I walked slowly along the Gilchrist parking lot, the news I received just minutes earlier was trying to make sense in my mind. I was ignorant as to why the campus was in the state it was, and learning of the tragedy conformed me to the solemn attitudes of my peers. Death will always bring an emotional toll, but suicide has an extra sting. Was there something that could have been done? What made someone think that the only answer to their problems was to take their own life? The questions will continue to accumulate while the answers are nowhere to be found. I arrived at Gilchrist, slowly realizing I had mindlessly walked due to my mind being consumed by confusion and disbelief. I sat in the waiting room, signed the waiver, and sat in the passenger seat of the police car. After receiving permission to record our conversation, my anxiety slowly eased. I slowed my breathing to hopefully be perceived as a normal college student, and waited as the officer re-checked all of his supplies. He closed the trunk of the vehicle and proceeded to sit in his seat. Few words had been spoken yet, and he asked me if he was being recorded currently. I nervously responded with “yes”. He then quietly asked me to turn it off.
My mind raced. Had I already violated one of the terms on the waiver? Was I in trouble? I turned off the device and did not move. The officer then explained that for legal reasons he wanted to make sure that none of what he was going to tell me next was on tape, just to be safe. He informed me with minimalistic details that a suicide had occurred this morning. He did not give any more information, but instead was visibly emotional. I figured it was due to the traumatic experience, and this was probably the first time he had to talk about it. I was mute, not knowing what to say. He then explained his role in the process. He was the officer that was in charge of officially notifying the parents. I was at even more of a loss for words. All I could conjure up was asking if this was the first time he had to do something like this, and he slowly nodded ‘yes’. Days before I went on the ride along, I was hoping I would be able to experience someone getting pulled over. I could never have expected an experience like the one I was about to embark on.
Officer Brian Covington graduated from UNI in December of 2013 with a criminology degree. He began his academic journey at Wartburg with the intentions of being a teacher. His whole family was in the service industry, nearly all of them teachers. He was planning on following their path, but after two years at Wartburg, he transferred to UNI. He was introduced to criminology by a friend, and decided to pursue it. He explained the process and trials you encounter after you get your degree and enter the academy. “There are physical fitness tests, the minimum standard. They are not extremely tough if you’re in shape. It’s just to weed people out who can’t do the job. Then the ‘Post’ Test- the Police Officer Selection Test, it’s basically set at an 8th or 9th grade level, to weed out the people who can’t read or write, just in case. Those are the basic tests. Then you go through an oral board interview, with higher ups and captains. Background checks usually take the longest time. They can take up to three or four months depending on the department. They’ll go through and call everybody you list, even ex-girlfriends. In that specific instance they look for domestic violence issues. It’s a lengthy process.”
Considering Officer Covington graduated in 2013, we were only about 5 years apart in age. It was easy to relate and converse with him due to the small age gap. Within the first few minutes of the ride along, I could tell he was passionate about his job. “It’s a good job, I enjoy it. It’s something different every day. You get up and you never know what you’ll encounter. I had nobody who was a police officer, and I was understanding it but from an experience standpoint I didn’t have any.” He has only been on the streets since last November, and I asked if he wants to be a police officer as a career. “I think I do. With things in the media the way they are, and I won’t go too in depth, but sometimes I wonder ‘why am I doing this job?’ with the safety hazards. I kind of realized it’s because I’m from a service profession family, not to sound corny, that’s why I do it. I’m here to serve people. If I can make somebody’s day once a day, that’s a good day in my book.” I gained so much respect for the officer I barely knew. He is compassionate for the community he serves, and it was evident to me immediately. People often perceive police officers as menacing figures who just want to ruin your day by pulling you over. There are men who don’t deserve to carry a badge, and those are the officers that often make the news. Officer Covington falls on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. He cares for the citizens of Cedar Falls, adults and college students. The way he handles his authority is admirable, “If you give me respect, I’ll give you respect. And even if you don’t give me respect I’ll still give you respect.”
Our conversation slowly circled back to the emotional challenges police officers will inevitably face throughout their career. Police men and women are involved in every tragedy that occurs, and sometimes have to take action that leads to death. “If I work for 35 years as a law enforcement officer, wherever I go, I honestly hope I will never have to shoot somebody. I hope I will never have to be put in that situation. If you talk to most officers they will say the same thing. It’s a tough thing to overcome. Psychologically being able to understand having to make that decision.”
I never realized what limited knowledge I had about police officers. There are things that can not be taught in a classroom, and I encountered a learning experience I could’ve never expected to happen. The amount of respect I have for Officer Covington and the rest of the officers in the Cedar Falls area grew so much in the short hour I spent with him. Being an officer is unlike any job, and hearing it from an Officer makes it much more real. “I had an instructor at the academy describe it to me this way, you’re polite and friendly to everyone you meet, but at any moment anybody you meet can kill you.” He said it in a matter-of-fact tone, and I realized how true the statement was. The negative connotation of police officers in the news creates such a heavy burden for the honorable police officers. The courage required for each officer to patrol and protect our community is unparalleled to many other jobs. Their life is at stake whenever they clock in, and they continue to unwaveringly serve Cedar Falls every day.
Initially I was planning on going on my ride along a week before, but for some reason the scheduling did not work out and I waited one week. I believe it was for a reason. The ride along benefitted me and I believe it was almost therapeutic for Officer Covington. I may be wrong, but talking through the tragedy with solely the details of an outsider looking in, it may have helped the traumatic process. I am very thankful I was given the opportunity to go on the ride along, and look forward to similar opportunities in the future.