Be still my beating heart! I immediately ordered Dominic’s grandmother to take a photo of Dominic and me. But first I had to properly deputize him and placed a sticker badge on his chest to make it official. We snapped a photo, both of us giving a big thumbs-up, and then I hugged him and bid him back to his adoring grandmother. In retrospect, I wish I had held onto him a bit longer … my own sons are full grown adults and as I relinquished my embrace of Dominic, it was transformative and made me feel better about life and myself. That little guy had bucked the masses and had sought out a police officer to proclaim his pursuit of a dream to become someone just like me? These days, those kinds of kids in this kind of world sort of stick out—you’re not likely to easily forget someone who ignores the trend lines of what everybody else is doing. And such was the case for me after less than five minutes with Dominic.
Fast forward to Friday, July 13. As I was working a few hours of Patrol before heading home for the night, I heard the call get dispatched to police and fire; there had been an accident involving a small boy on the far west side. By the time I got to the scene, the paramedics had already transported the child, crime scene tape encircled the perimeter, and officers, detectives, and firefighters walked around as if their shoulders bore the weight of the world. I was just getting briefed by one of our patrol cops when I was contacted by a woman who came out of her nearby home, visibly upset and crying. From a distance, this woman looked familiar but I could not immediately place her? Then she and I grabbed onto one another in a long hug. The woman was sobbing and asked whether I remembered her. I had to admit that though familiar, I could not, for the life of me, recall the context? Then it all came together when the woman stated, “It was at the Kids Expo, earlier this year. . .” And I knew. It was Dominic’s grandmother. Dominic was the child who had been struck by a neighbor’s backing vehicle in a freak accident. And then I cried right along with Dominic’s grandmother.
On Wednesday of the same week, I had just “celebrated” my 35th year of working in law enforcement. Over the years, every imaginable and unimaginable sight/sound/smell has been processed and experienced. Through it all, your training kicks in and you function on auto-pilot until the call is over. My employees will tell you that I tear up when I see them put to the test or lament about them getting bad news or get remorseful for the things I should have said or done for a member of my family. I thought that I had long since abandoned crying at a scene of a police incident. But this wasn’t just a tragic call, this was Dominic and that made it different for me this time.
So what triggered this response that I had thought dormant if not altogether dead? Perhaps it’s because my oldest son and daughter-in-law blessed us with our first grandchild just a few months ago and then seeing the pain of loss in Dominic’s grandmother. Maybe it’s because of the zest for life and the vigorous determination that I saw in Dominic at the Kid’s Expo on that fateful weekend. Or maybe it’s because Dominic was representative of that hope for the future that I and so many of my colleagues are praying for in a profession that’s used as a punching bag these days.