She is 7 and she’s having bad dreams.
Her father is a Hudson, N.H., police officer and she is terrified for him ever since she heard the news about Michael Briggs, the Manchester, N.H., police officer who was shot to death while on bicycle patrol. When she thinks about it, she begins to cry. She worries that the same thing will happen to her daddy.
She is not alone. For families of law-enforcement officers, it comes with the job. There is no telling what awaits a police officer when he or she steps out the door in the morning. There is never a guarantee that they’ll be coming home at the end of their shift.
The moment they put on the badge and the uniform, they become a target. How many people can say that about their jobs? They have signed a contract that may put them in harm’s way at a moment’s notice. Sometimes there is no notice.
In 1988, Officer David Payne, a member of the Rumford, Maine, Police Department, was dispatched to a routine car crash. The car had gone off the road. As he arrived on the scene, he climbed down an embankment where the car had been found. As he got near the car, shots rang out, five or six of them. Officers on the road heard him scream, “I’ve been hit. I’ve been hit.”
Officer David Payne had been shot twice with a .44-caliber handgun. He died a short time later, leaving a wife and family.
In 1993, Dracut Detective James Wagner looked down the barrel of a gun, not once, but twice. The first time was after he stopped a car on Route 110 in Dracut. The suspect drew a gun and pointed it in Wagner’s face. It jammed.
Two weeks later, on his first day back on the job after a required leave of absence, Wagner chased a guy who had just grabbed his estranged son out of nursery school. The guy had a pistol in his hand and a cache of rifles in the trunk of his car. Wagner talked him out of doing something stupid.
A couple of years ago, some guy in a stolen car tried to chase down Billerica Police Sgt. Steven Elmore. Fortunately, Elmore got the better of the guy and slapped the cuffs on him. The guy was out on bail and back on the street before Elmore was through with the paperwork.
For all the jokes about sitting around the coffee shop or snoozing in their cars, there are very few people who know, firsthand, what police officers do. All we know is that when we’re driving 15 or 20 miles an hour over the speed limit and those blue lights come on behind us, it’s going to cost us time and money. We grumble that the cops are “out to get us.”
But what we don’t know is that the cop is wondering just who is in the car and what the driver’s intentions are. As they walk up to the window, they’re probably thinking about their wives and families , wondering if they’ll ever see them again.
New Hampshire authorities are calling for the death penalty for Michael Addison, Briggs’ alleged shooter. I’ve heard the argument that the cop killers should not get the death penalty if it’s not applied across the board. Hogwash. These men and women do a job that none of us want to do. They’re compensated reasonably, no question, but every day on the job poses a new threat. What they do is heroic. Whether it’s volunteering to cook breakfast at the local senior center, gathering up toys for poor kids at Christmas or running a junior police academy at the local elementary school.
Whether it’s breaking up a drug ring or responding to the 80-year-old woman who just fell down the stairs, directing traffic or stopping an armed robbery in progress.
Words like courage, valor and dedication are strewn about when platitudes are being offered for a cop who has died a violent death. But do they mean anything to the average person? Think about that the next time those blue lights come up behind you when you’re doing 45 in a 30-mph zone.
Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail address is email@example.com.