Justice Studies Instructor Reflects on Recent Police Officer's Death

police week bannerRose Pogatshnik, School of Justice Studies Program Coordinator, shares her personal story about the death of Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker, who was shot and killed November 2012 outside a bar in Cold Spring, Minn. She explains how it affected her.

In the hours after police officer Tom Decker’s death, I found myself hugging my husband, also a police officer, as tightly as I could, crying and asking him not to go to work. He kissed me and told me that he loved me and headed out the door for what was going to be a very difficult shift. I quickly realized it wasn’t fair for me to ask him not to go.

As I headed to work, I knew the day would not consist of what was on my lesson plan for my students. Instead, we had a debriefing of sorts. This particular class consisted mostly of future law enforcement students. These students had been asked multiple times since the murder if they still wanted to be a cop. I looked at them and asked, “Well, do you?” I received a unanimous nod in response.

Shortly after class I received a phone call. It was from a concerned mom whose son was in my program. My initial reaction was this was going to be a very difficult conversation. She asked me if, in good faith, I could still recommend that her son enter this field. My response was simply that I believed that was her son’s choice. She started to cry and explained that she was afraid for him and didn’t want him to continue.

I explained that I was not a cop; my experience is in corrections. However, I am married to a police officer and through teaching have become very familiar with the benefits and drawbacks of the field. I explained that law enforcement appears to be a calling. I don’t think people choose law enforcement, I think law enforcement chooses people.

Rarely do I have students who don’t say they have wanted to be a cop their entire life. I explained that, after all, do you think someone would choose to work terrible hours while receiving less-than-adequate pay, dealing with our struggling population, and putting their life on the line for others, day after day?

I also explained there are great benefits. I can’t think of another occupation where you care so much for your coworkers. I explained that having an opportunity to truly help someone, whether it be a problem they can’t solve on their own, a medical emergency or getting someone out of a dangerous situation, are all experiences we can’t measure. After all of this I think she finally understood her son’s dream. She thanked me and hung up.

I found myself staring at the phone. I never realized these conversations would be part of my profession, and at the time, I was a bit frustrated because I did not see myself talking to college students’ moms. However, I now think having class and this conversation was probably more beneficial for me than anyone else. Both reaffirmed my dedication for teaching about a field I am so passionate about. No matter what aspect of criminal justice a student wants to pursue, there are benefits and drawbacks. Some of these drawbacks are mind-boggling to others, and the benefits can’t be truly understood unless you have been there.

Officer Tom Decker, your death will not be in vain. It will inspire us to continue our hopes of justice, whatever that might mean. No matter if someone works in the field, a related field, or just a “normal” member of the community, I believe we all have a common goal: to live life to the fullest, albeit with ups and downs. This is not a goal we can achieve alone. We need to be part of a society. Criminal justice professionals are the protectors of that society and we should be forever grateful for responding to their calling. I am honored to be a small part of that.

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