We Will Get Through This: Big Lessons from a Small Town Police Chief
The recent Pew Research Center poll found that 68% of Americans are concerned that state governments will lift coronavirus-related restrictions too quickly, while only 31% are concerned that states will not lift restrictions quickly enough–yet the popular media narrative depicts a divided country ready to erupt. To argue that this is not a trying time would be insensitive, but is it unreasonable to expect Americans to face this challenge, and to overcome it–together?
The world is watching, people.
I have always been a believer in the power of tight communities. As Mother Teresa said, “Love begins by taking care of the closest ones.” If everyone looked after those around them, life wouldn’t get worse. I’m sure of it. Sam Frank (Canaan, NH Chief of Police) reminded me of this simple but important truth.
I called Chief Frank to ask him about trends he has observed in Canaan (clocking in with a population of about 4,000) during COVID-19: “Overall crime has been down. We are experiencing an uptick in domestic violence calls. Being that people are out of work, stressed about money, home with their significant others and their families all day trying to teach kids, and all the stressors that come along with that, have caused some more issues with the domestic side, and also the mental health issues. People are having a hard time staying in and staying socially isolated. That triggers a lot of emotional stuff for people.” While Canaan may be a small town (though with approximately 54 square miles, it’s one of the largest in NH), I imagine this is a picture that resonates across the nation.
Sadly, there will be many who suffer from domestic violence and mental health issues during this crisis, and many of those cases will go unreported because of social stigmas and other fear factors. For those cases that are called in, Chief Frank explained that his officers will first stop whatever is happening. Then, they will serve as mediators, connect people with contacts and organizations that can provide additional help, and set up safety plans for the future.
“Being a cop in a small town, being a police officer is only a certain small percentage of your job. You have to be a counselor, you have to be a medic. You have to be anything, any number of hats, an educator, all sorts of things. It is what we end up doing.”
Chief Frank and his fellow officers will be whatever they have to be to help people. What better way to serve others? Guilty myself of the not-my-job attitude, I was struck by Frank’s description of a “cop in a small town.” Now is not the time to give ’em hell, but to give ’em help (unless ’em is COVID-19).
Frank also offered some simple yet comforting advice to the greater community:
“As much as we all may not like it, we definitely have to respect the social distancing and the staying at home as much as possible. And you have to take other people’s feelings into consideration, and, you know, wear a mask, stay six feet away, and don’t intrude on other people’s space is the best thing I can tell you. And, I’m no expert, but the experts say wash your hands often, sanitize your surfaces, that sort of thing. The biggest thing is just don’t panic. I think we’re all going to come out of this OK in the end. It’s a very serious issue, but in the end, we as Americans especially are very resilient, and in times of crisis we all come together, and we’ve seen that numerous times throughout our lifespan, and I think this is just another one of those times where, with everybody’s dedication, we’ll come through it.”
I circle back to my opening question. Can we Americans face this challenge and overcome it together? Historically speaking, yes we can, but we’ll have to remember a few things. We’ll have to remember that we are neighbors–while embracing a Mr. Rogers understanding of who belongs in the neighborhood and how we should treat them–which does not include shouting and spitting in your neighbor’s face, or ignoring their existence. We’ll have to remember that we can ask for help, that we need help, and that it doesn’t make us weak to receive it.
Reflecting on New England neighborliness, Chief Frank said, “When people need something, we hook them up with food pantries or the soup kitchens or whatever we can do, get them clothes, help pay the bills, whatever we can do for them. If you’re having a struggle, please reach out to someone, and we can help you.”
We are not alone, and as Dumbledore (J.K. Rowling) said, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”
It may go against our nature–being vulnerable, sharing our struggles, admitting we need help–but it is not un-American to do what is hard, as JFK challenged us in his epic moon speech (cue the inspirational music). Everything about this pandemic is hard, and in so many ways, it feels like we are venturing off into space, into the unknown, and that is an unsettling feeling, but we have done it before, and we will do it again. I just hope there’s still time for us to do it better.
Moving along with this theme of vulnerability and asking for help, Chief Frank said, “It’s been a struggle for me personally as well. A lot of things that I am used to doing are no longer available, so I’ve been learning to do other things to cope, and you just kind of have to be resilient and know that better times are coming. Listen to what people are telling you, be safe, take care of your families, and we’ll get through this.”
I am grateful to have learned some big lessons from a small town police chief. If we remember what makes us great–a calling to help those in need and an unyielding resilience in the fight for the greater good–we will indeed get through this together.