“Unit involved 902T.”
I was loading my patrol car when I heard an officer broadcast over the radio that he was involved in a non-injury traffic collision. He gave his location and asked for a sergeant and a traffic unit to respond.
“729 en route,” I said as I drove out of the police department parking lot.
I arrived a short time later and saw a patrol car in a parking space next to a black car. John, the officer I heard on the radio, got out of the passenger seat and shook his head at me.
“Where’s the other car?” I asked.
John told me his trainee had sideswiped a parked car while backing up. That’s when the trainee got out of the driver seat and walked up to us with his head held low. He looked like a guy who lived in a one-bedroom apartment who just found out his wife was pregnant with octuplets.
I wanted to laugh when I saw the look on his face. Not because I wanted to make fun of him. It was because I had that same look over 20 years ago when I crashed two weeks after getting out of training.
The damage on this call was nothing compared to my first traffic collision, in which both cars were towed away and the other driver was transported to the hospital in an ambulance. Now that was a bad day in 1995.
There’s also another reason why I remembered the day so well. It was because of the traffic officer laughing at me as he tried to make me feel better when he said, “It’s OK. Everyone crashes.”
Nothing was going to make me feel better that day because I was at fault. Of course, that didn’t stop him from joking around a lot. Looking back, that was his way of telling me this wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
After everything was cleaned up, I got into my sergeant’s car so he could give me a ride back to the station. As we drove down the street he said, “I’ll buy you a soda.”
He pulled into the Burger King drive thru and said, “What do you want?”
“I’ll take a root beer,” I said with a dejected look.
“Don’t worry, everyone crashes.”
“Have you ever crashed?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said with a smile.
I got back to the station and walked in with my tail between my legs. At the end of the shift, I got a good dose of humor thrown my way from my co-workers.
I remembered all of this as I stood in front of the trainee, who recently graduated from the academy. Of course, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to make a joke as I said, “Don’t worry. Your mom still loves you.”
I laughed as an uneasy smile came across his face. I took his statement and told him the same thing I heard all those years ago when I was new to the world of police work.
“Don’t worry. Everyone crashes.”
“Yes, sir,” was all he could say.
When I was done I handed him a collision card with the report number on it as I said, “Here’s a card.”
It was the same card I give out to regular people at collisions.
“Keep this so you can look back and laugh one day.”
He smiled and took the card. Hopefully in a few years he’ll think the card was as funny as I did.
Editor’s Note: John Roman is a traffic officer for an Orange County police agency who writes a blog, Badge 415 (www.badge415.wordpress.com). His posts focus on the human side of police work and safety tips. Roman, a cop for more than 20 years, has handled more than 5,000 accidents as a collision investigator. BehindTheBadgeOC.com shares some of his columns.