A Milwaukee Police Officer who recently converted to the Catholic Faith kindly shared his thoughts with Cream City Catholic about life as a city cop and how the Faith influences his day-to-day life.
I imagine there is no such thing as a “typical day” for a cop, but as best as you’re able to describe one, what’s an average workday like?
The day starts out with roll call, twelve minutes before our actual shift start time. Most days are full of typical calls for service. We refer to dispatched calls as “hitches.” We either get immediately dispatched to calls or we begin to patrol until we are dispatched to a call for service or hitch. It is up to the individual officer whether to make lots of traffic stops or stop in at local businesses and say “hello.” Being visible by patrolling areas which are more plagued by crime can, of course, help deter crime in those areas.
We focus our patrols on our squad zones that we are assigned to and the hot spot areas where most crime occurs. We are typically dispatched to a variety of calls, and you never know what will be next or how it will turn out. This is where officer awareness and safety are essential. For example, we could be dispatched to a bank robbery, with an actively armed gunmen on scene or fleeing, or we could go to a family dispute where there is an argument over who owns certain personal possessions. We always treat each call with the same type of awareness, since even the family trouble calls can lead to a physical altercation with officers or even an armed subject. We also respond to many calls from mentally unstable and ill people, many of whom are just not taking their medications. But even these cases can be extremely volatile, since you need to be very aware of how you say something. What people don’t realize is that we also go to calls for people who can’t take care of themselves and must be “chaptered.” Being chaptered means having an emergency detention placed on you, and then being taken to a hospital to conduct a full mental health evaluation and provide mental health medications. This is only done in rare circumstances since it is very serious, as someone’s rights are being deprived. Being able to talk to people is one of an officer’s most important tools; it can de-escalate a tense situation and has prevented many fights and altercations.
The day doesn’t end until the hitch you are on is completed, so you never know when you will get off work. One important thing to know about officers is that they approach every vehicle as potentially having someone who may jump out with a gun. It is always best to prepare for the worst and not be taken off guard. Police are sometimes killed in volatile situations like this, and preparing for them is part of our training. Once you meet the good citizen, then you can see right away what type of person he/she is.
This is one of those few jobs where, day to day, you don’t know what can happen. A great example of this is when I first hit the streets. During my third week on the job, I responded to an armed robbery and a possible home invasion with three subjects who were armed with handguns. Upon responding to the scene with my field training officer, another officer had pushed his emergency button on his police radio. All I heard was, “I’m in pursuit, three black male subjects running eastbound between the houses.” My partner and I had just arrived in the area and observed the three subjects running toward us. We jumped out of our squad, drew our guns, and began to run toward them. My partner ran onto the sidewalk as I ran in the street so we could contain them. While doing this, we yelled, “Stop Police!” and encountered all three subjects on the sidewalk in front of a residential house. One of the subjects refused to listen to our commands and had his hands concealed in his waistband area underneath his puffy jacket. I won’t forget the moment when I yelled, “Show me your hands!” as I focused my gun at center mass of the subject, ready to shoot, since he was possibly holding a gun underneath the jacket. At that moment, the possibility that I might have to shoot him was very real. He could have easily shot me or another person on that street if he had a gun concealed under his jacket, and he still was not showing me his hands. The subject then looked at me and appeared to think twice about his actions; it almost seemed as if time began to slow. The other two subjects were already on the ground, having given up and, luckily, the third subject finally showed me his hands and also got down on the ground. These are the types of calls we often deal with in the high crime areas.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction working as a Police Officer?
I get the most satisfaction from actively patrolling and deterring crime. When I patrol, I like to observe people, their vehicles, their mannerisms, and their body language. These are all things that play into whether or not they may catch my attention. I then watch for any type of law or ordinance infraction which may be committed. These can vary, from having expired registration on a vehicle, to a pedestrian walking in traffic. These stops may be very minute and insignificant but they have led to large arrests and seizures of guns, drugs, and wanted criminals. Over 98% of stops just have to do with saying “hello” to the citizen and informing them of this or that infraction.
Police are not out to bother good citizens for minor infractions and we like to build a good rapport with the community. It is very satisfying to chat with citizens and hear them thank you for what you do. There are many times in this job where we will be the only ones who know how something could have been, and have to pat ourselves on our backs.
What are the biggest challenges?
Today’s biggest challenges are the expectations of the people we serve. The police are a universal tool for society, we are needed, and yet we are disliked. Most citizens see us as part of “Big Brother” out to watch over them. But friends, this is not the case. I would much rather chase a drug dealer or an armed robber down a dark alleyway than focus on everyday good citizens. This is a misconception held by many, but not all.
