To Protect and Serve

Saturday, August 29th at noon, LSP Senior Trooper Steven Vincent will be laid to rest. Funeral services will be at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church in Lake Charles.

Steven was murdered by a cowardly, subhuman piece of filth last Saturday, a man with multiple DUI convictions and a history of petty crimes, a man whom I will not grace by ever uttering his name in public.

I knew Steven Vincent. We weren’t friends, but we’ve run into each other on plenty of scenes. He has scrawled his signature across a number of my forms, lent a hand when patients got rowdy, and been a consummate professional every time I’ve encountered him.

Steven Vincent

He was, by all accounts, a good man and peace officer.

I say “peace officer,” not “cop” or “trooper,” because he represented what I think law enforcement officers should be; honorable, dutiful public servants. Protectors. Investigators. Advocates. They dedicate their lives to standing between those who cannot protect themselves, and those who would take advantage of that fact. “Peace officer” is my highest measure of respect.

I know a few cops who don’t rate the honor of “peace officer,” but only very few. Most of them I know have earned the honor that the badge represents, and they take it very seriously. Society places a great deal of authority in the men who wear the badge, and the vast majority of them exercise that authority with integrity, social media videos of cops behaving badly notwithstanding. Real peace officers condemn those acts, too.

I have the honor of being friends with a number of peace officers, like Matt G. and LawDog and my friend Chris Oakes. Their philosophy is aptly summed up by the tagline from Matt’s blog:

“I think that there’s bound to be a way to serve myself, serve my community, and not take freedom away from good people.”

They’ve found that way, and they live it every day.

I’ll never forget the night Matt and I encountered a motorist on a lonely stretch of road on our way to Colorado. We encountered a debris trail in the middle of the highway, and at the end of it, what we were sure was a wrecked SUV on the shoulder of the road.

But it wasn’t wrecked. All the debris turned out to be belongings the woman had thrown from her vehicle.

As we approached the vehicle, I knew that something wasn’t right. We were both carrying concealed firearms, and as we neared the driver’s door, I shifted slightly to where I could cover Matt and see the driver clearly at the same time.

Every single mental alarm I had was flashing.

The woman wasn’t injured, but she was definitely mentally disturbed, or perhaps high.

We  rendered what help we could and notified the proper authorities, and went on our way, and I remember thinking, “Damn, that sort of thing is Matt’s night, every night, every single time he’s wearing a uniform and approaches a car at night.”

It took a few minutes for my adrenaline to wear off, and I thought I was immune to adrenaline rush at this point in my career.

Now imagine that rush every single traffic stop, with the knowledge that the moment that rush starts to fade, the moment you let your guard down and your senses dull, might be the moment someone decides to kill you.

Your choices are to never let your guard down and see the job that you loved turn into the onerous task that eats away your soul, or you can reconcile the risk and continue to believe that most people are fundamentally good, and perhaps lose your life at the hands of someone you were trying to help, like Steven Vincent did.

And for those of you who shake your heads and wonder, “What is the world coming to?” I’ll point you to Fred Rogers’ wise words made for times and tragedies like these:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Thus it has always been, and thus I suspect it always shall be.

A handful of motorists subdued Steven Vincent’s killer, rendered aid to Steven, and handcuffed the man with Steven’s own handcuffs. God willing, he’ll go to jail wearing those cuffs, and be wearing them when he is marched to whatever final punishment a jury deems appropriate.

For every maniac who just wants to see the world burn, twenty more helpers will show up to put out the flames, and offer assistance and succor to the wounded.

Most people are still fundamentally good and decent at heart, and many of the best of them wear badges.

I’m damned proud to know them.