9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Home Life, Work Life

Taken from Law Officer Magazine, Volume 4 Issue 12, December 2008, Bullethead Column

Dear Bullethead:

I occasionally read the Law Officer magazine my husband receives. My husband is also a father and a detective for the county. I have a very loyal and devoted man in my life. He tries hard to separate work and home life, but the reality is, you can't. Over the years, we've watched many young couples try, fight, separate, work it out and divorce. I was prepared to be in love, be happy, struggle, argue, worry, be richer, be poorer and create a family - not live in silence.

As a wife and daughter of cops, I know what the silence, uncertainty, waiting, brooding, pouting, anger, frustration, adrenaline and exhaustion can do to a family. I respect the privacy issues, the violent or repulsive details that he doesn't share.

Unfortunately, for all the wonderful deeds done by an officer, few are glorified. I'm proud of the officers who serve and the families who stand at their sides.

If you get a slow month, please write to the many officers about supporting their spouses out there who are trying to live both lives, too.

- Mrs. Detective in Tennessee

Dear Mrs. Detective:

Slow month nothing. This is way too important for that. The stability in an officer's life that comes from a good supportive home is essential to the long term success of the officer, their department and the law enforcement mission. You bring up some great points about the things a normal spouse can enjoy that law enforcement spouses can't. Let's examine those.

I know a whole bunch of officers who like to go to work "clean." These officers won't start their shift before ensuring they have no signs of their life outside the job. This means no rings, no pictures and no shirts for their kids' sports teams or school. The ring thing is usually what ticks off a spouse because many think their officers look great in uniform and want the ring there to slow down the vultures that may be circling. I've never been a ring guy, but even the vultures fear ol' Bullethead's salty, crusty ass, so Mrs. Bullethead doesn't have to worry. I agree with not carrying pictures, but most officers now have them all over their phones anyway.

Not talking is a big issue for many cop's spouses. They want to know what happened on the shift and be involved in their officer's work life. This one can get real sketchy, and if not handled properly it can be the start of deep issues in a marriage. The cops think they're protecting the spouse because who would want to know about dirt bags anyway? The spouse gets resentful because all the cop does is come home and drink beer and not talk about anything.

I've said it before: Bullethead is no therapist. I can offer a few suggestions, though. Officers must let their spouses know they trust them. They can do this through communication. Most departments have enough internal entertainment an officer can share to get them about half way there. Simple stuff such as "Officer No Load is a lop" or "The lieutenant is an idiot and I'm sure glad we have such a good sergeant to keep things together."

Officers should also talk about their shift and just leave out the bad details. Example: "Billy Bob got behind a stolen car, but the driver ran away and I spent half the shift freezing my butt off on a perimeter while they found him." Spouses don't need to know the bad stuff, such as the creep who left his one-year-old in a stolen car and ran away from his own child, but they should be allowed into the officer's life as much as possible.

When officers come home after seeing a dead child, they may not want to say a thing, and spouses need to get this and give them some space. Officer shouldn't keep them guessing, so just tell them: "I had a bad one and I need some room today."

Most importantly, police families must find a way to keep things cool when the officer is getting ready for work. The officer needs a clear head when they're working. For the Bullethead clan, no matter how big a pre-work fight is, we try to wrap it up and save it for some other time. And by the time we get back to it, we've both cooled down and the fight is more like a negotiation, which is great.

Every cop should go and plant a big one on their spouse and thank them for all the little things. After that, you might even get lucky!

Dispatch vs. Cops

Taken from Law Officer Magazine, Volume 2 Issue 6, August 2006, Bullethead Column

Dear Bullethead:

I'm a dispatcher, and I found your column when I was looking at a copy of the magazine left in our communications center, I'm looking for advice on the relationship between cops and dispatchers. Why do we have so much friction? In my department, the dispatchers are non-sworn and mostly female, while the cops, of course, are sworn employees and mostly male. Okay, I understand that right off the bat this makes somewhat of a difference, but why the upper-class, lower-class mentality?

Our department has well over 100 officers, and this means that at any time, about a dozen or more cars are out on patrol. We have two or three dispatchers on at a time (once in a while, four), and it can get really, really busy. The patrol guys seem to forget there's more going on than just the radio. In spite of all the other things like 911 callers and walk-ups, we always make the radio priority, but sometimes the officers will get really intense when handling a hot call. They step on each other when transmitting, make countless demands of dispatch in terms of getting resources and ask for information we have no way of getting (and if we had it, we would already have given it to them).

