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A knock at the door changes everything

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It is completely silent as the police cruiser slows to a stop outside the darkened house. The night is still. A few Christmas lights twinkle through the night with false cheerfulness. You and your partner stare wordlessly at the front door, steeling yourself for what lies ahead. You curse the fact that no amount of training can ever prepare you for this moment.

Finally, you step outside into the cold and slowly walk towards the front steps. You knock on the door and wait. Nothing. You try to convince yourself no one is home and the dread inside begins to lift, just a little bit. You knock again.

A light flicks on inside the house and instantly all hope is extinguished. You feel sick to the pit of your stomach. The porch light pierces the night, silhouetting you and your partner on the steps. A woman's face peers through the frosted window and you watch in anguish as recognition dawns in her eyes and horror spreads across her face.

The door opens and the reality of the moment washes over you. You have recited your words a dozen times, but when you look into those stricken eyes, your composure evaporates. Panic sets in. Your mouth refuses to work.

She says a name and all you can do is nod. Then you drop your eyes to the ground and shake your head. That's it. Her hand flies to her mouth and she dissolves into tears. She falls to the ground screaming the name over and over again. Without uttering one word, you have just shattered many lives and inflicted unimaginable damage on a family that will endure for a generation.

You stand on the steps, utterly helpless. You bite down on your lip to stop the trembling, fighting the lump as it gathers in your throat. You struggle to hold back the tears.

The images of the crash flash through your mind. Sights and sounds that are forever seared in your memory; the stench of gasoline, music emanating quietly from the wreckage, the blood, the staring eyes already glazed over in death. You watch the firefighters and paramedics as they wordlessly perform their duties in reverence for the enormity of the tragedy.

As you walk away from the house, now ablaze in lights and sorrow, you reflect on what just transpired. Then you place another brick on the wall you are slowly building around your heart, a wall to keep out the pain.

When people complain traffic enforcement is nothing but a cash grab, they fail to grasp that first and foremost, it saves lives. They would understand that if they stood with me on the front steps of that house, if they were forced to look into the eyes of someone who has just been told they will never again feel the warm embrace of their family member. Then they, too, would experience the guilt that we, as police officers, feel we were not there to stop the driver who killed their loved one.

Last year in Manitoba, police officers stood on those doorsteps 172 times. One hundred and seventy-two times entire families were condemned to a lifetime of pain and torment by the knock on the door. Try telling those people traffic enforcement is nothing but a cash grab.

Insp. Scot Halley is with the Winnipeg Police Service's community-support unit.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2013 0

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