FIT@50 / week 22 Unmasked:
This week I made it official that after more than 25 years in the business it was time to heed God’s calling and retire from policing. Not an easy decision, it was all I’ve done my entire life. It’s all I knew and knew I was good at it.
Most friends, and even family have never known much about my career other than I always seemed to be working at it. They don’t know about the effects of working SWAT for 16 years.
The constant training and obsession with tactics to rescue victims or apprehend violent offenders. The thousands of rounds of ammo fired to become perfect at taking someone else’s life to protect another. The cold detachment of looking at a human being through the scope of your submachine gun, and then the expectation of going home and pretending like nothing special or horrific happened.
The 12 years spent working undercover narcotics and the dangers of a DEA assignment throughout the 1990s when New Orleans was more violent then than it is now. When federal undercover agents had to protect themselves from some of the local cops who were themselves more violent criminals than the criminals.
Sitting through family celebrations and holidays setting up drug buys under the facade of your undercover identity, while trying to pretend you were interested in what you got or gave your family for Christmas gift openings.
Bathrooms and back alleys exchanging marked money for illegal drugs, while sketchy technology seldom worked to alert your cover team to what was going down. Living the life of someone else, but going home to pretend a double-existence hadn’t affected your world view.
Oddly enough, those were some of my most treasured years in law enforcement. Existence within society’s very fringe, where you step back and forth between the life of service you swore to protect and the life you grieved in loss.
Most folks won’t know, or really have no interest in understanding how someone would thrive in an environment of constant risk. But it’s the risk, with life as it’s reward that pushes you to continue the service and sacrifice. It’s giving society everything you have in hopes of making it better – no matter the personal toll.
It doesn’t make us more important, just different. I’ve been blessed to have survived that life for many years. Carrying more scars on the inside than I do on the outside, and I promise my wife, Liliana Hart, one day soon, I’ll let those scars heal.
This is what retirement means to me – it’s my first chance in 25 years to take off that mask. The one that has hidden the hurt and the pain and the fear of what years in the service has done to the naively idealistic rookie who set out to not change the world, but to help everyone he could – one person at a time.
If the service is genuine, then the sacrifices are noble. There are thousands of good guys and girls out there that like me, only want to help everyone they can. They too accept the burden of wearing a mask, but hope one day soon that their retirement will allow them to unmask the cop, and return to being the son, daughter, brother, sister, father or mother and friend that society used to know.
Do good, Scott