In our confinement during the Snowmageddon a few weeks ago, we watched a little more TV than usual and experienced some channels that we had not before. One of those showed a program called Forensic Files, which seemed to run 24/7. By all accounts they are true stories of the use of forensic science to solve otherwise unsolvable crimes. You too have seen these modern marvels for they are the grist of other shows, real and fictional, depicting, for example, crimes solved by matching a single hair or fiber found in the trunk of a car to other evidence found at a crime scene. But the forensic tools and techniques themselves, while always fascinating, were not as a genre new and were not what captivated me about many of the episodes.
No, what struck was often the long term dedication of individual detectives to pursue what are called cold cases, often as long as 10, 15, or 20 years. That kind of persistence presupposes something else, something Benedictine, something called, Stability of Place, meaning not chasing after varieties of experience, but, in a phrase popular a few years ago, “bloom[ing] where you are planted.” Had specific individuals not stayed faithfully, year in and year out, in the same line of work, in the same police departments; had they instead moved on to other positions leaving their unfinished business behind them, the end results they achieved by their persistence would not have been realized.
And such end results they were, on both sides of the guilt and innocence divide; for as often as their efforts led to the identification, apprehension, and conviction of dangerous murderers, their efforts also often led to the exoneration of wrongly convicted innocent persons who were freed after years, sometimes decades, in prison. But for their efforts – and especially for their stability in place – many murderers would still be roaming free and many innocent persons would still be languishing in prison.
These superstars of law enforcement don’t become household names. Their satisfaction has to come from the realization of what they have achieved. As I look back on my own life I don’t think all of my achievements combined compare to one instance in the life of a police detective in solving a murder 20 years after it was committed and bringing the guilty party to justice and sometimes also seeing a person wrongfully convicted of the crime set free.
So let’s hear it for the virtues of stability, of persistence, of faithfulness in pursuit of the truth, of dedication to seeing justice done, of not losing site of a noble goal, and of not giving up.
And, gentle readers, if there are any of you with sons or daughters, nephews or nieces, or young persons whom you are mentoring that show an interest in and an aptitude for police work, do not discourage them. It is a noble profession ripe with opportunities for tangible, meaningful achievements benefiting the lives of others.
I close with the Police Officer’s Prayer to St. Michael:
Saint Michael, heaven’s glorious commissioner of police, who once so neatly and successfully cleared God’s premises of all its undesirables, look with kindly and professional eyes on your earthly force. Give us cool heads, stout hearts, and uncanny flair for investigation and wise judgment. Make us the terror of burglars, the friend of children and law-abiding citizens, kind to strangers, polite to bores, strict with law-breakers and impervious to temptations. You know, Saint Michael, from your own experiences with the devil that the police officer’s lot on earth is not always a happy one; but your sense of duty that so pleased God, your hard knocks that so surprised the devil, and your angelic self-control give us inspiration. And when we lay down our night sticks, enroll us in your heavenly force, where we will be as proud to guard the throne of God as we have been to guard the city of all the people. Amen.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 9-February-2016.