A story that borders on being unbelievable occurred last week involving a plane crash that critically injured a University of Michigan basketball recruit. According to the Associated Press, Austin Hatch, a 16 year old junior at Canterbury High School in Fort Wane, Indiana, suffered his injuries in a plane flown by his father, Dr. Stephen Hatch. Dr. Hatch and his wife Kim, Austin's stepmother, were both killed in the crash. That part of the story is bad enough but it is compounded by the fact that this was the second plane crash Dr. Hatch and his son have been in. The first one, in 2003, killed Austin's mother and his two siblings. The fact that a teenager could be in two plane crashes before his 17th birthday that cumulatively wiped out his entire family is almost more than the mind can process.
So the next time we're feeling sorry for ourselves, we need to think about this young man.
I don't know about fate, luck, or divine intervention and there's an old saying that the Lord doesn't give us more than we can bear but this comes pretty darn close to being more than anyone could bear.
Last week's column certainly created a firestorm of criticism for me, especially since I was only offering an opinion. People are certainly entitled to respond negatively to the message of any column I write but some of the comments became personal and that was a little upsetting, especially Mr. Darling's letter which appeared in the print version of this newspaper on Tuesday. He made some statements I feel a need to address because they bring my character, my reputation, and my livelihood into question.
He said I always reference my "illustrious" career with the Tulsa Police Department. I don't "always" do anything and certainly not when it comes to my police department experience. In fact, I rarely write about police work but when I do, of course I refer to my own experiences which anyone would but I've certainly never referred to my police experience as being "illustrious." He also stated that I was a police officer for only a year and a half when, in fact, I was a Tulsa police officer for four and a half years. When I write a column that requires fact-checking, that's what I do. I'm sorry Mr. Darling didn't subscribe to the same principle.
He alleged that I didn't serve in law enforcement long enough to understand the concept of living in a fish bowl. Not only did I address that in last week's column but I've addressed it before in other columns.
Perhaps the most troubling thing was his assertion that I've lost insight into the inner circle of police work, am completely out of touch with current law enforcement, and that my experience stayed in the '70s with my badge.
I assure Mr. Darling that I haven't been living in a cave for the past 40 years. In fact, I've been teaching criminal justice classes for most of that time. I stay current on as much going on in law enforcement as possible and that includes the code of silence and looking the other way.
In fact, there's a story in the news just this week about a New Orleans police supervisor who helped cover up murders committed by other New Orleans police officers during Hurricane Katrina. Officers shot and killed unarmed people and the supervisor knew the shootings were without justification. His testimony in court stated "The guys who were involved in this were co-workers, and some of them were friends of mine. I didn't want anybody to get into trouble."
He told them to "get their story together" and then come back and tell him what happened, although he didn't expect them to tell the truth.
Even though this is an extreme example of what I was talking about in last week's column, this happened just a few years ago, contrary to Mr. Darling's contention that police officers don't act like that anymore.
Mr. Darling ended his letter by printing the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, probably more for the reader than for me because it's been around for a long time. But just because you take an oath to something doesn't mean you abide by that oath. We've seen police detectives boldly and blatantly lying on the stand in a trumped-up murder case brought against a 16--year-old African American in Jacksonville, Florida, just a few years ago, which was made into a documentary by HBO called "Murder on a Sunday Morning."
There are several websites you can go to that keep track of police corruption, malfeasance and brutality and it's just as out there as it's ever been. It certainly didn't stop when I left the police department in the '70s.
Finally, Mr. Darling talks about his 27 years on the McCook police department. The annual average number of violent crimes in McCook is 13 and the average number of property crimes is 295.
I went to the Tulsa Police Department web page and found the breakdown for crimes committed there since 2005. The average number of violent crimes in Tulsa annually is 4,705, which includes 60 murders and the average number of property crimes is 23, 530. The population of Tulsa has increased 8 percent, from 331,000 in 1970 to 392,000 in 2010.
The crime rate, however, has decreased since 1970. In the early '70s we had to deal not only with "normal" crime but also with the divisions brought about by the Vietnam War and the Equal Rights movement. So current crime numbers are a pretty accurate reflection of the crime occurring when I was a Tulsa police officer.
Now I didn't work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week but neither does any other police officer. That was what was happening in my city during the time I worked and the crime statistics for McCook is what's happening in Mr. Darling's city.
If last week's column offended McCook police officers and their families, that was not my intention at all and I'm sorry you took it personally. Perhaps our local law enforcement officers are as clean as a whistle and none of them would ever consider violating their code of ethics.
But that's not the way it is in a lot of places and it's not an attitude or a behavior that went away in the '70s either.