I have been bestowed an honor that is likely higher than any other in the whole of law enforcement.
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve entertained dreams of going to the FBI National Academy or studying at Northwestern.
I’ve even received accolades for actions during investigations or critical incidents throughout my career.
These all pale in comparison, however, to being dubbed the Intergalactic Vizier of All Police.
The Earth Mother
The woman who bestowed this distinction upon me always interacted under her alter-ego, Karendolyn.
She was a true nature lover, a modern-day druidess in flowing, natural clothes. These were often adorned with feathers and leaves. Around her forehead, she wore real flowers.
Karendolyn regularly ran afoul of people who did not understand her actions. She would show up at public locations and conduct druidic ceremonies, dancing and swaying about.
This made people uncomfortable, but she was rarely any kind of threat.
A roadkill bear carcass in your car — a car filled with woven sticks and pine needles on the inside, decked out to look like a bird’s nest — can lend itself to some trouble, though.
Also, failing to leave an area by the lawful owner yield interactions with police. This is where our paths collided.
The first time I met Karendolyn was over a minor traffic offense. I stopped her and soon realized this was far from the average contact.
The inside of the car would make Big Bird feel right at home, and the occasional casted enchantments she uttered (my Druidic was rusty) were none-too-subtle clues.
Let me tell you; it doesn’t take long for a seasoned cop to detect mental illness.
Our reactions back in the 1990s were often to try and disengage as quickly as possible, lest things escalate.
We had no real training on the issue other than the use of force. And when your only tool is a hammer, many things look like a nail.
But I could sense inside she was a good person. I treated her with respect, gave her a verbal warning, and sent her on her way.
Sadly, her interactions with law enforcement were rarely that simple or that kind.
She was surprised at my manner and asked my name. After I told her Deputy Curtis, she called me “Deputy Courtesy.”
That set the tone for all our other meetings…which were many.
It also set a precedent for me.
Any time someone acted outside the norm, I would get the call.
The Voices — Training to Respond
Joel was one of the senior instructors at my training, an old cop built like a fireplug. He had seen and done everything.
When it came time to work on arrest control scenarios, if Joel was present, it would be a fight.
This was made completely clear to all of us who served as backup for the initial officers in their scenarios.
Eventually, it was my turn as primary response. I was dispatched to a man “hearing voices.”
When I walked into the room, I saw Joel.
He was marvelous, pacing back and forth, whispering to himself, telling me about the messages he received that no one else could hear.
Then he told me he had seen a car parked out front that surveilling him.
I picked up on the paranoid delusion. Instead of fighting him, maybe I could work with it, though I had backup staged outside ready to help.
Calmly, I offered to take him to a place that understood – one that would help him with the voices and the surveillance.
He was hesitant to trust me.
I told him no one would dare mess with us while I was wearing a badge and gun. This logic appealed to him.
He tentatively agreed and stepped toward me.
As we walked to the door together, I told him one last idea to sell the ruse.
I offered to put him in handcuffs so that if the lurking stalkers were out there watching, they would get the impression I arrested him. Thus, they’d leave him alone.
Once again, this seemed to fit his fears and was a logical solution.
When I walked out with him in custody, not bloodied or bruised, everyone’s eyes bugged, and mouths gaped. Joel praised me up and down, talking about how well I had done not to immediately go “hands-on.”
He liked that I took time to understand the situation and develop an alternative solution.
I got a pretty big head from his accolades, and it lasted until building clearing training when I backlit someone.
That profanity-riddled, tongue-lashing still echoes in my head today. Such is police work.
Back to the Druidess
Many years later, the biggest service I provided Karendolyn was intervening when things started to escalate in another contact.
At a local park, she frightened some people with her actions. Another agency responded, and a less patient officer told her to leave.
She retreated into the back seat of her car. When the officer reached for her, she grabbed a deer antler.
I remember the rush that went through me: proxemics, resisting lawful commands, arguably lethal threat…So, I offered to help the officer, fearing a shooting if I didn’t intervene.
I leaned in the car and reminded Karendolyn that I was Deputy Courtesy.
Her fearful stance relaxed a bit, the antler lowered, and the smiling nymph reappeared.
Remembering the scenario with Joel, I offered to help her out and explained the situation to her. I told her I wanted to give her a ride to get her some help.
I even told her I did not trust the other officer very much, and felt she would be safer with me.
Looking out the back window at the frowning officer, she readily agreed.
Again, I told her for her safety; I would need to handcuff her.
She trusted me, and it was everything.
I put her in the car, and we sang songs together all the way to the jail.
Time Marches On
It was after that close call, I saw Karendolyn again, and she dubbed me the Intergalactic Vizier of all Police.
She gave me sage from the local bush and a crystal that was a symbol of my office — a crystal I still have some 22 years later.
I recalled the single time I saw her when she was not advocating for the Earth Mother.
It was in a different town, and she was walking out of a store, wearing a nice blouse and a business skirt that clearly was part of a suit.
Her hair was well-coifed and devoid of the natural trappings I was used to. More unbelievably, she was wearing shoes! She was vibrant and professional.
She smiled awkwardly, recognizing me, and put her head down as though embarrassed.
The thing that haunted me was the physical changes in her face.
Gone was the manic smile, the dancing, mischievous light in her eyes. The face did not remotely look the same.
In 2000 I shook things up and left law enforcement. I moved, went back to school, and got an associate’s degree in criminal justice.
Seven years later, I returned to law enforcement as a sergeant and quickly made lieutenant.
I was saddened to learn that while I was on sabbatical, Karendolyn passed away.
To this day, I don’t know the specific details of her death, but I have my suspicions.
After her passing, I lamented law enforcement’s failing, my own failing.
This is a difficult lesson every first responder eventually learns — you cannot help them all.
There is a form of guilt that comes when you fall short of the mark, based on a root caring for other folks and a desire to help make things better.
It is my belief; most cops are built this way.
To this day, I struggle with not being able to help her, but the tools available to law enforcement were ill-suited to address her needs.
I wanted to share some of the mental health crises I’ve encountered in the field to set the stage for us to dive more into the topic of mental health.
More importantly, in future articles, I want to explore how my profession got so involved with it over the last 30 to 40 years.
So, stay tuned!
Like The Blue Brief or have a question about policing? Let us know in the comments below! To get to know Sean, make sure you check out his Introduction and also read his tips on How To Survive a Carjacking.