For an area police officer, a split second renders an ordinary day extraordinary, or terrifying. As an example, a Sheffield Village patrolman recalls a car chase that occurred when he was a rookie. To stop the suspect vehicle, he positioned his car to block escape. Instead, the car was rammed broadside and the suspect drove on. He got out to survey damage, before realizing the fleeing suspect had wheeled back around. Now his back was literally to a high wall. So when the suspect gunned the engine and sped right at him, he had no choice. He drew his gun and fired. I ask you: What would you have done?

He fired at the car’s tires, stopping it. Because his life was in danger, he could have shot at the driver. He did not.

A veteran Avon Lake police officer responded to a domestic disturbance. Before taking the male to jail, police separated the two to get statements. Things calmed.  The male was fully compliant and cooperative. He asked if he could take an unopened can of tobacco with him. As the officer and suspect moved towards the door, the male grabbed a knife lying on a counter. “Your training just kicks in,” explains this veteran officer, noting that he instantly drew his weapon and ordered the man to drop the knife. In that split second – and many incidents occur in a split second – the officer feared the suspect would stab the woman or the officer who was questioning her. The knife could also have been turned on him. The knife was dropped and a very apologetic suspect said he just wanted to open the can of tobacco. But, what if…?

“What if…?” That is a question police ask themselves every shift. “It’s the unpredictability that causes stress,” one stated.   More than one told me how their training just “kicks in” at these moments and that is critical because, as another told me, “Courage is acting appropriately, even when terrified.”

On a quiet Sunday morning, a Sheffield Lake patrolman was first to respond to a car accident. “We couldn’t save him.” The look on his face tells me it still haunts him. A village officer recalls responding to a traffic accident, where the female driver was killed. He expresses frustration towards the driver who hit her because he was high at the time. “She was just trying to get to work,” he said about the randomness of the tragic things police see.

Two told me about talks with teenagers who had attempted suicide, another about a mom who reported her own child. Yet another told me about responding to a call where a woman was shot to death by her boyfriend. He recalls being on edge the next few days until an arrest was made.

An Avon officer recalled being suddenly surrounded by friends of a male they were seeking after he kicked in the door at his mother’s house. The teen, who appeared to be alone as he was approached, came at officers with his fists balled, ready to fight. That’s when his friends came out of a nearby woods and encircled them. Repeated orders for them to back up were ignored.  The arrival of additional squad cars caused the crowd to disperse.

Even traffic stops have the potential to be very dangerous.  A chief recalls the stress he felt when he stopped the car of someone known to carry a gun. It worked out, but, what if…?

“What if…” does happen. One became very sad as he told me about two friends lost in the line of duty.

With so much potential for unpredictable danger, why would someone choose to become a police officer? When I asked, virtually all said they wanted to help people and make a difference. “I wanted to be a cop all my life,” one claimed. “I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.” Another recalled seeing his dad’s badge and just knowing he wanted to carry one, too.

They laugh and joke about never becoming millionaires. Perhaps they have something more valuable. They know they saved a life when they were first to arrive at a medical emergency and could administer CPR or Narcan. They know they made a difference when their advice or a resource they provided helped a family or individual achieve a course correction. They have the satisfaction of knowing they put, as one officer described, “seriously bad dudes” in prison. We live in arguably among the safest communities in northeast Ohio, because of them.

National Peace Officer Memorial Day is May 15.  In another section of the paper, there is a list of public events being held locally to honor police. If you sleep well knowing you and your family are safe, the next time you see a patrol car on your street, wave. Say thanks. Send a letter of appreciation. It means a million to the cops who keep us safe.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series on local police.

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