Officer of the Peace


I heard the call over the police car radio and rushed to the scene. A vehicle had left the roadway and rolled several times, the dispassionate voice reported. A passenger had been ejected, and the car had rolled over the top of him.

When I arrived at the accident site, I held a dying sixteen-year-old in my arms as he struggled for his last breaths. It was a moment I’ll never forget, a moment of trauma and sorrow. I later found out that the young man, a Latter-day Saint, had refused to drink with his friends. The accident occurred on his way home. I have spent a lot of time thinking about that accident—the first I ever responded to as a police officer.

Many Latter-day Saints hope to make their mark in an occupation that daily draws upon their character and spirituality. I am one of them. I have been a police officer for fourteen years and have served in narcotics, vice, child abuse, traffic, community relations, and patrol divisions. I have found myself in some unimaginable situations. I have held the dying, cried with the abused, visited broken homes, and watched the destruction caused by drugs and alcohol. I have even been a victim of violence myself.

I deal daily with greed, envy, hatred, racial prejudice, profanity, lust, and all manner of emotions that spawn unmentionable tales of human tragedy. The environment I operate in is one of suspicion, defensiveness, accusation, and pessimism. It is not difficult to see the effects of these powerful forces on the lives of those who work all around me.

During his earthly ministry, the Savior counseled his disciples that they would “have tribulation” in the world. (John 16:33.) Instead of warning them to avoid the wickedness of the world, Jesus directed his beloved followers to function in the world, but to be “not of the world.” (John 17:14.)

Knowing full well that there were many difficulties ahead, Jesus sent his disciples into a world rife with all manner of iniquity. He told them to pray for those who hated them, to give their coat to those who sued them, to go the extra mile with one who used them, to turn the unstruck cheek to one who struck them. Further, he asked them to confront devils, cast out demons, visit the leper, heal the maimed, put away prejudice, comfort the dying, and, indeed, follow in his example of love and service.

I have often wondered about some of the thoughts of the early Apostles as they received these instructions. Knowing how wicked the world was, they were still able to put aside their fears and serve their fellowman as the storms of the wicked raged against them. Their “occupation” was to be completely submissive to the will and the work of their Father in Heaven and to help “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.)

I take great comfort and counsel by studying the examples of these devoted disciples and by comparing my situation to theirs.

Many others have noted that the environment of law enforcement can challenge spiritual growth. When I have occasion to speak to Latter-day Saints about these things, I am always asked: How do you deal with it?

Admittedly, I have sometimes asked myself the same question. I always come back to the positive aspects of what I do and to the perspective I gain from the experiences I have. This perspective did not come easily. The real test—and growth—come for me as I am able to discern when I’m in one of the low valleys and to use specific methods to recover spiritually from what could be destructive to my soul. I feel there are six key principles that have helped me deal with my spiritual challenges.

Perspective

I was shaken by that experience of my first call to assist at the site of an automobile accident. Shortly thereafter, I was called to the scene of a second car accident. A baby-sitter had lost control of her truck, overcorrected, and rolled the vehicle. Normally this would not be too serious, but riding in the back of the truck were three small children, each one from a different family. Two were killed instantly, and the third would never be able to have a normal life. One of the victims was a two-year-old boy just slightly older than my young son.

After we had completed our necessary responsibilities, I drove home with tears in my eyes, rushed to my son, and held him closely as I thought of another Father in the eternities holding the small accident victim I had just seen.

Perspective regarding why we are here, where we came from, and where we may go after this life is crucial in my ability to deal with the world around me. I view the world as a constant struggle waged by the adversary against righteousness as he fights to “destroy the agency of man.” (Moses 4:3.)

One of the occasions used by the adversary to destroy agency is tragedy. I have observed countless tragic incidents that have drastically altered the lives of those involved. I see people without a firm grasp on the perspective of eternal families and the plan that makes this possible; these people struggle and falter, grasping for an explanation of the difficult question, “Why?” Seeing this in the lives of others allows me the third-person perspective necessary to hold my family closer together and cleave to the covenants I have made with my Father in Heaven. In doing so, I set as a first priority the spiritual life of my family and myself.

