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The Silence

This Post was written in honor of the men and women who wear the uniform everyday and in memory of a recent loss close to home, you will always be remembered. 

Sound. It is an interesting thing. For those blessed with hearing, a sound can mean so much; it can mean everything. Sound is one of the primary ways we experience the world. From the time we are a little child, sounds stick with us and begin to define our perception of the world. Sounds such as the lullaby mom used to sing, the seriousness in daddy’s voice, and the understanding tone of a loving grandma; all begin to clarify our place in the world .

This continues throughout our life and begins to exemplify the defining moments. Maybe it is our favorite song heard on the radio, the music we first danced to, the understanding voice reflection of a close friend. These sounds provide the backdrop of our world as we know it and our understanding of it.
 
This definition is true with many types of industries and vocations.

Sound begins to describe a career and the moments within it. The whir of machinery, the simple taps on a keyboard, the drip of a coffee maker, the distant voices congregating in a break room, and the sound of the bosses footsteps coming down a hall; they become the drumbeat that fills the background of everyday life. Over time they dissipate into the dull hum that plays out in our everyday moments, but if you stop every once in a while and try to push back against the noise, you will hear the simplest and most distinct of sounds that make up our everyday life.

Law enforcement is no different; sound fills the tapestry of everyday life on the job.

Law enforcement is no different; sound fills the tapestry of everyday life on the job. Sounds that are not as common or simply do not exist in other careers. It can start with the simplest, purest form of noises, until the sounds build on each other, each beginning to tell a story as they build into a crescendo.

The simple sound of a zipper on the side of issued black Rocky boots. The swooshing sound they make as the zipper tightens the support of the boot around the ankle of the officer. The audible click that is heard as the snap is closed on the black leather keeper that goes over the zipper.
 
The sound of velcro being pulled apart. Its distinctive ripping sound made as the sides of a ballistic vest is tightened and retightened to get the snug fit just right.

The sound of velcro being pulled as the outer duty belt is straightened to the inner keeper belt. Moving it, loosening it, to get it to fit just right below the vest.
 
The sound of metal clicking as the snaps on belt keepers are clasped. Each placed strategically around the belt to hold it in place in case something was to catch the belt, someone was to grab the belt, or the weight of the tools, coupled with gravity, would cause it to shift.

The distinctive sound of a magazine being slipped into a handgun, the metallic sound of the slide moving forward to chamber a round. The audible click that can be heard as the firearm is slipped into a retainment holster and nestled into place. The click of the magazine release as it is again removed from the holstered firearm, one last round entered, and then placed again into the magazine well with a click.

The clicks, the snaps, they continue each with their own distinctive tone, as the radio is put in its place along the belt and the cord for the microphone is ran to the uniform’s shoulder. Cameras are affixed with the faint sound of magnets finding their attraction, flashlights are added and piece by piece the uniform is put in place. The uniform coming together as a symbol of the vocational role this person plays in the world.
 
The human sound of a sigh, as they take one last glance in the mirror to make sure that it is all there. The sound of exhalation as the unrelenting thought, of “what am I missing?” comes to the forefront. The sound of one last pat down as all the pockets and holders are checked and inventories to make sure everything is present.

Not all the sounds are this harsh in their delivery, some sounds that surround law enforcement whisper as they join in the nightly chorus.

The sounds now move outside. The sound of a car door on an agency vehicle being shut. The door to a unique office environment, unique to only a few careers. Next comes the sound of the engine starting and the fan noise as the heat or air conditioner kicks on and is adjusted. The whir of fans begins to chime in as the computer and radio come to life and the beeps and notifications they send out announcing their resurrection fill the air.

The symphony is in full display as the sound of the tapping of keys on a laptop keyboard join in and passwords, routing information, dispatch logs, and other information comes to life at their fingertips.
 
The shrill sound of voices begin to pierce the dull rumble of background noise. Dispatchers and officers begin the back and forth electronic communication.

The penetrating sound of excited voices on in-progress calls, the defeated sound of an officer dealing with the one call he was hoping he would not get, and the questioning sound of dispatch wanting to know the details of the call, knowing more is happening than what is being relayed.

The ear-piercing sound of a radio tone-out, the high pitch squeal that makes all officers stop whatever they are doing and pay attention. The questions come fast. What is happening? Where is it happening? Who is there?
 
These sounds encompass every part of the job, each distinctive in its own right, but collectively loud and harsh. The sound of sirens on a patrol car trying to keep time with the flashing red and blue lights. The distinctive sound of fire rescue and emergency services vehicles, their red and yellow lights reflecting in the sky.

The sound of tires on asphalt as a vehicle is driven fast or the squeal of a vehicle turned too quickly on pavement. The rushing sound of the engine when the gas has to be applied rapidly.

Some noises are so unique to the profession that they cannot be confused with any other. The well-known sound of handcuffs being clicked. The metal on metal clasping which leads to a loss of freedom. A sound so distinctive that it can produce a knowing sigh, or an angry outburst.
 
Every call comes with its own distinctive sounds. The sound of voices telling you what happened from their perspective. Each voice vying for your attention, each seeking to get an audience before you, knowing that a decision will be made that could impact their life forever.

Sometimes these voices can never be forgotten. The scream of a mother who just lost a child. The sound of an enraged man whose high has caused him to act out. The cry of the wife who just saw her husband end his life in front of her. The disturbing sounds that signify the end of life, they are often most haunting of sounds. The sound of agonal breathing, the gurgle of liquid and air that can often be the prelude for life slipping away.

