(This is a post based on something that happened to an actual police officer in the USA. The original story can be found here.)
His radio squawked. “Possible 207A in progress. Father and girlfriend in argument, father has driven off with child. Last seen in a green Toyota hybrid around Pine Street, plate ends in 4088.”
He sighed. It was almost the end of his shift. But this was the life of a police officer. You went where and when the trouble was. And there was a child involved in this case. He tossed his coffee cup into a nearby trash can, and hopped into his cruiser.
He drove toward Pine Street, and picked up his radio mike. “Dispatch, where is suspect’s home?”
“6th Street and Grey”, came the response.
He mapped out the city in his head. If the perp was coming from 6th and Grey, and was seen at Pine, he got a rough idea of the route he was following. He whipped the cruiser around and headed in the opposite direction. His hunch turned out to be correct, and within five minutes he caught sight of the car. He turned on his lights and siren, and pulled in behind the green sedan. It pulled over fairly quickly, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
He got out of his cruiser, and walked over to the driver’s side of the car. “Sir, could you please step out of the car?”
A harried and tired-looking man looked back at him. “What is the problem?”, he said in a slightly hostile tone.
His hand drifted to near his gun. “There’s a broadcast out regarding your altercation in your home, sir, and I’d like to ask you a few questions. Step out of the car, please.” He peered into the car, and noticed a child in the passenger seat. He frowned. This was already a bad thing – a responsible parent would never put a child that small in the front seat. This may end badly after all. Another cruiser pulled up behind him, and a second officer joined him.
He leaned over to the other officer and whispered, “Take over here, would you? I’m going to check on the kid.”
The officer nodded, and he walked over to the passenger seat. Through the open window, he looked in at the boy. He couldn’t be more than 4 years old, and looked sleepy and a little scared. That was probably down to the men in black surrounding him, but he couldn’t take any chances. He opened the door, and squatted next to the little boy.
“Hey buddy. What’s your name?”
“I’m William”, he said in a typical toddler voice, dripping with exhaustion but still friendly. His head turned to the driver’s side as his father got out of the car to talk to the other officer. “Where’s my dad going?”
“He just needs to hang out with my friend over there for a bit, okay? But till then, you need to be the man in charge. And the man in charge needs to be in the driver’s seat, right?”.
The boy looked back at him. “I’m not old enough to drive.”
Despite the situation, he cracked a smile. “That’s right, bud. But you just need to sit there.”
Nodding, the boy scooted over to the driver’s side of the car. He walked around to the other side and, opening the door, knelt next to him again. “Are you okay, William?”
He nodded, but looked reluctant. “What is it, buddy?”
The child leaned in and, in a conspiratorial whisper, said, “Daddy’s angry. All the time. And Lena is too.”
He assumed Lena was the girlfriend. “Why are they angry?”
“They don’t like each other anymore”, William drawled. ‘They shout and throw things. Daddy hit her once, and she took all his money.”
“Why did she take his money?”
“Because she’s a bitch.”
From his tiny mouth, “bitch” came out sounding like “bitss”. He was stunned, taken aback by the curse word from the toddler. This was much worse than he thought. It wasn’t just a domestic squabble. It was a full blown scene, extended and full of anger and hate. And this boy’s father had made no attempt to shield him from it, letting him know exactly what was going on. He had taken the anger and hurt that he was constantly surrounded by, and internalized it. A curse word was NORMAL to him.
A scuffle behind him interrupted his train of thought. He turned around, and saw that the father was facedown on the officer’s cruiser, and was being cuffed.
“You stay here for a minute, okay, buddy? I’ll be right back.”
He sprinted over to the cruiser, and looked questioningly at the other officer. “Drunk”, he said.
His blood ran cold. Not only was this man driving away from a violent confrontation, he was doing so drunk. With his child in the car.
The officer cuffed the man and shoved him into the back of the police car. He looked back at the green car, still idling, and prayed that he’d be able to handle this with William. He took out his cellphone, and called his child’s babysitter. After arranging for her to stay with William for the night, he shut the phone.
He walked back to the car, and looked inside. The child was wide-eyed, wondering what was going on. Tears were already beginning to stream down his face.
‘Where is my daddy going?”
“He just needs to fill out some forms, bud. But he’s told me to stay here with you, so I’m going to play with you till then, okay?”
His tears intensified, soft sobs making his tiny chest heave. He started to cry more openly now, tears flowing from his eyes and snot running from his nose. “I want my daddy”, he managed to choke out, before breaking down again.
“He’ll be back soon, baby. Till then, we’re going to hang out and be friends. And then you’re going to have a sleepover with the best girl in the world!”
William looked up at him, took a deep breath, and exploded into ear-splitting crying. He wasn’t saying sentences anymore, just bawling his poor little lungs out. Interspersed with his heart-rending sobs was just one word.
He put out his arms, and picked up the crying child. He held him close to his body and rocked him. He had his magazines, badge, radio, handcuffs and a bunch of other things in pouches on his chest. This was hardly the way to hold a child. But he had no choice. He held the poor baby, and tried to comfort him as best as he could.
Tears welled up in his eyes as well, and streamed out. He was sad, because he had children and he wanted so desperately to comfort this poor child. He was angry. Angry at the father for messing up so bad and putting him in this position.
He pulled the baby close, and held his forehead to his. He looked into his eyes, full of tears and fear and the experience of a lifetime, and tried to show him strength and love and comfort. He made soothing noises, and whispered words of encouragement to him. He caressed his back, and kissed his wet cheeks.
He continued to cry and cry, but eventually he wrapped his arms around his neck. The crying had exhausted the boy, and he started to drift off to sleep. His sobs were slowing now, not because he was cheering up, but merely because he was too tired to cry anymore.
The social services worker arrived soon. He had lost track of time, but he was informed that it was twenty minutes. All he could think of was this boy, and the fact that his ordeal may just have begun. When the worker came, they practically had to prise William out of his arms.
The social service worker, before leaving, said one sentence that destroyed him completely.
“Mum died when he was 2.”
He, the man who was supposed to protect little kids like William, had just taken away the only family member that the child had. It was necessary, and would help him, but he was the one who had done it.
For the next two hours, people walking by looked curiously at the police officer sitting on the sidewalk, his head in his hands.