2019, Agent Kevin Richard
Often times, when I meet someone and they learn that I am a police officer, I am greeted with a comment or story about a traffic citation of some kind. It’s often a complaint about how they felt they should have benefited from the officer’s discretion, but didn’t.
Traffic code enforcement is indeed the context in which there is the most contact between citizens and officers, so I can understand how this may be the default subject of conversation, but I’m nonetheless struck by the lack of knowledge about many other police duties.
For the most part, my responses to such comments are limited to a smile and a shrug, or perhaps changing the subject of conversation entirely. At times, however, when I am feeling fairly energetic and sociable, and when I sense that I am in the company of a reasonable person, I will respond by carefully steering the conversation towards other aspects of my work.
I let them know that the pain and suffering in their community is probably far worse than they believe, that they likely have a friend, neighbour or family member, of whom they are unaware, who struggles with suicidal thoughts, and that a large part of our work is dedicated to responding to such people in crises.
I must admit, however, that with the passing of time, I am finding it increasingly difficult to simply shrug off such comments, regardless of their either innocent or resentful nature, and regardless of my ability to socialize in the moment. At times, while I’m listening to stories about traffic tickets and the like, I’m also discreetly tending to my latest wounds.
Though others may not notice it, my body sometimes aches from the burns of repeatedly reaching through the fires of hell. Though others may not hear it, my ears are sometimes filled with mothers’ high-pitched screams of horror. And though others may not see it, my mind sometimes struggles to unsee what it cannot unsee, to forget what it cannot forget, and to conceal the contamination of my soul.
“So you’re the guy who gives us tickets eh?” she said, in a somewhat passive-aggressive tone. “Yes Ma’am,” I responded, while feeling a tidal wave about to leap from my chest. “It’s not all I do, however. I also hurry off to help those who are descending into the pits of hell. You see, sometimes I get there on time, before hell completely devours them, but sometimes I don’t. When I do get there on time, I have to contend with the hell they’re in, hoping it doesn’t devour me in the process. When I don’t get there on time, I have to grapple with hell’s destructive power, and I have to contend with how it will now be unleashed on the loved ones left behind as I break the news.”
“Oh”, she responded. “Yes Ma’am,” I replied, “I could go on at length about death and tragedy, pain and despair, and the devils that roam our streets, but know this: Many people around us are suffering, and while I am indeed the guy who gives you tickets, I’m also the guy who contends with the forces of hell.”
Kevin Richard is a Police Foundations instructor in the Ottawa area. Need to talk? https://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/