The reattachment of severed limbs such
as fingers is now a fairly common medical
procedure experiencing more success as
time goes by.  When some hospitals first
began attempting those procedures with
some regularity, I was still a patrol officer.
It turned out that the victim was an area
drug dealer, and he was involved in a
verbal argument with a rival drug dealer.  
As the argument escalated, our victim
tried to remove his sawed-off shotgun
which he had concealed inside his pants
with the barrel running down the inside
of his right leg.  He immediately
experienced difficultly in freeing the gun
from his pants, so he reached down with
his left hand and grabbed the end of the
barrel to push up on the gun.

Well, you know what happened next.  His
stress and lack of coordination resulted
in the shotgun discharging through his
pants and into his hand. The blast
completely severed the index, middle,
and ring fingers of his left hand.

To say that this victim was receiving no
compassion from anyone would be an
understatement.  If any family or friends
were present, they didn't show
themselves.  The officer handling the call
did exactly what he was supposed to do.  
He called for paramedics, collected the
shotgun, identified witnesses, and
responded to the hospital to attempt an
interview with the victim, before he
charged him with the gun violation.

As the ambulance departed followed by
the other officers, I decided to locate the
victim's fingers.  It turned out that the
blast had carried those fingers far and
wide from the point of impact.  When
three teenage girls asked me what I was
looking for, they offered to help, and we
soon located all three fingers.  I was
amazed at how cleanly severed the
fingers appeared to be.  Talk about a lack
of compassion, the ring finger still bore
what appeared to be an expensive ring,
and one of the girls ask if she could have
the ring.  Even though I denied her
request, she still graciously emptied her
paper soda cup providing me a container
to collect the fingers.

I had one more stop to make.  I walked
to a liquor store nearby where the owner
provided me with a plastic bag filled with
ice.  I placed the fingers into the bag, and
I drove to the emergency room where I
delivered the fingers to the hospital staff.

To say that I showed compassion for this
victim of his own stupidity would be a
false assumption.  I felt absolutely no
compassion toward him.  I only did what
I thought to be the right thing to do, and
that's where it ended.  I never made any
attempt to learn if the doctors had any
success in reattaching his fingers, or, if
the doctors had even attempted such an

You'll soon learn that there are many
people who are not, and never will be,
deserving of compassion. With all the
terrible things you're going to see, you
don't want to waste any compassion on
those who don't deserve your
compassion.  Of course, you will
frequently meet those who are deserving.

As a young officer, I was assigned to
foot patrol in a residential area that was
experiencing a rash of weekend street
robberies.  It was 8:00 on a Sunday
morning as I stood at the corner of a
very empty intersection.  As I looked
around, I saw one elderly woman walking
toward me.  The woman, who I would
later learn was 78 years old, was all
dressed up for church which I would also
soon learn.

She was a small woman and frail as you
might expect a woman of her age to be.  
As she walked directly toward me, she
made eye contact with me, and I smiled
and said, "Good morning."  I received no
smile or similar greeting in return.  The
woman simply stopped and looked up at
me as she spoke, "Officer...I need you to
come to my house.  I just killed my

We walked in silence to her home which
was in the same block.  As we walked
through the front door, I asked, "Where
is he?"  The woman simply pointed to the
stairway leading to the second floor.  I
quickly located her husband on the
stairway landing between the first and
second floor.  The 80 year old was a big
man, and he looked to have been fit for
his age.  He was in an awkward sitting
position with his back against the wall
and his head was slumped forward.  The
large hole in his left eye socket was quite
noticeable, and it was also noticeable that
he was quite dead.  There was very little
blood, and it was not immediately evident
that the hole was the result of a gunshot
wound since I observed no exit wound.  
That question was soon resolved when I
moved his head back to get a closer look
at the wound.  His skull was shattered,
and it felt like I was holding a bean bag.

I turned toward the woman and asked,
"Where's the gun?"  She led me to the
kitchen where she pointed to a 4-10
gauge shotgun leaning against the wall.  
The small gauge of the shotgun
accounted for the lack of an exit wound
as well as the frail woman's ability to use
the weapon.  I then simply asked, "What
happened?"  She explained that she had
gotten ready for church when her
husband denied her permission to attend
church.  He was standing on the top
landing blocking the stairway when she
retrieved the shotgun from the upstairs
bedroom.  She explained that she simply
pointed the gun and pulled the trigger.  
Her husband tumbled down the stairway
and came to rest where I'd observed
him.  She told me that after nearly sixty
years of marriage, she "just couldn't take
it anymore."  She went on to say that
she'd intended to go to church and tell
her pastor what had happened, but,
when she saw me, she realized she
should tell me what had happened.
The woman had initially admitted her guilt
to me with the unsolicited statement that
she'd killed her husband.  Feeling a sense
of compassion toward the woman, I
purposely did not give her Miranda
warnings at that time.  I wanted to know
more about what had happened, but I
did not want any further statements she
made to me to put her in more
jeopardy.  At this point, I gave the
woman her Miranda warnings, and I
emphasized her right to say nothing to
police officers; until, she had counsel
from an attorney.  I then ask the woman
if she had any family members or others
she'd like to have contacted.  Following
her wishes, I telephoned her
granddaughter and explained the
circumstances.  I also promised to stop
by her church and explain to her pastor
why she was absent from church.