Seems like when a call goes incredibly well, the cops did a great job. When things get screwed up in the logistics or deployment, dispatch dropped the ball. It's tough - we still have to do the shift work, put up with the surly callers (rude cops sometimes) and work in a paramilitary unit. When you consider that we do it for a whole lot less money than a cop and without the better retirement benefits, it makes us feel pretty crappy when we're treated like the ugly stepchild of the department.

What can we do? Where do we start? I'd like to make things better, but there seems to be a lot us us-vs.-them mentality. You seem like you've been around the block a few times. Any ideas?

- Depressed Dispatcher

Dear Depressed Dispatcher:

A dispatcher huh? And you think Ol' Bullethead has been around the block a few times? Just so we're clear, I've been around the block more times than a cop-hopping dispatcher working on her fourth ex-husband.

I'm gonna give you a few ideas and a few thoughts. Some of what I'll say will tick you off. Hopefully some of what I say will help you understand the relationship between cops and dispatchers - as I understand it - and maybe even help you make things a bit better at your agency.

First things first. Last time a cop was shot at, did any of the rounds skip past a dispatcher's head? Last time a cop was chasing some felon through back yards and over six foot walls, was a dispatcher standing by ready to go toe-to-toe at the end of the chase? I don't think so. Don't take this personally; I'm just trying to set the tone.

I'm not too big on sports analogies, but since at least part of your question deals with male vs. female issues, I'm going to use one to illustrate a point. Back in the heyday of the Chicago Bulls, did people show up and tune in to see Phil Jackson the coach, or Michael Jordan the player? Certainly they were both part of the same team, and they were both equally important to the success of that team. It's equally certain it was Jordan who filled the seats and sold the TV spots.

The place you work is called a police department! Quality dispatchers are essential to the function of a police department, but it's not called a dispatcher department, now is it? Think of it this way: Would there be a two-tier system going the other way if you worked at a place where the primary purpose was dispatching? You're damn skippy there would. Perhaps you wouldn't be one of the people pushing it, but the overall atmosphere would absolutely include the very real fact that dispatching was the agency's primary function.

What do you think happens after you take a call from a surly caller? Do you think they turn nice when the cops get there? Pretty much they turn into jackasses big enough to pull the equator to Canada. We spend 20 minutes or so trying to get the equator somewhere south of Canada. When we get back in our car and get on the radio to let you know we're ready for the next mess you're going to send us to, do you think the shouting match we were just involved in might effect the way we speak? It shouldn't because that isn't the professional thing to do, and because the dispatcher was not the person in our face. But some cops need to blow off a little steam in a relatively safe direction to avoid spending all their free time in IA. This isn't right, but it's reality.

For their part, dispatchers don't always take the high road either. When we finish with one of the many jackasses we seem to meet and our anger or frustrations come out over the radio, take the high road and answer in the most pleasant voice you can. If you throw it right back at us, the cop will think, "What's up with this dispatcher? I'm the one who just got yelled at by a jackass," Then the cop answers with even more attitude, and the cycle goes on and on.

Deep down even the cops with attitude know dispatchers bust their asses keeping up with who is doing what, who needs help, etc. I'm positive it's incredibly difficult to sit in a darkened room with nothing to look at except a computer screen when an officer is calling for help and it's taking time for that help to arrive. I'd be trying to crawl through the radio to help the officer in need, and I have no idea how a good dispatcher can keep their cool and just continue doing their job during some of the critical incidents I've been involved in. I'd much rather be directly involved in such an incident because at least you know what's going on and can take an active role in assisting.

Any of you cops reading this and calling Bullethead a liar or an idiot, just take a second to think about the last time you heard one of your fellow officers calling for help when you weren't close enough to assist. I can see you. You have the radio handset in your hand and you're squirming around in your seat, yelling for the help to arrive. Your heart rate is through the roof, and you feel helpless. For me, there are few things worse than feeling helpless. Don't get me wrong folks, we all know who might end up in the hospital or worse at the end of any critical incident, but that doesn't mean the dispatchers aren't working their rear ends off trying to make sure that doesn't happen.

At my agency, a critical incident debriefing includes all the involved parties, including the dispatcher who worked primary and probably the dispatcher supervisor working at the time of the incident. This tends to open the lines of communication to discuss any potential problems with what happened. It also gives the dispatch supervisor the chance to throw praise on the dispatcher and to allow the rest of the head shed to see what a good idea it is to do that.

