In 2004, Brian Kilmeade, of Fox and Friends on the Fox Network, wrote a great book called “The Games Do Count”. He interviewed over 50 people from various walks of life, who were what the public would consider successful in areas other than sports. The thrust of the book was that the lessons these folks learned from playing sports – as kids, not professionals – helped them succeed in their respective adult careers.
I read this book back in 2004 and was re-reading it recently and it got me thinking about the calls cops take every day. From the “routine” call to the all out life and death calls. I was reminded of the definition of police work – long periods of extreme boredom, interrupted by moments of sheer terror.
The calls we take do count. We may never know the impact we have had on someone as a result of the way we handled a particular call. The point is everything we do and say on a call – or in the roll call room – does have an impact on others. That impact can be positive or negative.
How we conduct ourselves on the most routine of calls can mean life or death – yours or a fellow officer’s. I remember a story an instructor shared with us during an in-service class. He had the opportunity over his career in law enforcement to review interviews of cop-killers on death row or serving life with no parole. One story really stood out to me.
During an interview, one cop killer was asked why he had not shot an officer who had stopped him earlier in the day, but chose to shoot and kill a later cop. He replied, “The first cop was polite and introduced himself by name when he came up to my car. The second cop was a real ***hole – so I shot him.” Neither cop knew the guy they were stopping for a routine traffic violation was an escapee from another state. The calls do count.
Closer to home and more personal is an encounter I had several years ago. I was a rookie cop in late 1986 and early 1987. I was dispatched on a runaway call – but the kid had already returned home. I was thinking, “Great, not a paper call.” I would talk to the mom, tell her to call us back if the kid ran off again and get on to something more exciting – it was nearly time for the bars to let out at 2:30 a.m.
I arrived at the house and saw a very well kept yard and exterior – somewhat out of place considering the rest of the neighborhood. When I knocked on the door a male answered, his wife standing in the background. As I was invited in, I noticed the house was very clean, nicely decorated – very homey.
Sitting in the living room was a young kid, no more than 12 years old. The dad shared his frustration about junior running away – albeit only for about 8 hours. He and his wife both worked hard to provide for a comfortable and safe home, even though they lived in a high crime area of the city. Was there anything I could do for them, they pleaded with me.
I asked if I could talk to junior alone. They readily said yes – nothing else was working. So, for the next 10 minutes I had a “come to Jesus” talk with junior. Actually, it was more of a get your head out of your behind talk. I had kids of my own, so I talked to him much like I am sure his father had – only I was wearing a police uniform. I was stern but honest – this was not a “hug a thug” moment.
Forward 18 years later. I am in line at the grocery store when a voice a couple people back says, “Hey, Welsh, is that you?” I cocked my head sideways, not recognizing the voice – and I was off duty, but carrying on my ankle. I stared at the rather tall, well muscled 30 year old male. Usually when someone calls me by my last name it is either another cop or a bad guy I had encountered on the street. This guy was not a cop.
Being a little flippant, I said, “Yeah, who’s asking?” He steps around the lady between us and says, “You probably don’t remember me, but you came to my house when I was 12 because I ran away from home. Just wanted to tell you – what you said to me really hit home. I graduated from college, am married and have 2 kids now. I just wanted to say thanks.”
Boy, did I feel stupid for being so flippant and suspicious. Reflecting back on it, especially in the context of believing our calls do count, I feel differently. I could have just booted the call and went about doing “real police work”. But our calls do count.
I was given the opportunity to make a difference in a kid’s life – or blow it off as just another kid who will probably end up in prison anyway. Leadership is influence – influencing by adding value to someone’s life. I wanted to be a leader, not a follower.
Every call we take, everything we say or do, has an impact. No call is “routine”. You have no idea what the future holds for the people you have sworn to protect and serve. You have no idea how you might be treated by a citizen simply because of how another cop treated them – maybe even years earlier.
I was blessed to learn, years later, what kind of impact my actions and words had on an at risk 12 year old. I can only hope and pray there are other success stories out there as the result of my actions and words. The Calls Do Count.
What impact are you leaving on the folks you are protecting and serving? Your calls do count.
About the author:
Major Patrick J. Welsh retired in 2012, after a 26 year career with the Dayton Police Department (Ohio) and now lives in Colorado. Major Welsh began his 30 year criminal justice career as a Prosecutor in 1982. In 1986 he answered his calling to a career in law enforcement and joined the Dayton Police Department, where he served as a Patrolman, Detective, Patrol Sergeant, Lieutenant (Operations, Narcotics and CID) and Major (Operations). He is also a certified instructor for the Ohio Police Officer Training Academy. Major Welsh is a graduate of the FBINA, the Police Executive Leadership College and member of IACP. Major Welsh is also a member of the John Maxwell Team, the leading professional group of coaches, trainers and speakers on leadership. Major Welsh is a team instructor with the Southern Police Institute (SPI) on the Legal Issues in Prosecuting Homicide Cases. Major Welsh is the founder and President of PJ Welsh and Associates, LLC. His web site, www.CourtSurvival.com, is a free LEO resource on a wide range of law enforcement issues –including: leadership, legal updates, training and courtroom testimony. Major Welsh can be contacted through his web site, or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (937)608-5116.