Injuries abound among law enforcement professionals: ankles, shoulders, hands and knees; elbows, wrists, necks and backs. When an officer is injured, light duty is assigned.
Light duty is a noncontact sport: paperwork, websites, telephones and text messages; recovery, therapy, doctor's orders and email. On light duty, an officer still comes to work but has to watch peers do what circumstances momentarily prevent. Day after day, a light duty officer watches everyone disappear into the city while remaining at the station. Each person is different but the emotional toll for many is heavy.
Imagine the difference between an elementary school student doing an Easter egg hunt and watching one.
Discovering light duty added another layer to the chaplaincy because officers are inert, reflective and available.
When a 911 operator assigns an emergency to an officer, communication is facilitated with "10-codes". Dispatch understands the officer is on her way to the emergency when the assignment is accepted: "10-4". Upon arrival, the officer lets the 911 call center know she's arrived on scene: "I'm 10-2". Once on scene, the officer speaks to citizens more than the dispatcher but the dispatcher wants to know what's going on.
Imagine being an elementary school child and asking your peer to go into a scary basement. You're communicating at the top of the stair and all the way down but when your friend turns the corner, communication stops. Peering into a potentially hazardous void is a head game: imaginations run wild. Dispatchers stand at the top of the stairs and officers descend basement steps.
At set intervals, operators check in because radio traffic slows once an officer begins interviewing victims, finding out who's telling the truth, collecting evidence, turning on the lights, siren, body camera and flashlight. As phlegmatically as possible, the operator asks, "What is your welfare?" Waiting for an answer rattles the veterans and rookies alike, as the entire department listens to for the answer.
Sometimes the answer is "10-2", but a "10-2" after the welfare check means "I'm on scene and am OK." Often first person language is abandoned while on scene because there is so much going on. Command staff, other officers and 911 operators understand the need to sound calm on the radio and the "10-2" is offered as placidly as the welfare inquiry.
Sometimes an answer is delayed and dispatch has to whisper into the basement again. This time the badge number or handle is added to the welfare check, "Ida 20, what is your welfare?" Dozens of people are listening to the radio traffic and all are aware the dispatcher has called into the dark basement a second time because there was no answer. Preternaturally, the shift places meals, conversations and non-essential activities in abeyance because they are waiting for the "10-2". An eventual "10-2" exposes dozens of versions of feigned indifference; each an effort to communicate, "I wasn't scared and barely listen to the radio." In actuality, a conscious cop coils like a rattlesnake while waiting for the "10-2".
Readiness is required after delayed welfare checks because the response is sometimes, "I'm fighting, send two, units" or "Pursuing on foot near (cross streets named)". The officer on scene sounds like she is perched under a beach umbrella with a drink in hand but her heart rate may be in the mid-one hundreds. Dispatch acknowledges the call for help by very politely using another officer's handle to ask, "Adam 26, can you assist Ida 20?" Six or seven police cars have already started racing through the city with lights and sirens, at breakneck speeds, to help to Ida 20 but Adam 26 controls his breathing before purring "10-4". Dispatch may request another officer in the same way; a monotone response masking terror, "Am close, at (cross streets named)".
Often Ida 20 gets things under control and cooly croons, "I'm 10-2, you can disregard." Speedometers stop quivering and sirens stop howling but the deed is done. Everyone is amped, in motion and hypervigilant but uninitiated listeners to radio traffic would never know. Light duty officers have however been initiated.
They know a peer needs help, want to help but are forbidden from springing into action.
Light duty is fertile ground for the chaplaincy because the abovementioned can happen several times on a shift. After Ida 20 wraps up on scene, she lets dispatch know she's ready for the next call, "I'm 10-8" but everyone, including the light duty officers, rode the roller coaster. There is often little time to stop and say, "That felt terribly and I need a minute to get myself together." Like a conveyor belt, dispatch assigns the next emergency and the next. An injured officer can hear, and be tortured by, what is unsaid on the radio. When injury prevents coiling to anticipate assistance, talking about it can be good. When chaplains find out someone is injured, we bring food or cold water to pass the time as we talk.
Whatever we bring is underwritten by a team of prayer and financial partners. Most of the work is listening rather than speaking. Few think of light duty officers while waiting for the "10-2" but if the chaplain is present, an injured constable knows he's not alone. Prayer works at a distance and is. rarely refused by someone who would be racing into an emergency if health allowed.
Light duty stirs questions like, "Who am I if I can't do this job? My identity is wrapped into being a cop!" Sitting with people while they discover answers may take a few conversations over several weeks and when appropriate, an assurance of God's unconditional love is woven into our talks. Scripture provides the best answers I can offer.
I go into light duty praying because time alone allows things long suppressed to bubble to the surface. An officer might be jovial one week and weeping the next; expectant on Monday and depressed on Thursday. Dozens of people are praying alongside the work and their focused petitions work among reflective officers with inert availability.
The Lord Jesus is using the chaplaincy to minister to light duty officers and we give Him glory.