Stand up and get yourself included during the next critical incident debriefing. Play back the dispatch tapes, and don't be afraid to explain dispatch procedures. Don't be afraid to point out useless traffic that burned important radio time.

More importantly, consider playing a trump card to all the useless traffic on the radio during an incident. I've heard really good dispatchers come over the air early in an incident with things like, "Copy, waiting for a return on the plate and working on a helicopter and a K-9." That allows the cops to concentrate on their task and leaves the dispatchers to do the same.

Another idea: ride-alongs. New cops should spend a shift in dispatch to try to understand the job, and dispatchers should jump in a black-and-white from time to time. The people providing the ride-along should be chosen with care on both sides. I'll let dispatch figure out which dispatchers the cops should sit with. When dispatchers ride with cops, they should ride with the doo doo magnets. This will give them the best chance of feeling terror and understanding why cops don't always sound nice on the radio. Remember: They don't call them hot calls for nothing, anld feeling that flame may explain alot.

The Dispatcher's Golden Rule

Written by Randall D. Larson

One constant about the 911 profession is that dispatchers are going to have to deal with a variety of hostile, hysterical, arrogant, rude, panicked, inebriated, and mentally incompetent callers. Abusive callers can often stretch even a good dispatcher's patience to the breaking point. Dispatchers don't like to admit it, but there are times when the line between being assertive, controlling the caller in order to quickly clarify the problem, and becoming rude and intolerant right back at them, is blurred or sometimes even scuffed completely out.

When that happens, and the dispatcher is, as we most always are, on a recorded line, that behavior can come back and bite the dispatcher. Big time. Especially if the news media gets hold of it. Like recently when Ohio's Columbus Dispatch happened to get hold of a certain 911 call made early last February, when two young Columbus PD dispatchers happened to treat one caller with some derision, one caller that just happened to possibly be the highway shooter Columbus area law enforcement have been seeking for several months.

Certainly, neither dispatcher expected their statements to wind up on TV news or in the local papers. But such is the nature of our profession. Occasionally we're praised, but if we do something wrong, we'll always hear about it. Along with maybe the rest of the country. Since the media tends to play up mistakes more than it does commendations, bad publicity, whether deserved or not, is going to be harmful to all dispatchers. Like one bad cop putting a bad taste in the public's mouth for all cops, dispatch mistakes put a stain on the entire profession, because that's what the public remembers.

I'm not disparaging either of these Columbus dispatchers - certainly, ongoing crimes like their highway shooter attract all sorts of crank calls and it's likely that an accumulation of these cranks may have sparked their dismissive behavior on the calls in question. But it is a wake up call. We dispatchers don't have the luxury of letting ourselves be irritated into unprofessional behavior. Just as we need to be 100% accurate in the information we process, we likewise must be 100% professional in the way we handle our callers - even those who fall into that abusive, arrogant, and hostile category.

It's really as simple as something many of us learned years ago in Sunday School. Consider it the Dispatcher's Golden Rule: treat each caller as you would want to be treated if you were reporting what you perceived to be a credible emergency. Always convey empathy and consideration, and a professional attitude of helping instead of hindering, even if they may not seem to be as sharp as we are in the nuances of reporting emergencies. Take control of the call if the complainant is rambling or confused, but don't cop an attitude. Treat them as you would like to be treated if you were in their shoes.

In the larger centers this may not always be entirely possible, not when the calls are coming at you like machine gun fire, but you can still exemplify a spirit of consideration and composure. It may be helpful to put yourself in the caller's shoes for a moment. We dispatchers answer dozens to hundreds of calls each shift - most callers may only dial 911 once or twice a lifetime (well, we each have our various "frequent fliers"....), so treat each one as if it were the most important call you are taking. Give them the attention they deserve, even if what they're reporting may seem to you to be rather trivial - or they sound like a crank.

Some protocol systems that script specific verbiage may appear to block this by requiring specific questions be asked with little or no deviation, but voice tone and inflection can certainly reveal empathy in these cases - just as they can also reveal inappropriate demeanor on the part of the dispatcher.

We can't afford to hinder our ability to help by giving in to an emotional response to a caller's lack of intellect, lack of clarity, or lack of grace. It is our job to be as much an anchor of composure for the panicked caller as we are a proficient provider for the patient one. We've got to swallow our pride and perpetuate our professionalism at all times. Just as we'd like the dispatcher to do for us when it becomes our time to be one of those panicked callers.

An Officer's "Thanks" to the Dispatchers

Written by Deputy Tim Lindsey of Lamar County Sheriff's Office, Mississippi

It takes a special someone to do the job you do.

