In my chosen profession, I see it all.
I see the dark side of the world that we all wish didn’t exist. I see evil that most people don’t even know exists. There are sights, sounds and smells that I will never be able to carve from my brain. I have paid my dues as a cop with blood, sweat and tears….lots of each.
The past two weeks have been filled with more death, destruction and pure evil than I can remember in recent years. I never think about it during the moment…it usually hits me when I see my young son smiling when I return home each night. I always look at him, smile, and selfishly wish that he never has to know the evils of this world. There are many times I wish that I could look at the world through his innocent, pure, unjaded eyes.
But the evil isn’t going away…and neither are us cops.
For all of the evil – there is still plenty of good…if you know where to look.
The place I looked this year is the annual “Heroes and Helpers” event at Target. It used to be called the more recognizable “Shop With A Cop” but the trademark attorneys stepped in and ruined the fun. Last year was the first time I had the opportunity to participate, and ever since then, I have looked forward to the next one. I could barely sleep the night before, and was so very excited this morning to be a part of it. I honestly had trouble containing myself – because I knew what was going to happen, and knew it was my moment to capture memories.
Since becoming PIO I have tried on many different hats, and one that I’m truly enjoying wearing is the one of department photographer. I realized that nobody took photos of us in action. It was a perfect fit for me – I am just starting to become a “serious hobbyist photographer” and thus I hoodwinked GPD into purchasing a Canon 70D DSLR for me to use to capture photos and videos of my brothers and sisters in blue as they work. I get to be a cop, and I also get to hone my hobby. I pack a gun and a camera. Please someone pinch me.
So I get to the restaurant and get ready to capture the day. The basic premise is simple – certain kids are selected from area elementary schools based on merit and need. They are picked up from their school by an officer in full uniform, they hop in the officer’s police car and then head to lunch. After lunch they head to Target for their shopping spree. The best part? They come into the parking lot with lights and sirens. 39 police cars worth. Each kid gets a $100 gift card and the shopping is on.
This year, just like last year lunch was provided by Beef O’ Brady’s. They always enjoy giving back to the kids, and the smiles in the restaurant were infectious. As I roamed the tables with my Canon 70D in hand, I tried to capture the smiles beaming from both the kids and the officers. I found myself complaining that the light was too low…my ISO was cranked, and my shutter speed was so slow that I had to really think about the shots. I ended up with a lot of blurry photos, and was kinda bummed. But then I remembered that the day was just beginning…
The group finished eating (I stole some kids’ fries…but I got laughs, so it was worth it!) and it was time for a group picture. By standing on the bumper of the GPD Command vehicle, I got the perfect vantage point…I really didn’t need to get on the roof like so many of my “friends” were suggesting. I got the group shot, then it was time to head to Target to beat the group. Let’s not forget that my media relations hat and my photographer hat were both on today.
I hop in my police car with Dana, my new (awesome) volunteer intern and Nick, our Police Beat producer/creative director/cameraman/etc… and we head down to Target. Today I delegated video completely to Dana. She honestly shoots better footage than me, and I know that’s her strong suit. Plus – I wanted the stills. I wanted to freeze the moments in time. Dana has the awesome idea of putting our GoPro on the front of a shopping cart facing backwards. We get to Target, meet up with local media and fly to get the GoPro ready. I start mounting it to the front of the cart, then hit the power button…
It’s worse than that…it’s dead, Jim. Zero battery.
I flag down the Target store manager, Brian and ask if they happen to sell batteries. “No, Ben…I’m sorry” Brian slowly replies.
By this time, the group is arriving – and it’s time to start capturing memories. So the GoPro ends up in a fellow officer’s car and I start blazing away with my Canon. A funny thing happens when dozens of police cars come screaming into a heavily traveled shopping center. Everyone stops and stares. Thirty nine police cars roar into the parking lot. Kids start getting out of the passenger seat and their smiles are unbelievable. Everyone else continues to stare – then it sinks in. They figure out what’s going on. A tear here, a grin there – it’s happening.
So I head into the store and start taking pictures. A few moments in and Brian runs up to me – GoPro battery in hand. Problem solved! (I would have paid much more than the retail price of $20 at that exact moment.) The footage was worth every penny. I get back to living this moment through the viewfinder of my Canon. I didn’t realize it until the end, but I was shooting indoors at 400 ISO (quit cringing, photogs.) Luckily I was somewhere between f2.8 and f6 so stuff ended up not too bad. A couple hundred shots later and I realize what I’ve been trying to balance for many many years. Capture the moment, but don’t miss it.
So the camera goes down.
I just walk around and watch the smiles. My friends that I’ve worked with – truly tough men and women that I’ve literally fought alongside, cried with – men and women for which we would both give our lives for each other are grinning as much as I am. The ones that have participated in the past knew this feeling and looked forward to it as much as I did. The first timers – you couldn’t tell who was having more fun, them or the kids. My smile was for many reasons. I just stopped and breathed in the moment, savoring every emotion in a single deep breath. Why? Because I bought happiness that day.
The kids didn’t know it, and they didn’t need to – but one of those kids was spending my $100 donation. As I walked around, I smiled, knowing that it might have bought that bike that the girl wanted so badly. Maybe it bought the clothes for the boy’s family. For a child that doesn’t know money…$100 is a fortune. I am blessed enough to be able to give – and I got much MUCH more than $100 worth. Money CAN in fact buy happiness.
I know I’ll have to return to my “normal” activity of dealing with the world’s evil, but it’s moments like today that I put in the mental bank. And it’s worth every single penny.
Even though I screwed up some settings…I still got hundreds of great photos, 71 of which are on GPD’s Facebook. Please enjoy the smiles: