Pension a modest reward for police who endure

As the saying goes, we all put our pants on one leg at a time. However, in our profession, after the pants comes the uniform shirt adorned with patches and a badge that identifies us as peacekeepers and somebody who is willing to put him/herself in harm's way to protect your life and property.

In addition, under that uniform shirt, we strap on a bulletproof vest. Think about that just for a moment - an occupation that requires you to wear such a vest.

As police officers, we made a promise when we took our oath of office to protect the U.S. Constitution, the constitution of the state of Illinois, to uphold the law, and to protect lives and property. The state made a promise via its constitution, the very constitution we swore to protect, to provide first responders with a pension upon honorable completion of their service.

Every day on the job we pay a personal tax on our sanity, emotions, mental and physical health, family life, and overall perception of our fellow human beings. Statistically, the average life span of a police officer is 57 years. Upon retirement, the average life expectancy is five years.

We have been beat up, spit upon, vomited on. We have cleaned puke out of the back of our squad cars.

We have walked up driveways and down long hallways of multi-unit housing complexes staring at the door that we are about to knock upon to tell loved ones they have lost a family member due to an accident or drug overdose, praying that nobody answers.

We have cut the ropes from which people have hung themselves. We are the first to arrive at the scene of ambulance calls where a teenager has died from a heroin overdose, needle still in his arm.

We have held the hands of loved ones of people seriously injured in a car crash knowing full well they were going to die all the while assuring them they were going to be OK as we waited what seemed like hours before an ambulance arrived.

We have seen firsthand the absolute horror and pain inflicted upon children as the result of physical and sexual abuse. As investigators, we then have to interview the perpetrators' of these horrific transgressions and minimize their offenses in order to gain their confidence and elicit their admission of wrongdoing. There isn't a shower hot enough or a soap strong enough to erase the stench we put upon ourselves by assuming these roles of blaming the real victim by making the offender feel that they are in fact the actual "victim."

Most of these situations would cause any "normal" human being to switch job professions. But we continue on. Unlike many professions, police departments have a very low turnover rate. Why? Because of the promise that was made! If we stick it out, those who framed the constitution would see to it that we were modestly rewarded at the end of this emotional journey.

We didn't choose this profession for accolades, awards, recognition or thanks. But we do have a place in the back of our minds that reminds us that someday we will have a modest pension and the ability to get out while still young enough to try to erase these tragic memories and create new positive ones, for ourselves and our families.

So please forgive those of us who made it through to the other side and retired, for not being embarrassed when that check is deposited in our account every month. Please look at it as the refund on the personal tax we paid every day on the job while you and your family slept safely and comfortably and, quite honesty, ignorant to what was going on around you while we protected you from the potential harm and conflict headed your way.

• Steven P. Parkinson is a retired sergeant in the Buffalo Grove Police Department.

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