A Baltimore Metropolitan Police transport vehicle burns during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland April 27, 2015. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to address the violence in Baltimore, his office said on Monday. Several Baltimore police officers were injured on Monday in violent clashes with young people after the funeral of a black man, Freddie Gray, who died in police custody, and local law enforcement warned of a threat by gangs. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton - RTX1AK33
Recently, I have been told that people might be more interested in this column if I was more optimistic in my approach. Close associates have told me, “You’re accurate, but you can be a little dark. Why don’t you lighten up?” Friends and colleagues have suggested I might be less “off-putting” to those sitting in high places among law enforcement administrators if I wasn’t so critical. A close buddy once said I had an incredible talent for “pinching nipples with the truth,” and others have said I was “an acquired taste” that “grew more congenial with familiarity…over time.” I have to admit I’m guilty on all counts and have been for some time. I will also admit that my social filter has gotten a bit looser with age and retirement…I’m no longer building a resume or courting favor. But, honestly, I think that’s why you’re reading this little piece.
When a friend referred me to the folks behind TheologyMix.com, I was told they were looking for someone with considerable law enforcement experience and a Christian orientation, who could run some logical sentences together and address the things swirling around current events. They weren’t interested in sugarcoated, politically correct, particularly uplifting contributions. Those who knew me well said if that’s really why they were considering me, they had come to the right place. Besides, if the goal was to lift spirits, no one does that better than the Lord…let God be God.
So that’s what I have endeavored to do with my contributions here. Despite the successful (and sometimes bizarre) efforts of police and sheriff departments to dance outside the box and show a kinder and gentler side of their personnel, law enforcement is not a trip to Disneyland for its officers or those who realistically wish to understand their role in society. Sure, there are times when police agencies legitimately get involved in community events, education, and outreach projects that assist in fostering positive public relations and make their personnel more approachable. I’ve facilitated such things myself. Common sense tells us law enforcement in a democracy will fail unless there is good communication with the community served. But let’s not lose sight of what is really involved in an officer’s day-in-day-out work.
Police work is a gritty, nasty, horrifying business. That’s not hyperbole! Officers routinely handle messy things that none of the rest of us wants to hear about, much less deal with ourselves. We expect them to walk into situations that would make most people scream, vomit and even lose control of their bowels with an inhuman calmness and professional decorum. While the rest of society may be chaotic and free to operate with limited restrictions, we insist that these uniformed crusaders play by the rules and smile while abuse is heaped upon them.
There are those reading these lines right now that are thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…we all know the cops have it tough. But that’s what they signed on for and no one forced them into it.” True. But as we go merrily on our way, let’s not forget these are human beings with faults, personal challenges, and limitations. If we dismiss such realities, it will come back and bite us in our apathetic butts. They are indispensable and we depend on them to maintain our quality of life across the board. It’s an immensely difficult job they do for us—why should we make it harder?
Most of us are aware who John the Baptist was and how he is described in the Bible. He was the ultimate transient who wore smelly clothing made of animal hides, ate wild honey and bugs to stay alive, and roamed the deserts on an evangelical mission to spread the word about the coming Messiah and the Kingdom of God. People left the comforts of their homes, towns and villages and journeyed miles to see him and hear what he had to say, all with the hope of finding reason to be encouraged in a world full of fear and pain.
All too often, those people were scorned by this man who dared to tell them the truth about themselves…and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. John pointed out their faults that made them distasteful to God and unfit to welcome his anointed Christ. Needless to say, he angered many and disappointed those who thought highly of themselves. It ultimately resulted in John’s imprisonment and beheading. And yet people streamed out into the wilderness to seek him out, because he embraced a no-holds-barred reality, offering them a genuine assessment of their existence and purpose on Earth. Jesus pointed this out to those around him:
“…Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet’”(Matthew 11:7-9).
From biblical times forward, we have needed people who were willing to tell us the ugly truth about ourselves, break down our foolish pride, and offer us a chance to repent…turn things around…make a better place for ourselves and our loved ones. But, they sure as hell didn’t win any popularity contests in the process. In fact, many were ostracized, dismissed, disowned, run out of town, and often murdered. Not everyone can humbly admit their faults, especially those who sit in lofty places and become accustomed to public praise. Criticism is hard to take, particularly if it comes from some rough-cut plebeian lacking formal credentials—no matter how accurate their assessment.
Now people who write columns like this would be in serious error to compare themselves to John the Baptist. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!”(Matthew 11:11). No matter the depth and breadth of the circulation of our work or the extent of our credibility, we would soon suffer the woes of self-promoted, arrogant media hounds if we didn’t restrain our bombasts with a heavy dose of humility. We’ve all seen the dismal results of those who mistakenly believe in their own infallibility on matters in which they claim a certain amount of expertise. Be that as it may, we still offer a service to the public by pointing out the prickly truths that cannot, should not, be ignored if we are to avoid serious problems in the future.
“If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.” (Gordon Graham of Graham Research Consultants, Long Beach, CA)
Everyone has their preferences. I prefer a priest or minister who tells me my soul is in jeopardy, instead of one who paves a path to hell with platitudes. I prefer a doctor who is honest about a negative diagnosis so I can properly prepare myself for what’s coming. I prefer a lawyer who tells me my case is weak to one who will embarrass me in court. I think you get the drift.
So for as long as I can run those sentences together in some logical fashion and TheologyMix.com wishes to post them, I will endeavor to tell the truth as best I can (convenient or not), offer encouragement to those who could use it, and extend a dose of reality to those who desperately need it in a world that all too often pours honey in their ears without the locusts.
Michael P. Kelly is a retired police sergeant from the Huntington Beach Police Department in southern California, with 30+ years of law enforcement experience.He served in a variety of assignments in uniform, administration, and supervision.He developed expertise in training personnel with an emphasis in defensive tactics, officer survival, and critical incident management.He served several years in media and intergovernmental relations.At the time of his retirement, he was assigned to the department’s Professional Standards Unit (otherwise known as Internal Affairs). Two years before retirement, Mike was diagnosed with cancer.Thanks to the Lord's blessings and a team of good doctors, he survived the ordeal after major surgery and a battery of chemo and radiation treatments. Subsequent to retirement, he taught academy classes at the Golden West Community College Criminal Justice Training Center in Huntington Beach, CA, and worked for the California Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training as a course evaluator.Mike has done volunteer ministry work for his local Catholic parish, as a teacher of adult and school-age formation classes, and as a member of the Pastoral Council. He has also conducted public speaking presentations about his spiritual life as a police officer and cancer survivor. He authored a suspense novel entitled For Sake of the Son, which was published in 2013 and is well received by readers who have responded with five star reviews posted by online retailers.He is working on another project for future publication. Mike resides in southern California where he celebrates a successful family life as a husband, father of two successful sons, and grandfather to two rambunctious boys…all of whom he considers his greatest blessings.