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October 19, 2009

Fighting Crime with Compassion, Courage



Fighting crime with compassion, courage

Appeared in the Sun-Times Beacon News on October 18, 2009

When I was new to the Aurora Police Department and riding with my field training officer, we responded to a domestic violence call just as our day shift was beginning. We discovered that the victim’s ex-boyfriend had kicked in her apartment door and battered her because she refused to take him back. He then fled the scene. As I was gathering information for the report I would be writing, I spotted a school-aged child bustling around the bare apartment with his backpack firmly in place. I noted the child was dressed in a tattered sweatshirt — a detail that is burned into my memory because it was a brutally cold winter day.

The veteran officer and I cleared the scene, and as I was eyeing an empty snow-covered lot to park and write my report, my training officer redirected me to a store that was just opening for business. He entered the store and returned minutes later with a bag. He then advised me to drive back to the address from which we just left. I drove the few short blocks to find the victim standing outside with her son awaiting the school bus. With a sense of purpose, my training officer exited our squad and pulled a winter coat from the bag. He placed it on the child, then knelt down and zipped it up as far as it could go. He returned to the squad and said absolutely nothing.

I thought at first that he either knew the family or that the mother had asked him for the coat. I quickly surmised that neither were true when I saw the expression of gratitude and surprise on the face of the mother.

I have witnessed and heard secondhand many heroic acts in the almost 19 years I have worked for the Aurora Police. Whether it be entering a burning building or going into an icy river, there are stories of selfless rescue where officers have risked their own lives to save another. I have seen more courageous acts committed by Aurora police officers than most people have seen in Hollywood movie scripts. Some have taken bullets or experienced near misses in their quest for peace and justice. They have fought and been injured while dedicating themselves to the mission of our police department. I have watched my colleagues work seamlessly and tirelessly to solve the crimes that have plagued those we serve. In all of these scenarios, each officer would say that they were “just doing their job.”

Officers train in the academy so that every day we can handle these dangerous situations while on the job. Our departmental training is rigorous and strenuous because in police training we understand the words of the Greek soldier Archilochus: “We do not rise to the level of expectations. We fall to the level of our training.”

And yet, the more important lessons are those learned when you least expect them. My training officer taught me that every human being is worthy of dignity and respect. I can recall an officer giving a bag of fast food to a homeless man, and I have seen another comfort a rape victim with gentleness and kindness. I have watched strong men bend down to the eye level of a child to calm their fears, and I have seen others shed a tear when overcome with the sadness and reality of death.

For every story of raw courage, there are more everyday acts of humanity. Brave acts deserve recognition, but it is the small acts of compassion that define us as human beings, and it is those that require the greatest strength of all.

Aurora police Lt. Kristen Ziman can be reached at

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