Obtain Spiritual Nourishment

Having a career in this environment allows me to see the effects of the world on those who are without the gospel plan. In the Book of Mormon, Alma attempts to describe to his son Corianton the horrible judgments that await those whom he refers to as people who are in a “carnal state … and in the bonds of iniquity … [and] are without God in the world.” (Alma 41:11.)

Visiting homes torn apart by domestic violence and abuse and seeing the powerful effects of a lifestyle without gospel direction stir me to action to preserve my spirituality by drawing close to the mainstream of gospel activity.

It is very important to me to hold a Church calling. My recent assignment as Gospel Doctrine instructor motivated me to a regular plan of scripture study, which I feel is crucial in my quest for spiritual nourishment. Also, attending my weekly meetings is invaluable as I strive to be a part of the fellowship of the Saints in my ward. Fulfilling my home teaching assignments allows me to serve people in a voluntary way, as opposed to the mandatory nature of my professional service. And temple attendance heals the wounds inflicted upon me by the world in which I work.

All these things are very important underlying principles, but as important as they are, the single most important factor for me in obtaining spiritual nourishment is involvement with my family. Operating as the patriarch of my home, within the guidelines established by the Lord, gives me the conviction that as our Father in Heaven finds great joy in bringing to pass our salvation (see Moses 1:39), likewise my greatest joy lies in working with my wife to teach and assist our children. Regular family home evening, family prayer, family scripture study, and activities with the people I love allow me to recover from seeing the effects of a “world without God.” At its most basic level, a world without God is a world without love.

This world without love manifested itself to me in a stark and dramatic incident one night. While on motorcycle patrol, I happened upon a woman crouched on the edge of a 300-foot-high bridge. She threatened suicide, repeating the simple phrase: “My children don’t love me! My children don’t love me!” After a few minutes of failed negotiating, I watched helplessly as the woman jumped from the safety of the bridge to her death in the dark waters below. Never before had I seen such a tragic and intimate display of the effects of being without love.

Part of being spiritually nourished is being nourished by love within the family. Once nourished by this love, we can begin to operate in the world with spiritual confidence.

Seek Wholesome Associations

My profession is one that consistently appears at the top of lists of careers that put people at risk for divorce, alcoholism, and suicide. Studies have shown that police officers run increased risk of developing digestive-tract cancer and other serious illnesses. (See J. M. Violante et al., “Disease Risk and Mortality among Police Officers,” Journal of Police Science and Administration, Mar. 1986, pp. 17–23.) In examining the situations I have often found myself in, I understand why some police officers often become embittered, depressed, and cynical. Without positive relationships, it is difficult to remove oneself from this destructive cycle.

In an interview with a Church leader, I was counseled to cultivate positive, uplifting associations outside my profession.

“Persons in this kind of occupation make a great mistake if they associate only with professional friends, because then they are always in the environment that reminds them of these kinds of things,” this wise man told me. “Associate with people who remind you that in the world out there, there are people who are not on drugs; there are people who stand for the values not evident in the behavior of some of the people you have to deal with professionally. You need to associate yourself with the majority, the mainstream of reality.”

I have paid special attention to that counsel and have found many friends in my neighborhood, ward, and community. This is not to say that I completely shun friendships with those who work in law enforcement. Some of my dearest friends are my colleagues, people that I rely on and enjoy both during work and off duty.

I have also found it very valuable to associate with others in my profession with whom I have strong ties of common belief. Recently another Latter-day Saint officer in my department was at the scene of a crime and was forced to shoot at a man who pulled a gun on him. When he returned to the station to face the grueling review ordeal, he first sought me out for a priesthood blessing to clear his head and prepare himself. Proper associations on and off the job can be both uplifting and strengthening.

Be a Good Judge without Being Judgmental

I take special precautions and wear special equipment to protect myself from the physical dangers of police work. However, one of the greatest threats I face is much harder to protect myself against. The constant danger I face in my day-to-day work is that of becoming judgmental, which in police work usually involves stereotyping and suspicion. Everyone becomes a “suspect,” and a fatal confrontation may be just around the next corner.

Sometimes viewing only a particular segment of society on a daily basis can blur the reality of the entire community. This destructive process can become a problem for anyone—but it’s all too common in my profession.

