He was only 23 years old. He didn’t get a chance to date, fall in love, get married, go on vacation with his wife and kids, become a grandfather—all those things that “normal” people do. But for two and a half years he did do what he loved to do every day. He was a deputy sheriff. The youngest officer in the area, he became a deputy at the young age of 20. But he was good at it. He was courageous, tough, fair-minded, smart, and had a level head. He was respected by every other officer who knew him as well as the public he served.
He was a good cop. But he got shot in the head by a doper on a sunny afternoon during an investigation that started out in the county and moved into town. When Mark stepped through that door, he never felt his foot hit the floor. Shot in the head, Mark was pronounced dead at the hospital, although he was probably dead before he fell.
Behind him was the officer who had been my training officer when I was a rookie, and we became good friends. Don didn’t just train me to be a cop, he trained me to be a better person. You know cops usually only trust other cops; it’s hard to trust people when all you see is the seamy side of humanity, and it’s trained into your mind that there ARE people out there who want to and will hurt you just because you’re a cop. That’s as true today as it’s ever been. Your instinct becomes not to trust anyone who is not a cop. But, he said, “always, always, always treat people with respect, even when you’re throwing them in jail.” He said some night when you’re getting your butt whipped in an alley by three guys, one of them may not be beating on you because he remembers how you treated him with respect and decency when you arrested him last month for drunk and disorderly.
The guy tried to kill Don, too, taking three shots at him. Don said “All I could do was drop Mark and run for cover.” Don was not a stranger to firefights. A medic in Viet Nam, the few stories he told me (and he didn’t talk about it much, and I didn’t ask) were incredible. Like treating wounds and picking the splinters and wood out of the wound because the soldier was standing behind a tree and got shot through the tree. People just don’t understand what those guys saw, nor do people understand what it’s really like to be a cop.
The guy who shot Mark and tried to kill Don was caught, and is setting in prison. Justice was served. But it didn’t bring Mark back.
If you have ever stood in a formation of law enforcement officers from all over the U.S. lined up in two rows across the cemetery and watch your friend and fellow officer being carried between them to his final resting place– you will never forget it. You can try, but you won’t.
The cops are not the bad guys. Lately they’ve been getting a bad rap. They’ve been given a hard job to do and most of them do it without complaint, day in and day out, rain or shine, no matter what. The few “bad cops” are the only ones who get the attention these days, because that makes “good press” and it serves the news agencies agenda of keeping things stirred up (I have little regard for the national news media).
That ‘thin blue line’ is made up of men and women who rarely get medals, they never get paid enough, and they are more committed to “fighting crime and/or evil” than all the lawyers and judges put together.
They know the risk of doing what they do, but they do it anyway.
That’s what heroes do.