Spirituality for Today – September 2011 – Volume 16, Issue 2

To Protect and Serve

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

When I leave the rectory in the morning, I know that I am living and ministering in one of the safest cities for its size (80,000 residents) in the country. For nearly a decade, I have had the honor of serving as the Catholic chaplain for the police department of the city of Danbury, Connecticut. On this momentous and somber tenth anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11, our prayers storm heaven on behalf of all those who died that day or lost loved ones and for all who rushed to rescue those in need. Kudos to all the men and women in our police departments, fire departments, EMTs, security agencies, and untold individuals who helped to restore safety and sanity after the events of that morning ten years ago. I honor those men and women and pray for all of them in this brief commentary.

A photo of a speeding firetruck

On a normal day we go about our business almost unaware of the men and women whose job it is to protect and to serve the community in which we live. If a police cruiser appears behind you when you are driving down the street, you might check your speed and even, for no apparent reason, feel a little nervous. The sirens and flashing lights of a fire truck or ambulance cause us to pull over and allow them to pass unobstructed on their important task. Otherwise, these caretakers of civilization go unnoticed until some danger or emergency awakens us to call upon them for help.

My connection with the police department directs my focus. I have had the opportunity to ride in a patrol car for a few hours and to experience the many faceted aspects of police work. Police officers know their territory in ways that we, who inhabit the same space, may overlook or pass by unconcerned. They keep a watchful eye on neighborhoods, street corners, buildings, and houses. The unlocked gate, the unprotected valuable, or any suspicious behavior by a person or a group draws the attention of the officer's eye. If you ever had had to call upon the service of one of our uniformed protectors, you are keenly aware of the meaning of having police, fire, and medical emergency responders at the ready.

The motto: "To Protect and Serve" has been in use for fifty years. During that same time, television viewers were introduced to an atypical but more realistic portrayal of police work in the debut of the series Dragnet. Jack Webb, playing the role of Sgt. Joe Friday of the Los Angeles Police Department, provided the television audience with examples of police procedures drawn from actual cases of the L.A.P.D. Journalist Eric Shaeffer describes the program: "Dragnet emphasized authentic police jargon, the technical aspects of law enforcement, and the drudgery of such work. Rather than engaging in fist fights and gun play, Friday and his partner spent much screen time making phone calls, questioning witnesses, or following up on dead leads." Personally, I feel that this dogged determination in performing the least exciting but essential process of gathering evidence in solving a crime is expressive of the heroic character of the men and women involved in this profession.

Our prayers rightfully are offered for these men and women who are there to grapple with the ugliest and darkest sides of human nature. In facing the sins of mankind, they also must cope with their own frailties and limitations. They all need our support and prayers. For often, they take on the role for us of Saint Michael, the protector, and that of a Guardian Angel. At this time of sorrowful remembrance, let us feel the deepest gratitude for those among us who protect and serve.