Should I tell the truth?
An interesting perspective written by my late Dad, a police chief and a recovered alcoholic. It was published in the Providence Sunday Journal, December 28, 1980.
Should I tell the truth?
Monday, 8a.m., and I’m sitting at my desk at the police station waiting for the report to be completed so that I can, again, review all of the details of a fatal traffic accident. It has to be exact and accurate. So many agencies will need it to compile their statistics.
I don’t need it. I was at the scene. I know what happened and I know why it happened, but I can’t stop it. Lately, I can’t even deter it. This one is number 11 for my town this year. To me, it’s not a statistic. It’s 11 human beings, from little children to middle-aged adults, whose lives were snuffed out because someone was careless, someone didn’t drive according to the law, but in most cases because someone impaired his or her mental and physical capabilities with alcohol.
Every Sunday at Mass I hear most of the names of the deceased and, for a second or two, their accident scenes flick into my mind and I see them as I wish everyone could see them – all torn, battered and bloody and, many times, lying amidst empty beer cans and broken whiskey bottles, some remains actually in pieces as a result of the impact.
Sometimes family members come to the scene. They react with everything from disbelief, anguish and tears, to raging anger at everyone around them. Many have to be restrained. They ask questions, but I don’t give answers.
“Why did it happen?” Should I tell the truth? Too many times the truth would be: “Your kid was drunk and lost control.” “Your kid and her boyfriend got drunk at a party.” Why make the anguish worse? They’ll find out soon enough if they want to. I give them stock answers. “Still under investigation.” Or, “It takes time.”
I can always tell later when they know the truth. The inquires suddenly will stop. They finally find out that their wonderful, intelligent youngster, who they were absolutely sure didn’t drink, has been getting smashed at parties since he or she was 14. It’s quite a shock, and best forgotten. Better to remember them as they were at home.
Only the cop on the beat really knows the Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome caused by alcohol. A parent just couldn’t accept it. In the cases involving parents who have lost their kids, there is no point in trying to tell them what really happened. In the cases of parents whose kids are still out there drinking, raising hell and swearing at the cops, they wouldn’t believe it if I did tell them. In most cases they are model children at home. There is no way their parents can believe me if I tell them what’s happening on the streets. When they see other kids drunk and acting up, they thank God that their kids are above such goings-on.
On many occasions, my officers have called parents to the station to pick up their drunken kids and the parents have reacted with anger at the police. We hear outbursts of “My son (or daughter) doesn’t drink!” “What are you (expletive deleted) lousy cops trying to pull?” “I’ll sue!”
Once in a while when they get a look at their kids covered with vomit and urine, they will apologize. Most of the time, they are too shocked and ashamed to say anything. All they want is to get the kid home. The next day, the kids will concoct some story about how it happened, how it was someone else’s fault, and the parents will believe it. Why shouldn’t they? They’ve never seen or even envisioned their kid in the condition he or she was in. Most of all, they want to believe it. They love their child and they are certain it won’t happen again. They put the ugly scene out of their minds.
I can’t put it out of my mind. I’ve seen it over and over again for the last 30 years and it isn’t going to stop. I’ve tried a lot of things to abate it, but with little success.
Last year, with a lot of support from State Senator Walter J. Mruk for my town, I submitted legislation to curtail open containers of alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles. It would have been an excellent tool to control drinking by adults and teenagers in cars. It didn’t pass. I’ll submit it again this year.
I used to assign heavy traffic patrols as a deterrent. I can no longer do this. My town can’t afford it.
Once in California I tried to go to the high schools and show photographs of gory accident scenes. I was told the photographs might have a bad effect on the kids.
My men and I feel for the victims and their families, even though we can’t outwardly show it. We get mad at the senseless slaughter, but that’s not enough. Until the people get mad, it’s going to continue. Maybe when we have enough victims, the people of this land will return to the police the authority and tools we need to protect them. In the meantime, we’ll do the best we can.