To answer hundreds of calls a year with "911, where is your emergency?"
To ask all the right questions in order to get the needed help to someone in distress.
To patiently extract information from the kindergartner who calls and tearfully whispers, "My mommy won't wake up."
To cheerfully look up and relay phone numbers to the warrants officer when what you really want to say is, "Why don't you put a freakin' phone book in your car!"
To be partially responsible for the apprehension of the armed robber two counties over because you notified surrounding agencies of the vehicle description thirty minutes before the shift commander thought about it.

It takes a special someone to do the job you do.

To sleep on a cot in the records room, break room or in the hall while your agency deals with the latest man-made or natural disaster to come along.
To strain to hear till your eardrum cramps because some people absolutely refuse to hold the mike up to their mouth while they talk.
To carry on three different conversations; on the phone, on the radio, and in person, and keep them all straight.
To deal with the drunk at the drive-thru who called 911 because they put too much ketchup on his hamburger (yeah, he went to jail).
To talk the lady through the proper procedures when her daughter went in to labor two weeks early and gave birth in the bathroom.

It takes a special someone to do the job you do.

To take control, give directions and calm down the hysterical woman who accidentally shot her loving husband.
To take control, give directions and calm down the hysterical woman who intentionally shot her abusive husband.
To run 28's, 29's, Triple I's, "All Systems," and warrants checks and not pull out all your hair in the process.
To spend hours on end training the "newbie" in the skills you have acquired over the years.
To work with the "newbie" for weeks at a time when you knew from day one that they weren't going to be able to cut it.

It takes a special someone to do the job you do.

To answer your home phone in the middle of the night with "911, where's your emergency?"
To ride the emotional roller-coaster on the call where the three-year-old boy followed his dog into the woods wearing only his Scooby-Doo Underoos, got lost, got found three days later by search and rescue still alive, was carried through dense woods and thick underbrush over three miles to the command post, picked up by ambulance and then died fifteen minutes from the hospital.
To comfort, support and encourage each other when one of your guys is killed in the line of duty.
To stay awake and alert from 0330 hours to 0530 hours when things finally settle down on Saturday night.
To work under enough pressure and stress that a CEO in the private sector under the same would earn a million dollar bonus.

You are that special someone!! You are MY dispatcher and I thank God for you! If it should happen that I leave this life before you, I will stand face to face with God and thank Him for making people like you. I will then go stand by the gates and I will wait for you.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Your Own Emergency

Taken from lawofficer.com
Written by David Diamond in Public Safety Communiations Volume 76 Issue 3 March 2010

Call them 911 calltakers, dispatchers, telecommunicators; they are a special breed. They are trained to be the voice at the end of the phone that remains calm, cool and professional no matter what the call. Training is extremely important in this profession because you never know what to expect. From assaults, fires, accidents, motor vehicle crashes, childbirth, cardiac arrest, choking, etc., telecommunicators are trained to respond in an instant's notice to provide the correct information and dispatch accordingly or pass the information rapidly to another dispatcher. It's very hard to keep emotions out of a call, but they have to; they have a job to do.

But what happens when a call comes in that personally affects the calltaker? It's a member of their family or a close relationship. Don't think it doesn't happen. It's the one call we all dread receiving. This is when training kicks in - and rapidly. You take the call, process the information and get the response going. It's easy to say that it's second nature and just an automatic response, but it really is.

In 2002, 911 calltaker Summer Sandness of Fargo, ND, answered the dreaded call. Her mother was having a seizure. Before she released the call, she spoke with a paramedic who asked if her mom has any wishes. At first, she was oblivious to what the paramedic had asked, and then she was told that her mother was in cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, her mom dies, but Sandness did her job as she was trained to do. In Sandness' situation, her APCO Chapter was extremely supportive and reached out to her as much as they could, including sending a memorial card and flowers to the memorial service. At that time, she had only been a member of North Dakota APCO for six months.

Such a dreaded call also came to veteran operator Mike Bowen of Quincy, Mass. As he reported to Amy Robach on Today, that call hit way too close to home. It was a call for a blazing house fire in Quincy that turned out to be his home. Miller commented, "It's surreal. First, you don't believe it. You hear it, but it's not registering. Then you see it on the screen and you realize, 'It's my house.'" Mike was concerned for his parents' safety because they were both in the house. Fortunatley, they were safe. Although his first concern was for them, he was also committed to doing his job. "You can't just run out," he said. "You can't leave everybody else and leave the city shorthanded and without help." Mike and his family lost everything but the clothes on their backs.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Donut Dilemma

***The following is posted with permission of the author, Jill Wragg, a retired police officer. This essay is copyrighted material; no reproduction or excerpting is permitted without written consent from Ms. Wragg (JKWragg@yahoo.com)***

Stop me if you've heard this one: a cop pulls a man over for OUI and says, "I know you've been drinking, your eyes are glassy." The man responds, "I know you've been eating donuts; your eyes are glazed."

