Saturday, December 27, 2014

Policing in a Post-Ferguson World: The Viewpoint of the Chaplain

Mr. Groux was my employer when I was a struggling undergraduate student lacking life direction and basic maturity.  And to top it off, I had leanings toward being arrogant.  What a wonderful combination!  But Mr. Groux put up with me every single day. As I would express my poorly conceived opinions, occasionally he would say: “Are you well qualified to discuss that?”  And of course…I was not!  

But today I am indeed well qualified to discuss the topic I am about to explore. Next week I will reach my 25 year marker as a volunteer law enforcement chaplain. For 25 years I have served with police officers in the most intense situations imaginable.  The calls have ranged from suicides and homicides to fatal crashes to helping people that are in desperate need of a meal.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

I am well aware that there are dirty cops.  I have worked with one or two over the years. And I have worked with ministers that have no business serving a church.  And I have known some accountants and lawyers that were not ethically sound too. 

Over 25 years, I have seen countless acts of selfless service from those that have committed their lives to protecting and serving. I regret not keeping a detailed account of each those experiences.  But here is a brief listing.

·       I remember the officer that escorted a woman and her child to the bus station after her husband attempted to poison them.  He did not leave her side until she was safely on the bus. And then he joined his colleagues in searching for a man who would ultimately be charged with attempted murder.

·       I still remember being called out on a cold January day because an officer encountered a man that had obviously not eaten in quite some time. The officer had calls holding, so he was unable to take the man to a restaurant. I was given that privilege. And it was a privilege indeed.

·       I recall the morning I ran into an apartment with an officer as we both prepared to do CPR on a baby that was not breathing according to the dispatcher.  The officer burned his arm as he touched the scalding water in the bathtub the woman drowned her 13 month old baby in. I found the deceased baby, who had been discarded by his mother, in an adjacent bedroom.

·       I have been on numerous death notifications over the years and watched officers hug and otherwise care for people in shock over the sudden loss of a loved one.  And I will add that the individuals served have come from every race, culture and life background imaginable. 

·       Several years ago I attended the funeral service for a beautiful 16 year old girl killed in a car crash that was truly accidental.  The two officers that worked the crash attended her funeral in uniform on their day off. One of them continued to reach out to her family.

·       Last year a deputy answered a suicide threats call.  The person appeared be safe, but he had a feeling all was not well. He called me out and we spent a couple of hours talking to the troubled person.  About a month ago someone told me that we were responsible for saving her life.  I give the perceptive deputy all the credit.

·       I have observed officers repeatedly go the extra mile to compassionately care for those that have been victims of heinous crimes.  I will never forget some of the encounters I have had in that realm of service.

·       Some years ago I accompanied two troopers to notify the parents of a trooper that was killed in an on-duty car crash out of our county.  The service they provided to that family is permanently etched on my heart.

·       In 2013, a deputy I served with gave the ultimate sacrifice. A man accused of sexually assaulting his under-age niece shot the deputy in the head. The deputy left a young wife and two small children behind.

I am not sharing these stories for shock value.  In a way, these events do not accurately depict the day to day service police officers provide people in need of protection and service.  I am simply trying to say that I am well-qualified to discuss the contribution that law enforcement officers make to our society.  It deeply grieves me to hear ignorant, hateful, and downright evil rhetoric regarding police officers in general since events unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri. 

There is a tremendous amount of negativity being dispelled about today’s law enforcement officers.  There are others that are making ignorant comments regarding officer involved shootings.  They have no clue what they are talking about. Such individuals are not well-qualified to discuss such matters. The media is spinning events to their advantage. And the truth gets lost in the process.

Again, I realize there are ethically deficient police officers. I think improvements are needed to eradicate such individuals from the profession. They are dangerous.  Accountability is indeed crucial. The vast majority of officers would concur on that point.

I would urge us to pose the question to ourselves that Mr. Groux often posed to me: “Are you well qualified to discuss that?”  If you are not familiar with police work, then join a citizen’s police academy; do your own research; or befriend an officer in your community.  But by all means refrain from speaking in an ignorant manner regarding those that protect and serve. Such foolish talk hurts those that are real servants. In New York today, an officer that was gunned down in cold blood was buried by his colleagues.  He started his duty on his final day with the intent to protect and serve.  I know the pain his fellow officers are feeling. I have been there. I am well-qualified to discuss that….

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dining with the President: A Tribute to Dr. Louis J. Rodriguez.

In 1987, I was a young, inexperienced minister who was in way above his head.  I assumed my first real professional role at age 25.  To say I was “green” is understatement.  In addition to serving university students at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, TX, I also served as an adjunct instructor of Biblical History and Literature in the English Dept.  I was in survival mode. I taught three days a week, so lecture preparation was a daily challenge for a newbie. But periodically the phone would ring and it was none other than the president of the university on the other end of the line.  Did I have time to have lunch with him?  My immediate thought was: “Why does he want to have lunch with a peon like me?”   In all likelihood, he had dined with a state senator or the mayor of Wichita Falls the day before.  

I was privileged to dine with Dr. Lou Rodriguez at Olive Garden on several occasions.  Two things stand out to me 27 years later.  I was thinking about how to keep my head above water. Lou was thinking about dreams and plans a decade away.  I learned something about visionary leadership from him.  Dr. Rodriguez treated me like I was a tenured professor with years of experience. I never felt he was talking down to me or treating me in a patronizing manner.  He spoke to me as If I was his equal.

He was one of the most effective leaders I have ever known.  As the president of a state university, he had a vision for where that college could and should be in the distant future, then put into place the necessary steps to reach that goal.  Today the university is reaping the benefits of his visionary leadership.

Dr. Rodriguez was not a pretentious man, but in his role as president, he had the responsibility and skill to hobnob with the most elite, powerful and influential people in society.  Something that set him apart from other leaders, however, is that one would be just as likely to find him stopping to chat with a freshman student on campus, visiting with one of the janitors in the hallway, or taking a young campus minister out to lunch…  These were not perfunctory visits; he truly valued and cared about people.

Earlier this week I received the news that this fine man passed away last month at age 81.  I have not seen him for years, but the impression he made in my life is permanent.   And I am reminded that the most effective leaders are not arrogant egotists.   Competent leadership is demonstrated by a humble spirit.  Today I am grateful for Dr. Rodriguez.  (At age 52, I am still not ready to call him Lou!)