I'm proud to host guest blogger Lee Lofland today. Some of you may already be familiar with his mega-popular blog, The Graveyard Shift. Lee's bio would be as long as his post, so suffice it to say, the man has credentials. Today, he's sharing some of his experiences working in law enforcement.
It’s Not All Donuts and Paperwork
I got my start in law enforcement as a corrections officer in a maximum-security prison. In our facility, all new C/Os (corrections officers) were required to start out working the graveyard shift, which I did. My sergeant on the midnight shift was a great guy, always filling in for officers who called in sick, needed to go home early, or for those who simply wanted a night off. My boss’s generosity toward his subordinates was quite unusual for a security supervisor in the prison system.
Normally, the white shirts (supervisors wore white shirts; line officers wore blue) working the late-night shifts spent their entire eight hours trying to find things officers had done wrong so they could “write them up.”
I once saw a supervisor crawling on his hands and knees, sneaking up on an officer, hoping to catch her sleeping. My sergeant was quite the opposite. If he could help anyone out of a jam, he did. I’ve even known him to assume a sleepy officer’s post so they could take a break and gather a second wind. Working graveyard in a prison, watching people during their slumber, can be a very monotonous, mind-numbing job.
My sergeant was a fine man, liked by everyone who’d ever had the pleasure of working with him.
I worked in the prison system until the county sheriff hired me as a patrol deputy, a job I’d had in my sights since my teens.
I’d only been out of the police academy a few months when I received a particularly disturbing emergency call from the dispatcher. She told me a male teenager had barricaded himself inside his house, and was threatening suicide. My heart sank when I heard the address. It was the residence of my former sergeant at the prison. The troubled teen was his son.
I arrived at the house and found my old boss standing in his front yard. He was in uniform, ready for work, and he was extremely distraught. He fought back tears when he told me his son was inside with a loaded shotgun. Then I asked him where he’d last seen his son, and for a detailed description of the layout of the house. He said he hadn’t heard a sound since his son forced him outside. No blast from the shotgun, which was a good thing.
I used the sergeant’s key and went inside, where I found the young man seated on the living room floor. He held the barrel of the shotgun firmly against his chin. His thumb rested on the trigger. The safety was clearly off. His knuckles white from gripping the weapon. And he was crying.
I approached the boy slowly, talking about anything that came to mind—mostly gibberish. But the small talk distracted the boy, allowing me to take a seat on the hardwood floor beside him—no easy feat for a guy my size, wearing a gun belt, a Kevlar vest, and polished dress shoes. In a matter of seconds, I was sweating profusely. Every nerve in my body stood at attention. The gadgets on my belt dug into the tender flesh at my waist.
I was uncomfortable, but I didn’t dare move a muscle. I talked to the kid for twenty minutes, or so, with my eyes fixed on the trigger and the thumb that rested on it. He’d bitten the nail to the quick.
Finally, he relaxed his grip for a second and I made my move, grabbing the shotgun barrel with one hand and his trigger hand with my other. In one motion, I slid the shotgun across the floor and handcuffed the teenager.
I sat him upright and then he collapsed against me, crying uncontrollably. I held him until the tears stopped, and then we talked. I listened to his troubles, and then I explained what had to happen next—he’d be going in for a psychiatric evaluation. I also told him to call me if he ever felt the need to harm himself again. I let him know that I was there for him, as his dad had been for me, many times.
When he was ready, we stood and went outside. I don’t think the air had ever smelled any fresher, nor had there ever been a brighter moon.
Lee Lofland, a former police detective, is the author of Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide For Writers, a 2008 Macavity nominee for best non-fiction mystery. He is a nationally acclaimed expert on police procedure and crime-scene investigation. You can learn more about Lee at his website, or at his blog The Graveyard Shift