By Mark Bond, Ed.D., professor of Criminal Justice at American Military University
*This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.
Years ago, when I worked for the U.S. Treasury Department, I was assigned to patrol in SW Washington DC with a new officer who just finished his required FLETC and department training. The rookie officer was just assigned to my shift in uniform patrol. As with most rookie officers, he was young and ready to save the world from itself. I was winding down my career and looking forward to teaching criminal justice classes within the next year, so working with a new energetic officer who was gung-ho was not on my Christmas list. I did admire his high energy and enthusiasm to want to help. It didn’t take me long to get a feeling he was going to be a good officer because he cared and told me he wanted to become a Special Agent in the next few years having a college degree. It was Christmas Eve, cold and windy, and the temperature was dropping. The weather reports indicate that the low temperature was going to be around 28 degrees that night. Not a good night for the homeless that have nowhere to go. The sad truth, this is just life in the big city for the homeless and poor, or at least that is what I accepted as the reality.
Around 10:00pm when we decided to get out of our cruiser and go on foot to check on the homeless population that would gather under the train bridge near Maine Ave just south of D Street in makeshift shelters they built nightly. As we were checking on the homeless population under the railroad tracks many of them told us that they had not eaten anything that day. After checking to make sure that they were as safe as possible, we walked back to our cruiser. The rookie officer was affected by what he just witnessed and asked if we could do anything other than encourage them to go to one of the shelters for a warm meal and place to sleep to get out of the cold. I told him that sometimes, church groups would bring hot food and blankets; however, this being Christmas Eve, I was sure no help was coming because the good folks were home with their own families. I said checking on the homeless was about all we could do.
The Rookie Lesson
The new officer asked if he could make a phone call. I said no problem, I have a report I needed to turn in from earlier and we can swing by the main building and I can drop off the report and he can make his call and then resume patrol. We were not in the BEP offices long before we headed back out on patrol. When we started back in our assigned area the rookie officer told me he made a call to his wife (He had just gotten married to his college sweetheart after graduating FLETC and starting his law enforcement career). You can learn a lot about someone in a short time when you patrol together and there is chemistry.
The Rookie officer told me his new bride and her friends were going to bring over a few things so we could return to the homeless on Christmas Eve and try to help them. Around 11:30pm, we drove over to meet his wife and friends at the waterfront restaurant parking lot, which is only about a half mile from where the homeless gathered under the train bridge. All the business at the waterfront where closed, this being Christmas Eve night. The Rookie officer’s wife had brought about 60 hamburgers, fries, made a few gallons of warm hot chocolate, and even had several plates of Christmas cookies. She also managed to round up about 25 donated blankets. I was shocked to say the least.
This Rookie officer had managed in just one phone call and 2 hours’ time to round up warm food, drink, and even blankets on Christmas Eve night for the homeless. What I was most impressed about is that the Rookie and his new wife had just recently moved to N. VA from Alabama for his new job and had no family in the area. His wife had called their new Church group and quickly had folks give money and blankets to help the homeless on this holy night.
The Holiday Delivery
The Rookie and I careful filled up the backseat of our cruiser with the generous donations. I thanked his wife and their church friends, and the Rookie officer hugged his wife with pride, and we were off to deliver the Christmas surprise to the homeless people in our jurisdiction. As we drove to the homeless area, the Rookie officer said, I hope you don’t mind me trying to do something. I looked over and smiled, and said, I am learning from you, and you are a good man. You have a beautiful wife who supports you and cares as you do. The Rookie officer smiled back with his approval and told me that is why I married her. We both laughed.
A few minutes later we were on location and passing out food and offering warm hot chocolate to the homeless under the train bridge. The ones without any blankets were grateful for the gift of warmth. It was like a banquet and the homeless all gathered around and we started to hear laughter as the ate and drank. I looked over at the Rookie officer and he was smiling in the moonlight and talking with the homeless as they ate their burgers, fries, and Christmas cookies. I was very proud of this new officer, he had taught me that night that you can do more if you really want and care about others.
Without notice or warning, the Rookie started signing “Holy Night”. The homeless who were still eating and drinking hot chocolate stopped and joined in. There was approximately 35 homeless and two cops signing “Holy Night” under a darkened cold train bridge as Christmas Eve faded into Christmas Day.
It was the most humbling holiday that I had spent on the job. A Rookie became my teacher that Christmas through his genuine care of his fellow man with help from his new bride, and their new church group. There are many memories that I made during my law enforcement days, but when I think back on that Christmas Eve many years ago, I always break out into a smile and think about the lessons I learned that night.
A Time to Change
As for me, within a few months of that last Christmas as a law enforcement officer, I was teaching college criminal justice classes and my badge and gun were hung-up in early retirement so that I could pursue my passion for researching and teaching. About nine months after I started teaching as full-time undergraduate professor, I received a call from the Rookie officer who had become my teacher last Christmas Eve. He was just selected to become a Special Agent for the U.S. Secret Service and was going back into training. I joked he was just transitioning and growing in his career but his training as a good ethical man was already instilled in him.
We all have a gift to give to others, if we just take the time to grasp the lessons, even when they appear unexpectedly, we can be that gift. The Rookie officer from all those years ago, is now a seasoned veteran coming to the end of his active law enforcement career. There is no doubt that he will transition with grace and continue to inspire and live by example as the next chapter in his life starts. A true man of character, grace, and service to others, my teacher and friend.