Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Jeffrey Stagg has been on the job since 1977. The 67-year-old officer still works the same beat on the west-southwest part of Indianapolis he started patrolling 45 years ago. After high school, Officer Stagg joined the Air Force and served four years as a Security Police Officer. Following his discharge, he joined the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. In 2007, the Sheriff’s Office merged with the Indianapolis PD to form a metro department, and Stagg retained the same patrol beat. In addition to his regular patrol duties, he also serves as a bugler, and a hostage negotiator.
What impresses me most is the fact that he remains a street cop working the same district. In a recent interview, Stagg said, “Working on the street is great because we’re the first ones on the scene. We start the investigations and we get things rolling. I have always loved that aspect of law enforcement—having to be familiar with every area and getting investigations started.”
This begs the question, “How does someone stay in policing for so many years and remain sane?” To have a successful and long police career there are somethings law enforcement officers should know. Several years ago, I read a couple novels by former LAPD Sergeant Joseph Wambaugh. In one of them was a quote that stayed with me throughout my policing career. One of his characters said, “A police officer needs three things to survive: courage, common sense, and a sense of humor. Most people can survive without one of these, but a police officer never could.” Wambaugh’s wisdom is profound—courage, common sense, and a sense of humor. I’d like to briefly address each of these. First is courage.
Just after 2:30 pm, Saturday, October 20, 2018, the Gwinnett County (GA) Police Department received a call for a suspicious vehicle behind the Shiloh Middle School. Officer Antwan Toney and another officer were dispatched to investigate. The officers arrived and found two male subjects in the car. As the officers approached, one suspect starting shooting at the officers. Officer Toney was hit and went down, the second officer returned fire and dragged Officer Toney out of the line of fire. The two suspects fled, one was caught and booked. Officer Toney was transported to a local hospital but died from the gunshot. Two days after the officer was murdered, a task force located the second suspect hiding in a shed and armed with an edged weapon. He refused officers’ commands to drop the weapon and was shot and killed.
Officer Toney is remembered as a jovial officer and great friend who died committed to making his community a safe place. At his funeral, his sister said Antwan grew up playing with toy police cars and police action figures. She said, although he knew the risks, his life-long dream was to become a police officer. How can a man or woman choose this career knowing they will face danger that may cost them their life?
Wambaugh said courage. I agree. Where does courage come from? Genetics? No; courage doesn’t always run in families. Education? No; there are plenty of educated cowards. Money? No; money can buy foolishness, but not courage.
The word courage comes from the Latin word (cor) for heart. Webster defines courage as the “mental or moral strength to resist opposition, danger, or hardship.” Scripture tells us to be courageous. The Lord said, “Be strong and courageous” (Duet. 31:7). Hence, courage is something from within—it’s a decision one makes. It’s a resolve from inside. One chooses courage. Courage is a choice.
Courage comes from being on the side of right. Knowing you are right, gives you a jolt of bravery. King Solomon wrote, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). When carrying out their duties, law enforcement officers are on the side of right. Courage comes from being on the side of right.
Courage also means commitment. It means faithfully carrying out all your duties. The Bible says, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law…. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left…” (Josh. 1:7). Officers face danger because they swore an oath, and their words mean something. They promised to protect, and that’s what they do—no matter the cost. Courageous people aren’t afraid of commitment. Courage means commitment.
Next month we’ll consider the second trait that Wambaugh said officers need: common sense.
Pray for your police.