Everyone knows a joke about cops and donuts. There are jokes about earning donut "merit" patches for saving lives and about cops revoking the drivers licenses of people who take too long in the Dunkin Donuts drive through. There's a bumper sticker that reads, "Bad Cop, No Donut." People send email pictures of a mock crime scene with police tape around a half-eaten donut. Most cops have gotten donuts as a gag gift. I got a lovely pink box with a dozen Boston Creme for my Academy graduation. My family spent years joking that I'd fix tickets for them in exchange for donuts. One of my brothers still insists that my line of duty injury involved falling off a stool at Dunkin Donuts. Firefighters get in on it, too, teasing officers about a new and improved donut, powdered with a dark blue sugar that won't ruin their uniforms. And even cops joke about their five basic food groups: glazed, jelly, powdered, chocolate frosted, and "ghetto," the donuts that are left over after a long meeting of the command staff.

It's not really an addiction - cops can give up donuts any time, especially when their colleagues' kids are selling girl scout cookies. Besides, it's not really about the donuts. Not many cops even eat donuts. The donut jokes are what counts. Humor comes in handy when things get serious. When you're a cop, things can get serious, fast.

Police play a one-sided game every day. It's a violent game and the cops are the only ones who have to follow the rules. Experts often describe police work as long periods of mind-numbing boredom followed by moments of sheer terror. Every encounter could end with the officer's death but he is expected to be polite and professional until that actually happens. A bad day for you might involve a fight with your boss, or a network crash, or maybe a missed lunch break. A bad day for a cop might involve breaking up a gang fight, or taking an abused child away from his parents, or spending a lunch break amidst blood and broken glass on the roadway. If one police officer doesn't meet the media's expectations, they're all brutal, or racist, or bungling fools. If one officer does something heroic, the rest are still brutal, or racist, or bungling fools.

Civilians want to hear stories of shootouts, and fiery rescues, and bodies strewn along the highways but cops most often share the stories that involve breathtaking incompetence. A cop's job security is an incurable disease called stupidity, and many people are carriers. When they don't know who to call for information about the landfill hours or fireworks, they call the police. They dial 911 if they're too lazy to look up the number. Why not? The little girl who's drowning in a local pool won't mind the extra seconds it takes for the operator to get rid of their call and take the call that might save her life. Indeed, many people call 911 for any threat to public safety - you know, a cable outage on the Red Sox' opening day, or to report that their friend's kid went swimming without observing the wait-thirty-minutes-after-eating rule. It's a trend. Someone loaded your dishwasher the wrong way? Call the cops. Someone ate just one Lay's potato chip? Call the cops. Left your really expensive stuff out in plain view in an unlocked car? It will be their biggest priority.

They don't mind. Really. Your room temperature IQ will provide them with the humor they need after doing CPR on the infant who was left in a stifling hot car while his parents shopped for a big screen TV. The fact that you didn't know there are inappropriate places to pee will keep them laughing when they are trying not to think about what your neighbor did to his own daughter. Cops don't mind handling all of your problems. They like to say that they enjoy the challenge of being expected to immediately stabilize a situation that took years to deteriorate.

When there are three police cruisers at the donut shop, people complain that their tax dollars are being wasted. They joke that Dunkin Donuts is the "police substation." Most likely, the cops inside are on a well-deserved break - relaxing, sharing a moment of peace with some colleagues and enjoying a warm, friendly, muted cup of coffee. It's also possible that the manager called 911 when someone tried to use an expire coupon....

Donut shops and cops will always be a team, until, that is, someone discovers a way to administer coffee, and loyal camaraderie, with an IV. And the donuts? They are very tempting, after all, and the alter of truth, justice and the American way won't collapse if a cop eats a donut.

George Orwell said, "We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those that would do us harm."