One of the biggest things we have to worry about is the media, since they are always on the lookout for any story where a police officer makes a mistake, either while working or in his/her personal life. Some of these events are inevitable, and an officer will be placed on TV and judged by those who were not there and do not have all the details of the story. This is a part of the job that no citizen will easily understand. We have to be careful and protect our jobs, as our families rely on them.
Officers are held to a higher standard, but we are people like the average citizen as well. Officers today are more worried about getting in trouble (whether from the media or the department that employs them) than about being proactive and deterring crime. My sincere hope is that this can change one day.
Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about the Faith. How does the Catholic Faith keep you going at work? Day after day, you’re confronting the Mysterium Iniquitatis, the “mystery of evil”, manifested in so many dramatic ways. Spiritual consolations must be essential. Can you talk about them?
It can be very hard to deal with the hidden stresses of Police work. The most important tools to combat the job and its stresses are a good support system and healthy outlets. I have family and great close friends I can always rely on to talk to when I need to. One of the most important foundational support systems I have is my faith. I rely on my Catholic faith on a daily basis. I pray silently while driving or thinking, and offer a prayer to St. Michael for protection.
Officers are exposed to inter-departmental gossip, societal expectations, and hazards in our work environment. My faith keeps me on the right track and from making bad decisions. Responding to Police calls when people are at their very worst is very common. No one will call the Police to just say “hello”. There will always be certain events that we as officers see and have to deal with that we will never forget. One example of this is a suicide that I responded to where the subject had shot himself in the head. His poor wife came home and found him deceased. As the officer, I arrived on scene and observed the wife crying with two other neighbors consoling her. I then immediately had to go into work mode and direct officers to interview everyone there, tape the scene off, gather all relevant information, and determine whether there were any signs of foul play. I will never forget that call or the image in my head of the man who shot himself, as the scene was incredibly gruesome. This is where I rely on prayer and my faith to give me the strength to keep going forward and not to have those dark images or experiences haunt me.
There are many demons and temptations that will confront you in law enforcement. Sometimes, when we catch a drug dealer or raid a drug house, we see hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash on scene. This can be an easy temptation, “Who will miss a couple hundred or thousand dollars of drug money?” If I had my way, I would take it all and give it to charities or to people who need it, but of course, this is all evidence and we cannot do that. This is another example of a temptation on the job that you must never give in to.
As a new Catholic, what has been the greatest surprise, or maybe better put, what in particular provides you with the greatest comfort?
I have great comfort in being part of the Catholic faith. This provides me strength and courage to help others in terrible situations. I always remind people on calls that “It can always be worse, someone has it worse somewhere else.” I enjoy going to Mass to think and grow in my faith. A hidden side effect of now having the faith in my life is a new form of self-confidence and the willingness to share my faith with others. I always encourage those who are close to me, and anyone who needs some support, to go to Mass, even if they are not Catholic. Spiritual healing can be a very powerful tool.
Is there anything about faith that was at first a bit of a hurdle for you?
Yes. The biggest hurdle was Confession. Since I am a new Catholic, this was the hardest Sacrament to receive. Prior to my baptism, I had been going to Mass for approximately four years, but of course never partook in the Sacraments. As a new Catholic, it is hard for me to speak to a priest, even behind a screen, and tell him the things that I have done. This can be very embarrassing, as I feel ashamed, but I have to rely on my faith to help me build courage to admit my sins and become a better man. It is also hard for those outside the Church to understand telling a priest your sins and having them forgiven, rather than having that discussion with God himself, by seeking forgiveness through prayer. Confession is still intimidating for me, but when I recently went to Confession, I felt as if the weight was off my shoulders, and I felt much better.
Another hurdle for me is being the only Catholic in my family. My family is nominally Muslim. They are the greatest people in the world and have never done anything bad. However, telling them that I was actively in a different faith was very hard. I told them very subtly and I had varied degrees of support and questions of “Why?” This is my cross to bear. It is hard for me to overcome, since I do not want my family to feel as if I am betraying them or leaving them. If anything, I only have more respect and appreciation for them.
Bishop Hying administered to you all the Sacraments of initiation during Mass. Describe what was going through your head as those graces were flowing into you.
It was a great experience, but at the same time very intimidating. I was nervous since my life was about to change, even though I had been going to Mass for years at this point. I felt nervous since I was so new and I knew I had the responsibility of being a good Catholic man (not that I wasn’t trying to be a good person before my Baptism). Overall, it was a great day since I had my closest family friends there to support me along with my godparents who will always support me in life.
Do you have a favorite Saint?
I pray to St. Michael the Archangel for protection. My Baptismal and Confirmation name is Michael because, at the time of my initiation into the Faith, I was also starting out in law enforcement. I say the St. Michael prayer almost daily, as some days I become very busy at work and even forget to eat! I pray for protection for myself and my co-workers, and all people who are defenders. We truly are the sheepdogs out to protect the herds from the wolves.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.