Warning: This story contains mature content and may not be suitable for all readers.
The blind soldier for the blind lady of justice. As a police officer, you have to choke down emotions when really all you want to do is choke out the bad guy.
It was about 8 pm as I closed the interrogation room door behind me, the sound of the locking mechanism gave me a sense, small though that it was, that justice may be done. I had just conducted one of my first child sex abuse investigations and had spent the past several hours interviewing the offender, aka “Alleged Suspect”. This process is not a made for TV movie interview, not a good cop bad cop rubber hose kinda thing. It’s a get in their head and make them want to tell you. You never condone or justify what they did, you only give the impression that you might understand what or why they've done it. I’ve often thought of this as being the worlds best salesman. I sell jail time, Look! This 30 year prison sentence was only used on Sundays by a little old lady! Let’s do the paperwork while it still available!
As we talk, I’m taking mental and sometimes physical notes and details of how and when he used a brush handle to penetrate his 4-year-old stepdaughter, he was simply showing her “he loved her”, of how “she wanted him to touch her”. Details of the many nights he went into her room to sexually assault and abuse her, to rape her, only to give her that “secure feeling”. I’m certain he even justified her vaginal trauma from months of his attacks and abuse. “Justified”, as if the words very definition could be applied to this guy in any other way than punishment and prison.
With this fresh in my mind and rapidly trying to mentally and emotionally reconcile his depravity with my returning thoughts of my morning interview with his victim stepdaughter.
My minds reaction is much akin to sea-sickness. Being an avid boater I have dealt with some passengers who get sea-sick. One of the first things you tell them is to come up and out of the cabin. Sea-sickness many times is caused by what the body feels (the rocking and rolling) with out the eyes seeing why therefore the mind can’t reconcile it. Meaning if you’re below deck and feeling all this rocking, but your eyes don’t see it the mind plays tricks on you. By coming up and seeing the waves, the water the way the boat reacts to each, it allows the mind to reconcile what you feel, with what you now see. Not a perfect cure, but 9 out of 10 times it works to quell the sickness. The remaining 1 time, well, that’s what a hose and bucket are for.
“Behind the Badge” is brought to you in part by the Spooner Police Foundation.
Much earlier in the day, I was sitting on the floor with a sweet little child. using crayons and paper, drawing on my sheet as she did on hers, listening to the few things she did happen to say as she drew her body without arms. After all arms, the ability to fight back, to push away, is not something she thought she could do, so who needed arms?
So here I am, a man, a stranger at that, probably the last person this little girl wants to talk to, sitting on the floor in an interview room coloring on paper all while trying to gather details and information, statements if you will about what her step-father did to this innocent 4-year-old.
My mind returned to the present and I pushed down the intense anger, the thoughts of physical violence against the “suspect”.
I knew I needed a true “feet on the ground” normal moment. So I called home. My children, now in their 30’s were at the time young, the boys were grade school age and my daughter either kindergarten or 1st grade. They were all in bed being a school night, but without telling my wife anything about what I was doing, I just listened to her telling of her day, the kids, who did what and in general just a “normal” conversation. If I remember correctly I may have even been chastised for forgetting something, take the trash out, change a light bulb, something or other. It was nice, it was normal! I’ve come to depend on these over the many years that have followed since that day over 30 years ago. I’ve even come to refer to it as “needing a normal”.
While I can’t speak for all LEO’s I believe there is a defining moment in every police officers career where you have to face a personal and professional decision regarding your actions. We are people too, flesh and blood, with feelings, emotions and our own thoughts and beliefs of right and wrong, good and evil. This was mine. I have a daughter who at that time was just a year or two older than this little one. I could certainly go back in the interrogation room, no camera’s in there or take him to lock up, you get the idea. Don’t think for a moment these thoughts did not cross my mind. But I didn’t.
What would that have accomplished? Sure, he would not ever do this again, but then where would I be for the next one? Would I be able to help the next child? Would my care and concern for them be of any use? I’m not ashamed to say I am a very good police detective with pretty good interview skills, maybe the next detective is not as good, maybe the offender walks for lack of evidence or confession? If every cop made the wrong choice here, it would be a one for one ratio. I hate to be the barer of bad news, but we would run out of cops long before we ran out of bad guys! I could be of much better use by being professional and doing my job legally and the way expected and demanded of me. I made the right choice.
It would take a few more hours to complete all the paperwork, obtain felony approval from the States Attorney and process my prisoner. In the end, he received many years in prison and his step-daughter who is now an adult with a family and children of her own is doing well.
I don’t know what impact my decision over 30 years ago has made overall. But I do know this, he went to prison, not me. I go home every day and can look myself in the mirror, and look my daughter and now my granddaughters in their eyes. From that first case until I do my last, I know that I did and will continue to do everything possible and within my power, and within the criminal justice system to bring justice to bear against these thieves of childhood innocence.
I have investigated child sexual exploitation cases for 3 decades now and hundreds, if not thousands of cases and am very pleased to say that one of the units I helped form still to this day has a 100% conviction rate. I’m not pleased however that this depraved crime still exists. There is evil in the world and burying your head or news about it does not make it any the less evil or real to the victims. To this day I find it very hard to watch a simple and innocent diaper commercial, knowing that somewhere there is some guy who is excited and turned on sexually by seeing a nearly naked baby. This thought alone should turn your stomach as well.
Authors notes: This victim interview process I used in these early days was new and was thought to be easier and more gentle on the children. Although I’m pretty sure that nothing we did could have made what these kids went through feel gentle. But it was our intent and we gave it our all.
Interviewing child victims is all pretty standard nowadays, art therapy is what they now call my sitting on the floor and drawing. For me, it was just trying to be non-threatening and to connect without prying. Get on the floor, let them look directly across at you, not up. Don’t ask a bunch of questions, just draw and play and take whatever happens from there. Interviewing thankfully has also changed, and for the better. We now have child advocacy centers where the child only goes through this once, with all parties needed (police, prosecutors etc) behind glass listening and observing while a trained child therapist, who is also trained in what the police, the courts, and related parties need to know, conducts the interview.
About the Author: Al Hobbs is a Law Enforcement Correspondent for DrydenWire and writes on a wide-range of topics on Law Enforcement but focuses mostly on the human element of being a cop in his weekly segment titled: "Behind The Badge". Al brings a unique writing style that allows him to connect with his readers. You can read his introduction to DrydenWire here.
Al is a retired police detective from the metro Chicago area. He has been a Law Enforcement Officer at the City, County, State and Federal level in excess of 35 years. His career has taken him all over the nation and the world. Al has been involved in all aspects of criminal investigation as well as general police duties. He is once again on the street as an active LEO for a North Shore community, just North of Chicago in Illinois.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DrydenWire.com.