As we waited for arrival of the Homicide
detectives, I explained to her that the
detectives would be very nice to her, but
she should not talk to them about what
had happened; until, her granddaughter
could arrange for the arrival of her
attorney.  Even though she indicated her
understanding of my directions, I knew
the detectives would have her talking in
no time...she had the innocence of a child.

As your police career progresses, you
never want to lose your capacity to show
compassion; however, you don't want to
go the other way either.  When you
watch the television cop shows, you
often see police officers agonizing over
the tragedies of others.  Of course, you'll
also see the so called documentaries and
breaking news stories where real cops
are gushing with hand wringing emotional
displays of compassion.  One could begin
to wonder which is imitating what.

As a police officer, you're the person
who's suppose to keep your head when
those around you are losing theirs.  If
you let your compassion go too far, you'll
quickly run out of energy and time to
fulfill unrealistic commitments to others
to whom those commitments should
have never been made. You need to
understand that you'll have many ways
to aid others in time of tragedy that are
completely within your powers as a police
officer without personalizing that aid.

Why do you think psychiatrists and
psychologists treat each other.  It's
because, unlike you, they have fewer
meaningful ways of influencing or
controlling the behavior of others.  When
you let your compassion take you
beyond what you can realistically do, and
into that murky world of psychology,
you're going to suffer the same stress of
frustration from overcommitment and

A friend of mine was barely past brand
new when he got his first assignment to
make a death notification.  He had to
notify a mother that her son had been
murdered in another state.  After he got
all the information from the
Communications Division, he rehearsed
several versions of what he might say as
he drove to the woman's residence.

He knocked on the door, and a woman
answered.  He verified that the woman
was the woman he was seeking.  
Forgetting most of what he'd rehearsed,
he simply came to the point as best as
he could, "I'm sorry to have to tell you
that your son, Marcus, died this morning
in South Carolina."  Actually, he did quite
well.  He didn't use words like murdered,
shot to death, killed, etc.  He braced
himself for an emotional response from
the woman.

The woman paused for a few seconds
with a puzzled expression on her face.  
"Which one is that," she asked?  The
officer got his response, but one for
which he was totally unprepared.  As it
turned out, the woman had ten children,
most of whom had left her care at young
ages for various reasons, and she was
simply having a problem putting the
name with the face.  She displayed no
emotion as the officer ended his
non-event by giving her all the
information he had regarding the death
of her son.  

The most important thing for you to
remember is to never do anyone harm
through insensitivity.  Even when people
are undeserving of any display of
compassion from you, it won't kill you to
show a little anyway.  When you
encounter those who are truly deserving
of your compassion, just don't let
yourself get carried away.
On one occasion I responded, with other
officers, to a report of gunfire.  We found
a young man rolling around on the
sidewalk grasping his left hand with his
right hand.  He was screaming and
bleeding, and his sawed-off single barrel
12 gauge shotgun was laying on the
sidewalk nearby.

From the physical evidence and
witnesses, it didn't take long to learn the
whole story.  In fact, in an area where
witnesses were often scarce, there were
no lack of witnesses eager to describe
the details of this event.
Too Much
"The most important thing for you to
remember is to never do anyone
harm through insensitivity."
~ Barry M. Baker
Whatever expectations you have
concerning your police career, you will,
with absolute certainty, frequently
witness real human tragedies.  You may,
or may not, have some control over your
level of involvement in those tragedies.

It's important that you possess
compassion and display sensitivity for
tragedies experienced by others.  
However, you have to consider the
human capacity for inflicting harm, and
the unbelievable number of ways that
harm can be inflicted.

Think about this...in the space of one
week, you could handle two separate
homicides, a sexual child abuse, a dozen
or so domestic violence calls, a couple of
street robberies, and any number of
other things.  If you end up working in a
high crime area of a large city or
metropolitan area, experiencing this high
level of activity is not unusual, so you'll
be interacting with a lot of people who
are experiencing extremely stressful

Some police officers will show little to no
compassion toward victims of crime, or
they may be very particular in choosing
those to whom they display some level of
Copyright © 2016  Barry M. Baker