Who cares if those rough men (and women) are clutching a frosted jelly donut with rainbow sprinkles in one hand?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Confessions of a Police Officer

***This is posted with permission of the writer, Jill Wragg, who is a retired Police Officer from Massachusetts. This essay is copyrighted material; no reproduction or excerpting is permitted without written consent from Ms. Wragg (JKWragg@yahoo.com)***

Dear Citizens, Neighbors, Friends and Family;

My name is Jill and I am a cop. That means that the pains and joys of my personal life are often muted by my work. I resent the intrusion but I confuse my self with my job almost as often as you do. The label "police officer" creates a false image of who I really am. Sometimes I feel like I'm floating between two worlds. My work is not just protecting and serving. It's preserving that buffer that exists in the space between what you think the world is, and what the world really is.

My job isn't like television. The action is less frequent, and more graphic. It is not exhilirating to point a gun at someone. Pooled blood has a disgusting metallic smell and steams a little when the temperature drops. CPR isn't an instant miracle and it's no fun listening to an elderly grandmother's ribs break while I keep her heart beating. I'm not flattered by your curiousity about my work. I don't keep a record of which incident was the most frightening, or the strangest, or the bloodiest, or even the funniest. I don't tell you about my day because I don't want to share the images that haunt me.

But I do have some confessions to make:

Sometimes my stereo is too loud. Andrea Bocelli's voice makes it easier to forget the wasted body of the young man who died alone in a rented room because his family feared the stigma of AIDS. Beethoven's 9th Symphony erases the sight of the nurses who sobbed as they scrubbed layers of dirt and slime from a neglected 2-year-old's skin. The Rolling Stones' angry beat assures me that it was ignorance that drove a young mother to draw blood when she bit her toddler on the cheek in an attempt to teach him not to bite.

Sometimes I set a bad example. I exceeded the speed limit on my way home from work because I had trouble shedding the adrenalin that kicked in when I discovered that the man I handcuffed during a drug raid was sitting on a loaded 9 mm pistol.

Sometimes I seem rude. I was distracted and forgot to smile when you greeted me in the store because I was remembering the anguished, whispered confessions of a teenager who pushed away his drowning brother to save his own life.

Sometimes I'm not as sympathetic as you'd like. I'm not concerned that your 15-year-old daughter is dating an 18-year-old because I just comforted the parents of a young man who slashed his own throat while they slept in the next bedroom. I was terse on the phone because I resented the burden of having to weigh the value of two lives when I was pointing my gun at an armed man who kept begging me to kill him. I laugh when you cringe away from the mess in your teen's room because I know the revulsion of feeling a heroin addict's blood trickling toward an open cut on my arm. If I was silent when you whined about your overbearing mother it's because I really wanted to tell you that I spoke to one of our high school friends today, I found her mother slumped behind the wheel of her car in a tightly closed garage. She had dressed in her best outfit before rolling down the windows and starting the engine.

On the other hand, if I seem totally oblivious to the blood on my uniform, or the names people call me, of the hateful editorials, it's because I am remembering the lessons my job has taught me.

I learned not to sweat the small stuff. Grape juice on the beige sofa and puppy pee on the oriental carpet don't faze me because I know what arterial bleeding and decaying bodies can do to one's decor.

I learned when to shut out the world and take a mental health day. I skipped your daughter's 4th birthday party because I was thinking about the six children under the age of 10 whose mother left them unattended to go out with a friend. When the 3-year-old offered the dog the milk from her cereal bowl, the dog attacked her, tearing open her head and staining the sandbox with blood. The little girl's siblings had to pry her head out of the dog's jaws - twice.

I learned that everyone has a lesson to teach us. Two mothers engaged in a custody battle taught me not to judge a book by its cover. The teenage mother on welfare mustered the strength to refrain from crying in front of her worried child while the well-dressed, upper-class mother literally played tug of war with her toddler before running into traffic with the shrieking child in her arms.

I learned that nothing given from the heart is truly gone. A hug, a smile, a reassuring word, or an attentive ear can bring an injured or distraught person back to the surface, and help me refocus.

And I learned not to give up, ever! That split second of terror when I think I have finally engaged the one who is young enough and strong enough to take me down taught me that I have only one restriction: my own mortality.

One week in May has been set aside as Police Memorial Week, a time to remember those officers who didn't make it home after their shift. But why wait? Take a moment to tell an officer that you appreciate her work. Smile and say "Hi" when he's getting coffee. Bite your tongue when you start to tell a "bad cop" story. Better yet, find the time to tell a "good cop" story. The family at the next table may be a cop's family.

Nothing given from the heart is truly gone. It is kept in the hearts of the recipients. Give from the heart. Give something back to the officers who risk everything they have.