A salty policeman struggles to lift his hand
to the hand of a stranger.
Community meetings force him
from the comfort of a cruiser.
He walks along an uneven path
through downtown streets
leaving muddy boot prints,
each one crushing his aspirations.
Stress is part of the deal, but where trust once existed,
media has stripped completely away.
The pride once gained by risking our lives for strangers,
is gone. “Stranger” never meant what it does today,
like it did back in the day.
Back when “neighborhood” meant something.
Back when you didn’t ask police to raise your kid,
or scare them straight because they embarrassed you in public.
Back when civil disputes were handled by adults,
when simple things wouldn’t tear at the very foundation
of our society.
Yes, we’re wired for scary things.
Yes, we hunt active shooters
and run toward the gunfire… the evil you pretend
does not exist, that which looms in the back of your mind daily.
Why I risk everything for people who want me dead
is my own mystery. One for me to work out on my own.
My sisters and brothers will continue to protect the innocent,
enforce antiquated laws, and do what we can to crush
So we’re far from simple nuts and bolts,
robotic if you will. Strip away the badge and the gun.
Beneath the pain and suffering is a man or woman,
same as you. Nothing too fancy.
Beneath a ballistic vest and forty-pounds of accoutrements
we want the same thing, and we’re prepared to make
the ultimate sacrifice to obtain or provide it.
-C.L.Swinney (c) 2017
Stranded alone, submerged within concrete walls,
amidst squabbling voices, it finally strikes
me that an ulterior motive is
at play. Instantly, a room choked
with bodies is nearly empty-it’s
just me and her. Gold strapped
around my finger tightens and becomes
too heavy to carry. Puppy-dog
eyes continuously bat and she flutters
closer. Lust in her eyes smacks
me in the face like a
two-by-four. I retreat, she
advances. I’d been warned before, but
my age and inexperience drowned the
cautionary, unbelievable tales. She’s up against
me now, gyrating, moaning, and whispering
unmentionable things. My face flushes. Slowly
her hand travels from my shoulder
toward my gun-belt. I take off
like a rocket, up through flights
of stairs, and find the door.
Clean, pure fresh air pierces my
skin. A gaggle of co-workers roar
and point as I flee to
my patrol car. Drenched in sweat,
I reach for the air conditioning
button, then look up to notice
a senior deputy shaking his head
at me. I’ve failed the initiation.
I’m not one of them. A
career shroud in speculation, based on
being honorable, with integrity, is my
punishment, what defines me with them.
Day I Die
The bullet grazed my temple searing the fine hair while leaving a thin blood trail trickling down my cheek. Instinctively I dove for cover behind a vehicle and reached for my handgun. What the hell just happened? I scanned the alley for the shooter and checked the wound. The ambient light from the street corner pole revealed fresh blood, my blood, and I decided at that very moment today was not the day I die. There was no image of my wife or kids flashing in my mind. I didn’t say a prayer or give up. Nope, all I saw was a poorly lit alley and all I wanted to do was kill the son of a bitch who’d just ambushed me. My heartbeat pounded in my chest and I exhaled after realizing I’d been holding my breath.
“Come on out ‘piggy!'” yelled the suspect. He fired off more rounds wildly in my direction. It was a catastrophic mistake for him. Now, based on his voice and the muzzle flash, I knew almost precisely where he was hiding. The only problem was I didn’t have a clear shot. I reached for my radio microphone to request cover units. My dive had crushed it, but the emergency button was lit indicating it still had power. I pressed it with my non-gun hand. My exact location was relayed to dispatch. Gotta love GPS, I thought.
“Listen buddy, the troops are coming! Give up and save yourself,” I answered back figuring there was no chance in hell this deranged lunatic would likely follow my lawful order. And, I felt secure in my hiding spot since I wasn’t getting hit by his sporadic gunfire.
“Fuck em’ all! I’ll get as many of you pricks as I can before I let you end it all for me!” Again he fired off more rounds at me. I cringed and fired back when my brain registered his statement. It’s a damn suicide by cop, and I have no way to warn my backup. I was instantly deflated because a lost soul was going to die.
“You don’t need to do this, put down the gun and we’ll work this out.” I felt a strong sense of trying to help him even though he was trying to kill me. Sounds weird, but it’s what we do. Plus, he had me pinned down and desperation forced me to try to negotiate. I was also trying to buy some time, albeit it I chose to try to rationalize with a man I knew clearly was not thinking straight. He responded with a flurry of bullets. Guess he’s not looking for help, he’s looking for death.
I peered under the vehicle I was hiding behind and could see he was basically trapped at the end of the alley. Solid structures surrounded him, except he could get free if he came right by me, and that wasn’t happening. This was going down in the industrial area of town, which meant my cover cars, even full lights and sirens would be a bit before they made it. As I contemplated my next move I felt a sharp burning pain in my shoulder as one of his careless rounds hit me. I yelled out in pain and rolled over on my back. Are you kidding me, a damn ricochet! The pain was unbearable, like a thousand needles gouging at an open wound, but I had to continue. I inched closer behind a wheel and squeezed the trigger slowly and methodically while aiming at the area his muzzle flashes were coming from. The sound was deafening while dust and debris flew into my eyes. Where the hell is my backup?
