Retired Powder Springs Police Chief Charlie Sewell
“Think outside the box” is an over-used cliché that refers to novel or creative thinking. It also illustrates a required mind-set for police officers who respond to routine calls for service. Once, I was dispatched to a house that I had previously been warned about the quirks of the elderly resident. As I approached the front of the house, a woman threw open the front door and whisked past me, rambling excessively. “They are here,” she kept saying. She told me that Delta Air Lines was dive bombing her house, and each time the airplane passed, small aliens slinked into her attic. Imagine how I felt as a 23-year-old rookie police officer. I told the woman that I was sorry and then I quickly retreated to my patrol car. As I drove away, I remembered my sergeant saying if he had to make decisions for me, he didn’t need me, so I made a U-turn. Still in the front yard, the woman approached my patrol car as I pulled into her driveway. She continued her rant, but her eyes very clearly told me she was frightened. I told her everything would be OK, and I offered her my hand. She gently clasped her frail fingers around my hand, and then gave me a very slight squeeze. When I returned the squeeze, the woman relaxed and started to hum. I am not exactly sure why, but I asked her if she felt the spirit, and she said, “Oh yes.” We must have looked like 4-year-olds holding hands, swinging arms in rhythm to her purring. I joined in her melody and we both got louder and louder. At a point when I thought she seemed excited, I suddenly clenched her hand, and she became still and silent. It wasn’t until that very moment that I knew how the event would end. I said to her, “They are gone,” and I could instantly see the relief in her eyes. She said quietly and almost in a murmur,” yes.” I have repeated this story about exorcising a house many times in my career, and the account is most often received with skepticism, as well as laughter. There are no rule books that give police officers play-by-play instructions on how to handle every call. A detailed policy manual might illustrate the proper way to secure a prisoner, but it can’t possibly advise an officer how many burglars to expect inside a house. My report to the sergeant and subsequent telephone calls to the woman’s family provided her with the true help she needed. Police officers have to respond like a nurse, psychologist, counselor, firefighter, mediator; electrician, coach and sometimes, a best friend. If we could say that responding to a call for service is like a coloring book, an officer often has to color outside the lines. The real boundary lines for a police officer, however, is sometimes not known until the judge, jury, and public, scrutinize for days, weeks, and years, the decision that the officer had a split second to make. Charlie Sewell is the Powder Springs chief of police. His column runs occasionally in the Marietta Daily Journal.