I had a Drunk in Public in court the other week; older guy in his 50s. I originally got him for that and for an assault charge last month. When I arrested him, he wouldn’t give us any information and he had no ID on him. I was able to find out his name during the pat down. That was also the moment that I knew I was going to end up hating this by the end of it.
Balled up in his pants pocket was one of those plastic picture ID bracelets that you get slapped on you in many hospitals these days. In this case, it was an ID bracelet from the VA hospital. The guy was a vet.
I learned a little bit about his backstory that night. I learned more about his backstory the morning of the court case just before court started. He’d served in combat years ago, long before the most recent conflicts in the Middle East and long before the combat medical innovations that were being highlighted and discussed in the news back around 2006 and 2007.
The short version? There are pieces of his body that are still in the ground in foreign countries, and the injuries he sustained ended his military career. They also apparently had a large impact on his ability to function properly in society.
On top of the painful physical injuries, including losing a chunk of leg bone that made one leg shorter than the other, he had suffered mild head trauma and was apparently never quite right again. The longtime result is that he’s almost always in some level of discomfort, he has issues, he’s on various medications, and he self-medicates at the bar or with cheap convenience store liquor.
I came upon him drunk and threatening someone. I did what I was supposed to do and made an arrest. But there’s still a part of me that hates that right now. This is a man that needs help, and he’s not getting it in our system; especially after the many cuts that have been made in various needed services over the years. Worse still, this is a man who has problems that are the result of doing his duty and serving his country.
On my end of the process, there are no multiple choice options. He did what he did and he had to be properly dealt with. I can’t walk up on a drunk yelling at a citizen and swinging punches in his direction and walk away or just cut him loose with a warning. And, given his record, a lot of other officers across multiple years and several states have been put into the same situation or like situations with him that I found myself in.
He can’t function in society. He can’t be out and about among the “regular people” without being some level of threat to them. He’s got to be taken off of the streets. But then you realize as well, both during and then more so after the fact, that not all of his actions are actions of rational choice. His ability to function was in large part taken away from him while in the service of his country. He’s a vet who did his duty, and, depending on how you were raised, you want to honor that. But you can’t fix his problems and you can’t let him roam free.
It’s one thing to deal with someone who has all of their mental abilities and still chooses to do all the wrong things. It’s another thing all together to deal with someone who is a victim of their own inability to be a “normal” and functioning member of society. And then it’s something else all together again when you have to deal with someone who had that ability taken from them and did so while in service to their community or their country.
You have to take them off of the streets. You have to protect the people that they may threaten or harm. You have to hope that the system will do whatever it can to help them. But in the end, and more and more with every passing year and every budget cut, you know that the system is doing less and less for them.
And, in the end, with situations like this, you find yourself hating aspects of this job more than most people will ever likely know.