I combat reloaded my firearm with my last magazine and tried to listen. My ears ringed making it difficult to hear. The wound in my shoulder throbbed and I could see it was bleeding badly. I strained to hear something as I considered, only briefly, that I might not survive this ordeal. I counted rounds that I’d shot in my head and realized I was almost out. I glanced at my patrol vehicle. It was out in the open. If I made a move for it, the suspect would have a clear shot at me.
In a sadistic voice the suspect said, “Is that all you got? Boy, I served in the U. S. A. Marines!” He fired a couple of rounds, “you ain’t shit!” I rolled my eyes and was pissed because obviously I hadn’t hit him with my bullets and it seemed like all I was doing was making him more mad. Compounding the issue was he’d just said he was a marine. I’d read how these guys suffer from PTSD and no one in the government wants to acknowledge or talk about it. These guys feel helpless, many times they are, and now one of them wants me and all my friends dead. A sick mind is caustic.
“Of all the luck,” I huffed under my breath. I gotta do something, I thought.
I pleaded, “Man, you don’t need to do this! We’ll get you help, just throw down the gun and come out with your hands up.” I felt awkward trying to reason with him, but I didn’t see another option. My training and overwhelming need to help people kicked in. I struggled with what I should do next. Then I wondered how I was going to pull it off. And then I heard it. Police sirens. About damn time, I thought as my eyes lit up.
“You don’t know shit! Sounds like my welcoming party is almost here! I’ll see you assholes in hell!” He fired a whole magazine toward me. Bullets slammed into the car that I was using as cover and the bricks to my right causing them to explode. I tried to return fire but felt helpless. Then the shooting stopped. I assumed he was reloading. In the eerie silence, two police cruisers skidded to a halt behind me and positioned their cars to block the alley.
“Suicide by cop! My radio’s busted, I need medics!” I yelled at the two guys jumping out from their patrol cars. It’s a situation in which shooting and killing someone is justified, but I thought if it were me, I would want to know the situation as well. “One shooter, far end on the left, heavily armed,” I wanted to say more, but the suspect began shooting at the two officers, pelting their cars with rounds. They had to return fire in an effort to stop the threat and find better cover. I looked at my arm and could see the bleeding had clotted and it had gone numb.
With the shooter concentrated on them, I finally had an opening. I tried to push myself up to get to my patrol car, but my wounded arm buckled. With my gun still aimed down the alley, I managed to sort of roll over and get up. I wrangled my keys from my duty pants and was able to get the car trunk open. I could see my less than lethal shotgun, but bypassed it for an assault rifle. We were taking rounds and I was injured. I grabbed and slung the shotgun, maybe, just maybe, I thought, this guy can be saved.
More police cars flooded the area. The suspect continued firing from behind a dumpster. He was shooting at me and the other two officers in what seemed like a never-ending supply of bullets. The SWAT team was summoned, but the fact the guy was shooting randomly, at cops, I figured he wouldn’t last another couple of minutes. We stopped to reload and I froze because I could see the man walking out from behind the dumpster. He’d stopped shooting and I noticed he was wearing a ballistic vest. Then I saw the handgun in his right hand. He ripped off the ballistic vest revealing military fatigues. We made eye contact. I thought I’d see fear and sadness, or maybe confusion in his eyes. I was wrong. All I could see was utter rage. He winked at me and raised his gun. I could see an officer to my left who was having trouble with his gun and the suspect had him dead to rights. In a split second the suspect was going to kill him. Then suddenly, without thought just a reaction, boom! It was all over in an instant. I shot him and shook my head. I collapsed and lay on the street looking straight up at the stars. Slowly the sirens and barking dogs and spinning helicopter blades faded away. Then it was over.
4-27-14 Compassionate Cops?
I seem to be having a tough time getting my brothers and sisters in law enforcement to submit work regarding the compassionate side of what we do and how we live. I can’t let this concept go to the wayside; however, and have decided to put my own work up in a serialized fashion. That is, when I see compassion or feel compassionate about something, I’ll post it on this page on my blog. Among all the other stuff in my life I can’t guarantee this will be regular, but I’ll do my best to keep this thing alive 🙂
The most recent thing I can recall is members of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office conducting a fundraiser event for Special Olympics. Many people in the general public who are not fans of law enforcement believe officers “just do these events to keep a decent public image.” Not true. The men and women I see volunteering hundreds of hours of time for planning, preparing, soliciting, and running these events is overwhelming. They do it because they are kind people, and feel the need to help others. It’s why they wear a badge and swear to protect society. It runs through our blood, an insatiable thirst to do good for others, particularly for those who may not be able to to it for themselves, or those who need a tiny bit of assistance.
Men and women wearing a badge are ordinary people just like everyone else. Many of them have children with special needs, debilitating diseases, or huge obstacles to overcome. They cry and stress out just like you. We’re not any better than the next person, we’ve just chosen a profession that is highly visible and overly scrutinized. All that we can ask is that society is a fair to us as we are to them every time we show up to a call. Nothing more, nothing less. Law enforcement, in my eyes, is the social glue that keeps society together and allows cohesion to form among all members of society. We aren’t looking for handouts or freebies. Our primary mission is to serve and protect, but it would sure feel great to believe we are on the same playing field as the rest of society.
Thanks and God Bless,
C. L. Swinney