There are some sounds in this career that are so distinct that everyone knows their importance, regardless of their walk of life. Chief of these sounds of the sound of a gunshot, its projectile piercing the air, disturbing the quiet of a home and a neighborhood. The concerned calls, the responding sirens, the vehicles still running as they are parked on subdivision streets.

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Not all the sounds are this harsh in their delivery, some sounds that surround law enforcement whisper as they join in the nightly chorus. The simple cadence of footsteps on a building check in the early morning hours. The strike of the boot on concrete providing a percussion-line in the darkness.
 
Sometimes it is the simple sound of a child’s voice saying thank you at the window of your mobile office. Other times it is the grateful sound of the cashier saying, “Thank you for what you do,” or the citizen stopping to shake your hand with a knowing smile and saying, “Thank you for your service.”

These softer tones are the ones that help to stymie the roar of the evil that exists in the shadows where we serve. Yet over time, the harsher tones often win out; they become the overwhelming sound that can define the career. The quiet “thank you” is lost to the sirens and screams. They are the sounds that often cannot be escaped from.

It is the sound that cannot be escaped from that is worst of all, for when it builds and builds into a crescendo, it becomes so overwhelming that it is all you hear—building and building until it finally overwhelms the senses and what once was background noise now takes over every aspect of thought. At this point there is little perceived alternative but to silence the noise. Sound has become the enemy. The repetitious, haunting nature of these sounds does not dissipate without intentionality.

Sound has become the enemy. The repetitious, haunting nature of these sounds does not dissipate without intentionality.

Sadly, in some cases the sound becomes too much—a constant humming tone, a Tinnitus of sorrow. For some, the sound is so overbearing that it must end; the quiet must be allowed back in. The demons that once danced at the edge of the darkness, just outside the light, have crept in through shadows, moving closer and closer, enveloping more and more light, creating the sense of anxiety, and the feeling of no escape.  For some, you may hear the sound of the alcohol bottle being opened and the sound of liquid being poured over ice. For others it may be click from the plastic safety lock on a bottle of pills and the sound of a swallow as they seek relief.

In the most tragic of cases, what you may hear are sounds of finality. These sounds can be the rubbing of a rope over an exposed rafter. The cut of a knife against skin. The click of the firearm being loaded followed by the explosion as the trigger is pulled. These are always accompanied by secondary sounds, involuntary noise created by the inevitable stoppage of motion. The sound of a firearm falling and landing on the floor. The shuffling sound of a body slumping over as gravity begins to pull unimpeded from the strength of the living. Sounds of horror such as the gurgle of blood for a few final moments, the sound of dripping fluid on the surfaces below.

That is when you hear it; its voice now screams in the background for all to hear. It is the inevitable sound of silence.  
 
The drumbeat of voices has silenced for this one, a final silent moment. Or at least that is what is believed to have come. However, in reality, peace cannot come out of this type of tragedy. The sound dissipates for one only to become louder for all those who knew them.

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As the moments pass, the sound comes roaring back in the land of the living,  among the brothers and sisters who must bear the weight of what has happened. A new roar of noise is heard above all the others; the sound of grief and loss has permeated all who knew them. The sound of phone calls and scheduling, the sounds of responding units. The sounds of loss and heartache, tears and brokenness. The sounds of family members hearing the tragic news of loss. The sounds of their grief-stricken reactions to that news and the sound of press conferences and media being notified that a brother or sister decided the noise was too much, they needed relief.

The sound of questions being asked. Questions that can never be answered. Why? How could we not see it? Why didn’t they talk to me? What was going on? Why was it so unbearable that they didn’t think they could reach out? Did they reach out, and I somehow missed it? The questions turn to anger, then resentment, then resolve, until finally acceptance.

No more is the struggle solely with the internal demons of one. It is the shared voice of the defiant, of the strong, of the courageous, the unified voice of the collective, saying, “We will not lose another on our watch.”

Over time the silence again returns. This time it is a haunting silence. No more will those boots be zipped, the sound of a duty belt will never again find the velcro. The snaps of the duty belt keepers will never again be heard as it is being put together to be worn. The vehicle will never again be started by that officer, and the computer and radio will not come to life to signal the start of another day. Their voice will never be heard across the airwaves of those who wear the radio. The sirens will not fill the air and the lights will no longer flash and reflect. Never again will that officer hear the cry of a parent, the whisper of a child, or the wail of a loved one. It will be for them always… Silence.

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This story does not end in silence, not today. Today is different. This tragedy, this horror, this loss, has prompted a new sound. Sounds meant to override the pulsating drumbeat of evil noise. Today a brother called a brother or sister just to ask how they were doing, a knowing and understanding voice to calm the storm. Today a hug was given between zone partners, a knowing touch to make sure they knew they did not have to bear this cross alone, for the pain is easier carried on multiple shoulders. Today at read-off, a pat on the back from a supervisor told a fellow officer, “I am here for you anytime you need me.”  And today a thank-you note slipped in an agency mailbox told a new officer they were being thought of and prayed for.
 
Today the silence is no more. No more is the struggle solely with the internal demons of one. It is the shared voice of the defiant, of the strong, of the courageous, the unified voice of the collective, saying, “We will not lose another on our watch.” A unified voice saying, “We will hold this line together.”

 

THIS POST FIRST APPEARED AT ON THE BLUE LINE, March 2019.

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