How far a simple 'thank you' to a cop can go

I didn’t even know how much I needed that thank you until it had been given and received

On February 21, 1991, I was angry and annoyed. It was my 20th anniversary in law enforcement. I could have retired that day, but I was at work. 

My wife didn't want me to retire and that made me angry. 

My big boss — the chief of patrol — had recently taken our unit out of plainclothes and assigned us back to uniform duties. Here we were back in uniform, while we still carried investigative cases in our plainclothes unit. So I was annoyed with him.

Suddenly, a Calamity
I was working the precinct front desk on a 1600-to-midnight shift. Suddenly, people came running in loudly screaming about a crazy man crashing his car into other cars. I ran out of the precinct, and got in an unmarked car with another cop. 

I apprehended the driver just down the street from the precinct. I had to force him out of his car. He continued to resist while I took him into custody. 

During the scuffle, I heard my neck pop. 

Not a good thing for my mood — now I could add neck and back pain to go along with my annoyance and anger. 

I had more than a half dozen drivers and other witnesses at the precinct, reporting that their cars had been purposefully struck by this individual. They all had to be interviewed, their statements written, and photos taken of their damaged vehicles. 

While gathering the necessary information for the reports and paperwork, I was handed the license and registration of one woman who was visibly shaken. She had been patiently waiting with her daughter and neighbor for me to interview them, but it was clear she was shaken up. 

A Time Machine
When she handed me her license, I read her address and I was suddenly transported back to a dark and frantic night in the early 1980s. 

On that night, I — along with a number of other officers and ambulance crews — responded to that address for a case involving an infant. 

The victim was a little girl — a twin — who had succumbed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. 

The ambulance took the baby and the father to the hospital.

I transported the mother.

Blinking myself out of my memory and into the moment, I looked at the woman before me and asked in a shaky voice, “Was I at your house during a tragic event?”

“Oh my God,” she said. “It’s you!”

She came running over to me and threw her arms around my neck and hugged me.

“I’ve wanted to thank you for years,” she said. 

She then pointed at her daughter and said, “This is her twin.”

Nothing more needed to be said about that night so many years before.

The paperwork was eventually completed, the hospital treated my neck, and it didn’t hurt as much as it did earlier in the tour. I didn’t even know how much I needed that thank you until it had been given and received.

My annoyance with the department quickly subsided... my angry mood, immediately erased.

About the author

Keith Bettinger is a retired Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Officer. He’s been writing for law enforcement publications for more than 25 years and has received 18 awards for his articles, stories, poems, and books. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Relations with a major in Clinical Counseling. During his career he received the department’s Bravery Medal, Silver Shield Award, Meritorious Police Service Award, Special Service Award, Professionalization Award, Department Recognition Award, five Headquarters commendations and six Precinct commendations. He also was a field training officer and an instructor on Post Shooting Trauma and Critical Incidents.

Keith has written two books, Fighting Crime With “Some” Day and Lenny, and End of Watch. He has also contributed stories to the following anthologies: Cop Tales 2000, Charity, True Blue, To Protect and Serve, and Dad’s Bow Tie. He also shares with Jack Miller, the screenplay Master Cheat. Keith lives in Las Vegas with his wife Lynn.

Contact Keith Bettinger

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