Where cops are when you need them

Published 10:49 am Monday, June 16, 2008

“So where are the cops when you need ‘em!” I hear this gratuitous slur and unreasonable demand much too often. If the police were ubiquitous, people would complain they are spying; the gratuitous slam is what we hear if police aren’t already there even before a problem begins. I can answer for Austin police and Mower sheriff: They are exactly where needed as soon as they learn they are needed.

I wrote this to Police Chief Paul Philipp:

“This is in commendation of Officer [see below]. A year ago several neighbors felt a ninety-nine-year-old neighbor was in need of attention and care that were beyond our authority and ability. I phoned the LEC and asked that an officer be dispatched to help us. The dispatcher immediately recognized the need and did so.

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“[The officer] performed magnificently with a wonderful combination and balance of human compassion and professional skill. He dealt gently and insightfully with the confused woman. In talking with her, he supported and protected those of us who had intervened. He explained his plan clearly to us and accepted responsibility for action. He knew exactly what to do, and he acted efficiently.”

Knowing the chief would commend the individual officer adequately, I withhold his name here so this commendation can be yet broader. The particular performance I commended is rather much what Austin residents have come to expect from our law enforcement officers. His attitude and action are outstanding and certainly are in comparison with many police departments, to be sure, but I do not know they stand out from the others here.

Beyond police and sheriff I extend my admiration and appreciation to the broader range of what we have come to call first responders, e.g., EMT, fire, and yet others. In many communities these personnel are actually volunteers.

Beyond licensed law enforcement officers, first responders were born out of the limitations of family and neighbors who mean well and do the best they can, but who, being untrained, unoriented, and unequipped, often inflict more harm than the good they do. This was our fear when we called the Law Enforcement Center (437-9400, not 911, which was not necessary or appropriate).

The beauty of community-based responders is they can combine the human compassion characteristic of lay people with the technical skills acquired by professionals. To be successful, however, these complementary qualities need to be applied appropriately when one is needed over the other. More difficult yet is to balance them.. i.e., to be compassionate professionals and skillful humans at the same time.

Some years ago I sustained a stroke as I was about to leave for my morning run. I was immensely relieved that my wife was there and she did call 911. I would have been further relieved by any officer who arrived, but I was all the more reassured by the two with whom I, as a police chaplain, had worked in calls just like this. I had witnessed their diligence and caring, and now I was to experience this. They looked at me with an expression that said unmistakably: “Don’t worry: we’ll take care of you.” They did.

Released from the hospital, I started on a slow walk. A police car pulled ahead of me, and their lieutenant came and asked how I was feeling. Can we say together: Only in Austin. If not only here, certainly here.

(As with any law enforcement agency, not everything goes the way it should all the time. Here, however, it gets taken care of.)

I have lived literally from coast to coast, and I have known several police departments well. I will tell you: We should be grateful for ours.

My private letter, which I intend to be placed in the individual’s file, commends one police officer. This piece commends them all. I encourage you to recognize occasion to add your gratitude and commendation to mine.