On Saturday night I started my shift by responding to an injury collision after a child ran into the street and was struck by a car. The investigation was simple and we were finished pretty fast. After I was done, I stood in the street and thought how it looked exactly the same way it did over 20 years ago when I was a new cop.
The apartment buildings were still old and tired looking. Some apartment courtyards had overgrown grass and others were dirt. There were vending trucks parked in front of red curbs with children standing around with no one watching them. There were also males in baggy clothes and shaved heads walking around in the shadows on a reconnaissance mission to see when the cops were going to leave.
The street was lined with cars as far as the eye could see in both directions. The cars had scratched and scuffed bumpers from the parallel parking wars that were fought here every night. There was even trash in the gutters just like the “old days.”
It was as if time had stood still on this little street since 1995. Everything was the same except for one thing. That was the tree I helped plant at the end of my field officer training.
On the last week of training I had to ride with an officer from the community policing team. This particular neighborhood was part of his area. One Saturday morning I reported to work ready to plant trees that were bought by the city.
There were people of all ages out there that morning with shovels and picks as dirt as hard as rock was broken up for the new trees. For hours people worked as a team in the hot July sun until all of the trees were planted.
After we were done, I made it a point to memorize which address “my” tree went in front of. According to my wife, I don’t remember certain things, but I still remember that tree was in front of address 175.
I knew back then I would be able to look back at that tree and remember I was part of why it was there.
As I left the collision scene that night, I stopped in front of 175 and looked at it. My son was with me on a ride along and I told him the story from long ago. I remembered digging the hole and dragging the tree to it with the help of others. We put it the hole and filled it with dirt as we packed it down with our feet. A garden hose was then pulled out and we watered it afterward. When we were done, I stood there and admired the tree with the people I had worked with to plant it.
The tree, like me, is different now after all these years. The tree looks nothing like it did when it was planted. It is taller now and its trunk is strong looking with branches reaching up to the sky. That tree, along with the others that were planted that day, have witnessed car accidents, shootings and stabbings. They have withstood the test of time just like we, as officers have.
To the people around there, it’s just a tree that no one pays attention to. To me, the size of that tree is a symbol of the years I’ve been around. It has grown and gotten stronger, just like I have grown as a cop and as a person.
As we drove away my son said, “That would make a good blog story.” I laughed a little and thought he was right.
And when you come back around to arresting the kids and grandkids of those you locked up back then, well…