It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on this blog in spite of, once again, having sincere intentions to write regularly when I created it. I can probably attribute my negligence to not having anything to say that someone else hasn’t already said more succinctly and elegantly. Fate, not mine, but someone else’s, has cleared away the cobwebs in my mind and I find myself inspired, maybe even obligated, to address a topic that is dominating the local news here in Indianapolis. Don’t let that scare you away if you live somewhere else. The impetus for this might be local, but I could just as easily be writing about Boston, Detroit, Denver, Houston, or Los Angeles. This will, by necessity, be long, but I have a lot to say and it’s coming from a perspective that I think you will find unique and, I hope, thought provoking.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve spent the last twelve-and-a-half years as a 911 dispatcher in the Indianapolis 911 Center. I spent six years dispatching for two other police agencies and I worked as a police officer in a very small town for two years back in the early 1980’s. I faced less danger in those two years than an Indianapolis, or any other big-city, police officer faces in a single shift, but my training was not all that different from what they went through. I’ve been a keen observer of the police officers I’ve worked with over the years and I want to share some of my observations in the wake of another terrible tragedy.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department lost one of their finest officers Saturday night, July 5th, just as I was arriving for my shift. Officer Perry Renn, a twenty-two-year veteran of the department, responded to a “shots fired” call and was gunned down by an assailant armed with an AK-47. I never met Perry Renn although he worked on my shift for as long as I’ve been in the 911 Center. I spoke with him hundreds of times on the radio over the years and would have recognized his unique voice anywhere, but I wouldn’t have known him otherwise had he walked in the door. Perry was an IMPD Medal of Honor winner with a very distinguished career. My impression of him from our very limited interactions was that he was a no-nonsense guy who took his work very seriously. By all accounts, he was. His fellow officers have described him as “a warrior” and “fearless”, as someone who set a great example for younger officers. One of the local news stories interviewed some of Perry’s neighbors, all of whom had glowing things to say about him as a friend and neighbor.
I found out about the shooting on my way into the building Saturday night from another dispatcher. At that point, we only knew that he was in critical condition. It wasn’t long before we learned that Perry had passed away. The first emotion was pure sadness- for Perry, his family, his friends, his fellow officers, and for all the rest of us in the public safety family. Yes, the public safety community is a family, even though we fight like cats and dogs at times.
To a stranger walking into the 911 Center, it would have seemed mostly like business as usual. Apart from the mood being slightly more subdued than normal, it pretty much was. The calls don’t stop coming in and the local miscreants don’t stop acting up just because we’re dealing with a tragedy, both professional and personal. We had to continue answering calls and dispatching the police. The supervisors kept busy paging out command staff, the FOP president and attorney, the prosecutor, the post team, and the public information officers and answering calls from the media.
It was only in the wee hours of the morning when things finally slowed down that we were able to stop and reflect upon a hero whose life had been senselessly cut short, a husband who wouldn’t be coming home to his wife and family, and a brother in blue who, for twenty-two years, stood selflessly between pure evil and the community he served.
Unfortunately, for those of us who have been around awhile, this was nothing new. This was the third time an officer has been killed in the line of duty on my shift, the others being Jake Laird in 2004 and Rod Bradway just last September. I’m not used to it and I never want to get used to it. I have learned to come to terms with knowing that any one of the officers I work with and work hard to protect to whatever extent I’m able to can be gone in a split second. To quote Hyman Roth in The Godfather II, this is the business we have chosen.
I have the luxury of doing what I do in a safe environment. There is no one with an AK-47, boiling blood, no conscience, and an itchy trigger finger lying in wait for me in a dark alley, behind a door, or at the wheel of a car with a brake light out. Police officers have chosen their business too and those of us who watch them in action every night know just how risky that business is. I’ve been privileged to have a front row seat to thousands of acts of bravery, skillfulness, and fortitude and an equal number of acts of kindness and compassion as performed by the men and women of IMPD. I’ve had the misfortune of hearing the “officer down” call go out way too many times.
In the coming days as I find the time, I’m going to have much more to say about police officers as well as the current state of our society. For now, I want to focus as much attention as possible where it belongs- on Officer Perry Renn, his dedication to his career, his courage, his kindness toward others, and his untimely death. May he rest in peace.