The Savior’s counsel to us was to “judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24.) In the Book of Mormon, it is apparent that a form of racial and religious hatred was an underlying motivation for war and persecution. It is a delicate thing to hate the sin but love the sinner, but our proper judgment must be based on actions. We must leave the final judgment of the heart to him who knows every intent and desire of the heart—even Jesus Christ. Also, we must apply stringent judgment to ourselves and not yield to petty prejudice and bigotry when assessing others.

Recently, while attending a police management course in Los Angeles, I experienced a great teaching moment as I relearned this eternal principle. Every day I would drive through south central LA en route to the University of Southern California campus, where the course was taught. This was a few months before the historic 1992 riots that occurred there. I viewed that diverse community from my negative “police perspective” and saw no good.

Near the end of my stay, I attended the Los Angeles Temple and was in a session made up predominantly of minority members. My eyes were opened instantly. In the house of the Lord, there was no inequality, there was no hatred, and there were no prejudices. When the eyes of the world were peeled away, I saw only children of our Heavenly Father and Latter-day Saints who were truly my brothers and sisters. Now I understand how the righteous few can bless an entire community.

Relieve Stress

I am a firm believer in the axiom: My worst day golfing is always better than my best day at work. Golf is just one of the many stress-relieving activities that uplift and relax me—activities that are crucial in my ability to deal with my career. We need to select activities for enjoyment, activities based on our individual talents and interests. Such hobbies and interests are vital to maintaining our mental and physical health.

Besides golf, I find outlets in the activities of my family—riding dirt bikes, fishing, going to movies, working together around the house, spending one-on-one time with my children, going on dates with my wife. These activities, the temporal counterpart to spiritual renewal, provide refreshment and a positive outlook.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was once criticized for his leisure activities and game playing.

“He said it tried some of the pious folks to see him play ball with the boys. He then related a story of a certain prophet who was sitting under the shade of a tree amusing himself in some way, when a hunter came along with his bow and arrow, and reproved him. The prophet asked him if he kept his bow strung up all the time. The hunter answered that he did not. The prophet asked why, and he said it would lose its elasticity if he did. The prophet said it was just so with his mind, he did not want it strung up all the time.” (Juvenile Instructor, Aug. 1892, p. 472.)

Recognize Your Value to Society

When I face the greatest challenge, view the worst tragedy, become the focus of anger, and feel the most rejected, I am drawn to the example of the Savior, who endured and saw far worse than I ever have. I feel certain that when I respond in a positive manner to my challenges, my career can lead me toward spiritual maturity. I know that through performing my responsibilities and acting in a manner that displays true gospel concern while never compromising my sworn duty to enforce laws, I can be of value to my community and to those with whom I associate. A feeling of being valued balances many negative aspects of my profession.

Equally important is valuing those people with whom we work, even if we do not share the same vision or plan of life. In reality, we are all children of Heavenly Father, and we must see each other in this light.

The most intimate account of how the Lord feels about his lost children, or as the scripture refers to them, the “residue of the people,” is found in Moses, chapter 7. Enoch records that the Lord weeps as he looks upon his people.

Enoch asks: “How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?” (Moses 7:29.)

The Lord answers: ”Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

“And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.” (Moses 7:32–33.)

I love to read scriptures that testify that even though the Lord sees the violence and recognizes the great wickedness of his people, he still weeps for them, cares for them, and loves them. I also believe that when he looks down and weeps for his children, he sees us who work with them.

While my job is spiritually, emotionally, and physically challenging, it is not without its many, many rewards. Acts of love and unselfishness pop up in the most unexpected places, from the most unexpected sources. Long ago I concluded that how I respond to the challenges I find within the work of law enforcement may in great measure shape my eternal nature. It’s an exciting and great challenge—to recognize wickedness and violence and still love and serve my fellowman.

[photo] Photo by Craig Dimond

[photos] Inset photography by Craig Dimond and posed by models

[photo] Background photo by Don M. Grayston, Deseret News.

[photo] Background photo by O. Wallace Kasteler, Deseret News

[photo] Background photo courtesy of Deseret News

William A. Meeks serves as the second counselor in the bishopric of the Gig Harbor Second Ward, Tacoma Washington Stake.