I have asked those in this book to talk about what they considered to be a career-defining moment. For some, doing this has been difficult or deeply personal. For me, it was both. I actually have two incidents, one at the beginning of my career and one at the very end. I’ll tell you about the second one a little later.
My first career-defining moment was when I was on patrol while working the midnight shift.
Early in the evening, I received a call of a vehicle-versus-pedestrian traffic accident, a hit and run. When I arrived, I found the pedestrian lying in the roadway next to the curb. Several bystanders stood on the sidewalk, and no one was helping him.
As I knelt down next to him, I could see that he was badly injured. What appeared to be brain matter was seeping from his ears, but he was still alive.
The bystanders immediately began yelling at me to help this man.
I went to my patrol car and retrieved a blanket and gently covered him. The bystanders continued to yell at me, questioning why I wasn’t doing anything to help him.
While waiting for the ambulance and other officers to arrive, I held his hand and tried to comfort him. He died before the ambulance could get there.
I became numb, and my self-preservation wall went up. And so began a career of bottled-up emotions.
When they arrived at the hospital, she recalled seeing a sea of police cars lined up and what looked like a five-mile stretch of Oakland police officers standing on both sides of the cars.
As they pulled up in front of the emergency room entrance, she saw a friend of Ervin’s. He had also been the best man at their wedding. He stood with his head bent down. He then walked over to the car, opened the door, and grabbed her hand to help her out.
Nicole asked him what had happened.
All he could say was, “He didn’t make it. He died.”
Her son was still in the backseat of the patrol car, trying to get out. “I could instantly see the color drain from this young man’s face.
“On the ride to the hospital, I kept thinking that he was just injured, but when we arrived, seeing all of those officers, I knew it was serious.
“We walked into the hospital, and there were doctors and nurses and people just running around everywhere. Five of our Oakland officers and five families were in the emergency room.
One of the officers was wounded, but the other four laid under white sheets. My officer, my husband, my in-law’s son, my stepchildren’s father, my children’s stepfather, a brother, an uncle, an Oakland Police Department sergeant laid under a white sheet. He was everything to us.
Nicole said they told her she didn’t want to see him. The suspect had shot Ervin in the face.
“I just stood there and stared at the sheet that covered my husband; I never pulled it back. He was a handsome, beautiful man, and that’s what I was going to remember, not the traumatic memory of what had happened to him, to his body, to his life.”
As with everyone in this book, I asked Mike if there was a career-defining moment for him.
He said, “I recall a specific incident early in my career. While on patrol, I drove into what was considered a highcrime, high-drug area of town. I saw a large man holding down a much smaller person on the ground. My immediate thought was that this smaller person was a child.
“Other citizens stood nearby and watched as this man, at least six-foot-five and three hundred pounds, attempted to repeatedly stab this child with a very large butcher knife. “I slammed on my brakes, notified dispatch of where I was, what I observed, and I requested a backup officer. “I got out of my marked patrol car, drew my firearm, and ordered the large man to stop. He didn’t: he merely looked back at me and dismissed my presence and my command.
“The emotions that flowed were so varied: surprise, outrage, a little panic, and fear, yes fear, the first fear I had felt in my career but not the last because we do feel fear.
“Contrary to my training and prior to the availability of tools such as Tasers, I stepped forward and kicked the man very solidly in the butt and stepped away. As he turned toward me, I again ordered him to stop, lie down on the ground, and not move. He complied.
“When my backup arrived, the man was arrested. What I soon discovered was that the very large man was in fact a sixteen-year-old juvenile, and the smaller ‘child’ was an eighteen-year-old young man. Things are certainly not always what they appear to be.
“When I went to holster my weapon, I had to uncock the hammer to snap the retention strap. I had started to fire my weapon and stopped. I didn’t realize how close I had come to shooting this large ‘man.’”
“Grieving was a big part of my retirement. It’s not just a job you leave, it’s the people. Law enforcement officers become your siblings. They have seen you win and lose. They have spent more time with you than your own family. They know your idiosyncrasies, and they have a shared history with you.
“I grieved the loss of my law enforcement family for months. Transition from a career in law enforcement to civilian life was difficult. Civilians have no idea who you are or what you have endured. They just see you as that person who can’t sit with your back to the door; the person who scrutinizes the words and actions of others; the person who drives like you’re running lights and siren; and the person who still avoids donuts due to the negative stereotype.
“I can tell you, it is a career that will change you. You will live with the double-edged sword of wishing you could unsee and unhear some of your experiences, while at the same time being grateful that you know what is out there, and you know how to protect yourself.
“My advice to young new officers is to protect your physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and mental health. Mostly, I would say that it has been my great honor to walk among heroes.”