Reflections on a Career, Part 3


ripplesSome of you may recognize this piece as something I’ve posted before… but in this series of reflections on my career I want to include moments that define what I’ve done. I’ve gained new friends and followers since I’ve posted this, so I updated certain parts and reposted…


A Pebble Dropped In The Pond

I’ve spent my entire adult life as a Police Officer. I left for the Army and the Military Police 29 days after I turned 18 and after 6 years as a Military Police Officer I left the service to become a Police Officer in civilian life which I’ve been doing for 25 years now.

I didn’t know I was cut out for the job until I faced a moment in the Military my first tour of duty in Germany in which an individual threatened us with a baseball bat and without hesitation I tackled him and we handcuffed him. It was at that moment that I thought I might be pretty good at this job and I might want to make it a career. So I did, I extended my tour in Germany once and then re-enlisted for 3 years.

I took a deep breath after 6 years, got out and set my mind to getting hired as a Police Officer. It took me 10 months from the time I got out until I was hired. Over 1,000 people applied for the job when I got hired, 3 of us made it, I felt good about my choice about my career and the path my life was heading down.

But I soon realized if you are not careful, if you don’t watch out for yourself, this is a career that can eat you up from the inside. It can destroy lives and make you a very jaded, cynical, bitter person. I don’t work in a big city, I work for a moderate size town in NJ. We have roughly 27,000 residents, but a day time population approaching 3 times that amount. We have an extremely busy highway running through our town and we have our share of calls that can be a challenge.

Since I’ve been on the job I’ve been involved in investigations ranging from murder, huge thefts, robbery, rape, child abuse, attempted murder, and countless suicides and deaths. I’ve been kicked, punched, slapped, spit at, thrown up on, ignored, called every name in the book, been told I was good for nothing, a pawn for the Government, and a few times people have told me that they wish I would get shot. Through it all we try to maintain an air of professionalism. To be impartial, to render assistance when its needed and to run towards the danger when everyone else is running from it.

I worked at Ground Zero after the 9-11 attacks, I’ve spent countless hours away from my family. I’ve missed Christmases, and Easters, Birthdays and Baseball and Softball games. I’ve tucked my kids into bed over the phone or kissed them goodnight long after they’ve already been asleep.

I’ve seen devastation beyond belief. I’ve seen the anguish of a mother and father after I’ve told them their child had died in an accident. I’ve watched people draw their last breath. I’ve worked frantically to try to save someone only to see my efforts were in vain. I’ve seen countless women abused only to go back with their abuser time and time again and no amount of talking can convince her that he will ever change.

I’ve worked with the greatest bunch of people you’ll ever want to know, where at times I’ve spent more time with them than my own family. I see heroes daily on my job and I see the worst mankind has to offer. And after a while you question yourself. Why am I doing this? What good is this doing anyone? Who really appreciates us?

You can’t help but feel this way, after 30 years you doubt yourself all over again. Did I become a Police Officer because I wanted to make a difference in the world? You tell yourself that is why you became a Police Officer, maybe at the beginning you really even believed that. But the further and further you get into the job that becomes a distant memory. You aren’t changing anyone’s life, no one cares about what you do. And then it happened…a moment that validated my entire career, so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but monumental to this one person and it really shows you that you can touch a life.

On a Sunday morning at 7 AM, I was getting an Egg McMuffin and a Sweet Tea at McDonalds, there was no one but a few cops in the store and a man walked in. As I was placing my order I felt he was staring at me I looked at him and he kept staring at me. I didn’t recognize him. I had no clue who he was. He walked over to me with a huge smile on his face and said “Officer Potts, you don’t remember me do you?” I didn’t and told him so. He said, “1997, you arrested me for DWI, I fell asleep behind the wheel of my car while driving in a parking lot.” I vaguely remembered, after so many years you tend to forget old cases. As he filled in the details it became clearer to me, I remembered that this individual blamed me for ruining his life that night in 1997. That he was going to lose his job, his family and his apartment. That I was the biggest piece of shit ever and that he hoped I died. I remembered he was filthy drunk, very combative, and full of hate. As I stood there in the McDonalds fully expecting to be told what an ass I was, this man stuck out his hand to shake mine and said “Thank You” and told me that he has been sober since that night in 1997, he said that if I had not arrested him that night and spoken to him about getting help for his addiction he would be dead today. He was up early on a Sunday Morning because he was on his way to an AA meeting and that his life could not be better today because of me. Well needless to say I was a bit floored. He was someone that I had arrested 12 years earlier in the middle of my own doubts about my life and my job (anyone that really knows me knows what was happening to me in 1997) and I spoke to him about getting help and he listened to me.

At that time 27 years in Law Enforcement and just 4 more years until I retired, self doubt creeping in about my career choice, burn out a definite probability…and then this-an insignificant moment in a career of a Police Officer. A moment that neither harmed the world nor made it better as a whole, but a significant moment for this one man, a moment that changed this man’s life and the lives of everyone he knows and that loves him. The lives of all the people he speaks to at his AA meetings and the lives he’s changing by his example.

The pebble dropped in the pond, the ever expanding circles it creates until it reaches the shore of someone else’s life. As I stood in McDonalds I realized it had come full circle back to my shore. A life I had touched so many years ago had come back to touch mine, and erased all the self doubt that I felt. Did I make the right choice?

I think so.

Categories : Family Life


  1. Bob Regan says:

    Eric ,great job as usual I was fortunate enough to meet you a couple times while I worked in New Brunswick PD over the years I retired also in 2000 ,keep up the good work bro we appreciate everything you say you know you speak for all of us

  2. I have had the same feelings along my trail. I Questioned working away from home for 3 years. My woman would fly in to visit when i could get a day or 2 off. I was working 230pm – 430am 7 days on a special project. I lived in Folly Beach SC and after work I would walk out and sit in the morning to watch the sun rise. Always thinking about this crazy world and have i made a difference or saved a life. I or We received a letter that thanked us for saving a group of young men at war (Iraq) when they hit a IED that blew the MRAP 15 feet up in the air. The driver did not survive his injury’s. The other 5 survived. Pictures were included. It gave my crew a whole new outlook on our long hours and no life.
    We all make choices some good some bad. I feel it was like yours a good choice and I can tell your a good man Eric. Peace be with you and your family. Thanks for being a peace officer. Wish people would take orders and obey. They should pass a law If you don’t obey an order you get shot. lmao!

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