom we worked saw us live the faith through who we were and our commitment to them and our work.
So what difference does it make? It gave us greater courage in dangerous situations knowing God had our backs, He had our best interest in mind. It meant that no matter what happened, we were secure in knowing the ultimate end. It was freeing, liberating, and gave courage based not in our own strength but in the One who watches over us.
Case in point. It was 1978, just months before I resigned to enroll at Columbia Bible College. Another officer called us and provided information through an informant about a break-in at a bar. He knew the suspects, and said they would be armed. After a records check, it was clear they were violent. We made a plan with our Sergeant, Bobby Wash. Drew and I met with the owner and he agreed to lock us in his bar. We had units close in the area, and all units were directed to stay clear.
We entered the bar ready to rock. I had a sawed off shotgun. Once inside, Drew and I developed a strategy. The suspects were going to go down a hall to the office and hit the safe. Once they entered the office, Drew would throw a glass into the bar area, and I would go to the hallway with the shotgun.
To wait for the suspects, we went behind a piano on the dance floor. There we knelt and prayed that God would protect us, and allow the night to go according to His plan.
Soon, we heard a noise at the entrance, a double wooden door, locked with only a padlock in a latch. We could clearly hear them prying, hammering, and cursing the lock that would not give. Professional burglars could not open the lock. For several minutes they tried. Soon, and every department has one, another officer drove past the bar shining his spotlight on buildings – despite our explicit instructions to stay clear. Needless to say, the guys fled.
Who can say what might have been? Could we have affected the arrest? Would our weapons out gun them? We will never know. God did not give that answer – yet. Had they entered, there would have been a shootout. We knew it was very likely going in, and were prepared to do what was necessary – and we did not have vests then.
Sometimes, however, God does let us know how our actions affect others, as well as our own well-being.
A friend in the FOP served as an LEO for years. In effecting an arrest, he engaged in a shootout, during which the suspect was killed. As the suspect lay on the street dying, the officer knelt by his side and prayed for him.
The suspect was a member of a mean family of brothers. My friend was in a diner one night when a person entered, walked to his side and said – “that man you killed, well he was the good one of the family. His brothers are going to kill you.” Sometime later, the officer was assigned a prisoner transport. On arrival at the jail, the guard advised that a prisoner wanted to speak with him – it was one of the brothers of the man he killed. He agreed.
In a holding room, the officer sat across the table from the dead man’s brother. “You killed my brother, and I have one question. We were told that after shooting him, you knelt beside him to pray. Is that true?” The officer acknowledged it was true. “One of our brothers flew home from the military, a sniper, and we were going to kill you until we heard what you did. We decided to let you live.”
Cause and effect was clear. The officer’s faith, his decision to kneel and pray, saved his own life later
So the “so what” is simple. Who has your back? Who can see what the result of your actions will be and can move in your heart to respond a best way? You know. Only God.
We are a people of evidence. It will do me no good to try and convince you if faith has never been part of your life experience. All I can do is tell you what I have found to be true, and this is it – God is real. The Bible is His Word to man, revealing His plan for the world, and the only means of knowing Him.
But before you can accept the Bible thing, there is the God issue. In recent years, top scientists, leading atheists, hardened philosophers have had to reevaluate their belief system. All because of DNA. For years, we have pointed to the symmetry in nature, the uniqueness of man from all other animals, and so many evidences that this world is not the result of a random act, rather the result of an intelligent design. If there is a design, there is a designer. God. Now the Bible seems more plausible.
Please do not take my word. Chase the evidence. First, listen to former atheist Lee Strobel, a lawyer and leading writer at the Chicago Tribune – http://bit.ly/iDO70 . Hugh Ross is an excellent resource http://www.reasons.org/ , as is William Lee Craig http://bit.ly/aG8cvV .
Now for those who have drifted from your roots, come home. Sure, you can still be a tough guy, but you can learn to relate to others – your family in particular – better with a renewed heart. Follow the evidence.
Robert Michaels is a veteran of law enforcement, serving both as an MP with the 229th Military Police Battalion for 6 years, and Norfolk Police Department for 5 years, both on patrol and as a detective. He earned a B.A. in Biblical Education from Columbia International University and a M.A. from Wheaton College in Communications. Rob is the CEO/Senior Chaplain of Serve & Protect, dedicated to the emotional and spiritual well being of Law Enforcement, FireRescue, Dispatch, and Corrections through a 24/7 Coast2Coast Crisis Line, Chaplain Services, Life Skills Coaching, and the Guns’n’Hoses Bible Fellowship. www.serveprotect.org. They also have a news feed at www.facebook.com/serveprotect. He also serves as a Chaplain for FOP Lodge 41 in Williamson County TN, where he is an active member and Sergeant at Arms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 615-373-8000 and is available to speak at events, churches,men’s events, and groups.