A little over 10 years ago, I was out of college and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had vague thoughts of working for some criminal policy think tank, but the string of temp jobs I was currently working had turned me off of office work. I wanted to be outside, I wanted to be around people, and I didn't like playing office politics. Staring at a computer screen for 8 hours a day was killing me with boredom.
Luckily I had a friend with a solution. His name was Jim. We weren't close friends, but we ran in the same social circles & and we were LiveJournal buddies (before there was Facebook and Twitter and Blogger, there was LiveJournal. I will posting a few excerpts from his posts; I do so without any permission, and I hope Jim's family won't mind. I didn't know who to ask). Jim had just joined the Metropolitan Police Department and was going through the academy. He loved it.
He wrote about his adventures, and I followed every word. He graduated and was assigned to the First District, and his stories changed from enduring the physical challenges of the police academy to life on the street. His stories were hilarious. He obviously loved his job. Did I mention he was attending law school too? That's insane. At that time, a rookie police officer could easily put in 12+ hour days working their shift plus court commitments. To attend law school classes on top of that is amazing, and showed the dedication that he had. It wasn't a surprise at all when he was made Rookie of the Year for the First District. Jim was proud of being a police officer, and it showed. Even on a "bad" day, he was still proud of what he was doing.
Jim knew I was suffering a slow death in my temp jobs, so one day he sent me an email: "Wanna join MPD?" I thought he was crazy. Me, a police officer? He told me that he thought this would be the perfect job for me, and that he would be a reference for me. I thought it over....and put my application in. In March of 2005, I was accepted into the Metropolitan Police Department Academy and began my career. I fully credit Jim with giving me the confidence and the nudge to apply.
While I was in the academy, Jim was still busy policing the busy streets of the First District. His patrol area included the National Law Enforcement Memorial, and I remember him writing about how seriously he took that duty:
I had one person ask, so let me extend this to everyone. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is on my beat (and I make sure its safe and skateboarder free) so if anyone wants a rubbing and can't make it down here let me know and I can get it for you
One thing Jim wanted very much was to become a bike patrol officer. He begged his Commander to allow him to attend a training class. The Police Mountain Bike training certification is a coveted and difficult certification. The physical skills required to obtain the certification are some of the most challenging on the department. There's often a waiting list to get into the class. Unsurprisingly, Jim managed to get into the class.
I remember him talking about how excited he was. It was August. It was very hot. I was still in the academy.
So today was my first of five days in mountain bike school.
It was hard.
It was full of rain, mud, scapes, crashes, bumps, brusies, sun burn, and pain.
And it was a damn lot of fun.
The first thing we did was the usual administrative nonsense (sign this, write that, read this, agree to A B and C etc.), then we learned how to work and do basic maintence on our Smith and Wesson bikes. Then we went riding. We tackled small hills (and at the begining, before I figured out how the gears work, I couldnt do even small hills), then long rides, then hills again. Hills suck, but the long rides were fun. I believe I drank over 7 liters of water all told... and I was still wanting for more towards the last half of the ride (Monica you thought the 3 liter camelback was to big!)
After my intial gear working issues I def kept pace with the group. They tell you when you start the class that its all mental... and it is. I refuse to fail, and so far I've been doing well. Will power and gel pads. I'm not sure when gel pads became the rage, but I found shorts with gel pads and gloves with gel pads, both of which def helped with my overall post-class comfort.
Tommorrow: Big hills.
It was a hot afternoon, and I was in the academy's gym when there was some sort of disturbance. I wasn't sure what was going on. I just saw our instructors huddled together, whispering something. They looked worried. I heard whispers of an officer getting sick? Hurt? Going to the hospital? I didn't know. I just knew I had to get through this defensive tactics class.
It wasn't for a few days before I realized what happened. That the "sick" officer was Jim. And that he died.
Jim died of hyponatremia. He became ill on the 2nd day of the class and began vomiting. The instructors assumed he was dehydrated and gave him water to drink. They didn't realize that was the problem. Jim had drank so much water to prepare for the class, he had diluted the sodium concentration in his blood. His body began to shut down. Paramedics were already on the scene treating an officer that had injured his knee when Jim started having convulsions. They rushed him to the hospital, but it was too late. He fell into a coma and never woke up.
Jim was my first Line of Duty death. The Washington Post story about his death is here. I still check Jim's livejournal from time to time. If anything, it reminds me of why I became a police officer on the days when I start questioning everything. Jim's enthusiasm and dedication to his duties still shines on.
Jim is why I became a bike officer. I couldn't help but think of him while I went through the same class he did.
It breaks my heart every time I am at the Memorial to see his name there. This was his beat! He should be patrolling it, not carved on it. None of those names should be there. But there they are. They are a reminder of the price we all pay for peace and order.
Jim was very lucky. He died doing what he loved. Even after death, he continued to serve his community.
I wish I could say that Jim is the only friend/coworker of mine up on that Memorial, but that is not the case. The Law Enforcement Memorial is one of the few memorials that keeps growing every year.
This is why I ride. Every dollar that is raised by the Unity Tour goes to the upkeep and preservation of the Memorial. It goes to preserving their legacies, and supporting their families. Please consider donating today (please be sure to include my name, Kathleen Coffey, under the rider information).