Case Closed: Submit Button Scar Tissue
Street cops have the best stories.
The only problem is, we don’t know how many of these stories end. Our participation in the tales we tell ended the moment we hit the submit button on that report.
Minor car crash, <submit>
Family fight, <submit>
Identity theft, <submit>
Abused child, <submit>
Sexual assault, <submit>
Triple homicide, <submit>
Every story ends the same. For the patrol officer, the case is closed the instant that button is pushed.
Submit your report, clear the call, and on to the next. But don’t let what you just saw affect you! Any held over emotionality during the next contact may affect public perception or your decision making ability, potentially captured on YouTube for all time. That secondary traumatic stress can get the best of you if you let it.
I have to teach rookies to desensitize to things, to temper their compassion and empathy in a practical and necessary way. It’s a learning process – where we have to discuss what they just experienced, give a short time to grieve or vent or think – before we move on to the next incident. They can’t let the woman who had the hell beat out of her conflict with their need to be impartial when the very next incident looks so similar; except this time the woman with the black eye is the suspect. It takes time to learn how to close that chapter without real closure and move on.
Over the past ten years, I’ve lost track of how that submit button has affected the way I live my life. The compartmentalization that is so much a necessary survival tactic on the street causes a build up of submit button scar tissue, where issues are left unsettled in favor of “clearing” for the next “call.”
I highly doubt I’m unique in this trait. How many officers handle life’s problems look like his?
Marital fight over money? <submit> Move on.
Enduring family conflict? <submit> Move on.
Bill collector calling? <submit> Move on.
Drinking too much? <submit> Move on.
Infidelity? <submit> Move on.
Every issue is no longer a problem if you set it aside and move on. Right?
Last week I worked a sex assault call. I didn’t volunteer for it, I rolled up on it.
The victim was demeaned and brutalized, dehumanized and traumatized. I looked in her eyes as she described the suspect’s eyes. I saw the wounds on her skin as she described the suspect’s skin. I knelt in front of her as she sat in my squad car and described the suspect’s car. She had asked to not be alone, and I made that happen. It didn’t matter that my shift had already been over for three hours or that I had been awake for 24 – it was for her.
I sat with her at the hospital and learned who she was as a person, making sure she wasn’t left alone until a volunteer could come in to be with her. I didn’t know at the time that before I had even left the scene to head to the hospital with her, the same man had already done it again – victimizing, traumatizing, brutalizing, another woman.
I fell asleep twice as I wrote the report. I was exhausted. When I clicked that submit button, I logged off and went home. I didn’t seek closure. It didn’t even occur to me. I let that submit button scar tissue build up a little more. Case closed.
Two days later the investigators called me to ask clarifying questions. And then I followed the case in the media as leads and information were developed. Other officers involved in the case reached out and gave me updates as the predator became the prey – until Thursday night when the prey was captured and I could look at his mugshot, examining his eyes for myself.
I hadn’t sought out the closure. I didn’t even know I needed it – nor did the term “closure” even enter my mind until someone else said they were glad to help me receive it.
It wasn’t me that had been raped in this case. Nor have I been the victim in any of the other cases that stick with me – the names and faces and shadows of humanity that dot my dreams and occupy my nightmares.
Car fires and kidnappings, shootings and stabbings. <submit>
The guy who’s hand I held as he gulped his last breath, or the woman who’s tears stained my uniform as I embraced her after she learned of her son’s demise. <submit>
The dude who threatened to hunt down and slaughter my family as he simultaneously kicked against my rookie and fought me as I forced him into handcuffs. <submit>
Cases closed. But there’s a toll.
I don’t really have a grand conclusion to offer to you my reader, as your own closure.
Compartmentalization is an absolute survival necessity as a street cop. We aren’t going to see resolution to much of what we encounter. It’s the nature of the job, the nature of patrol. It isn’t for us to see the case through to its completion – and so many are never truly resolved anyhow. That submit button scar tissue keeps you emotionally safer.
This habitual lack of closure also affects us with how we live our lives, with how we live with our families, and we have to be mindful of that. That submit button scar tissue damages your ability to establish emotional connection with the ones you love.
Counseling helps. Critical incident debriefing helps. Mindfulness helps. Healthy coping behaviors – working out, hobbies, work life balance, traveling – all help. Strong, balancing friendships help. A supportive and understanding spouse helps. It’s all a process.
What I will leave you with, is that I appreciated those that reached out to me and offered updates on this most recent case. I appreciated seeing the surveillance photos come out, and seeing the bastard’s book in photo. I appreciated receiving some closure I didn’t even know I needed from an incident where I didn’t know I’d been affected.
Soon enough, I’ll be right back out there on the street – just as so many are right this moment. They are nameless, faceless everyday heroes; going about the duties of serving and protecting their communities, building up that submit button scar tissue and paying the emotional toll one call at a time.
And I’m proud to serve alongside them.
Dan Cincinnatus | Instructor/Staff Writer, P2 Concepts
Photo Credit: Dallas Morning News