Opinion

‘I have community. I have Durham’ – Sgt. Dale Gunter gives thanks

By Sgt. Dale Gunter

December 26, 2017 06:00 AM

I’ve always told new officers “Never ever forget what it’s like to … not be the police.” It helps you keep things in perspective from the other side.

Normally I write to pass a message or to take advantage of a teachable moment, complete with bad jokes and offbeat rants. Generally it’s about the question of the day or the crisis of the moment.

I love to do my job and look forward to putting on my uniform. I like the comfort it brings, not to me, but to others in need. I talk to people and try to make order out of chaos.

I’ve been a cop for 24 years and like most cops, I have seen a lot. We watch people cry over wrecks, death and disaster. We referee arguments and help the helpless. We help pick up the pieces. Sometimes we just talk, sometimes we just listen, and sometimes we cry with you. We see people at their worst, we see people at their best. It’s a normal cop day.

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Today there is not so much humor in this writing, but simply a thank you … and a message.

You see, after 24 years on the job I’m usually the one in charge on-scene. I know the answers and what to do or say. I’ve been there, done that, seen most all of it. I always know what to do. Always.

“Your house is on fire.”

Typically, this is not the way to start a phone call. This doesn’t happen to me.. My job is to help you when you’re having an emergency, so I come help you. I don’t call 911 … I am 911! I’ve always been the one who helps, but now I’m watching my house burn and I’m not in charge. I’m in uniform … and don’t know what to do. I have no answers. I have no advice. I can’t make order out of this chaos. I just watched. I was lost in my own front yard.

The feelings are indescribable, and there is no need to even try.

My wife was crying. She never cries. We have no family close by and nowhere to go. I turned to a hand on my shoulder to see a Durham police officer. “What can I do?” Two more Durham officers joined shortly after. A firefighter paused and said “I know you can’t recognize me with the mask, but I also work with the City of Durham Fire Department. … It’s going to be OK.”

Three hours after the fire.

“You need help. You can’t do this on your own, Sarge. Let us help you. You just have to accept it.”

It’s Christmas. Money is tight and yet so many people gave so much, and with such kind words. I finally had a moment to sit down when someone sent me a web link. I looked at the donations, read the thoughts and words that people left … and cried. I see names that I know and names that I don’t know.

My visiting father in law, 83, retired and a full-time campground host, lost his entire home in the fire. I consider myself fortunate. I have my family.

I told the firefighters thank you for saving my home. Their quick action saved it from being a total loss. It will be rebuilt eventually. The response – “It’s nothing, we were just doing our job.”

I’ve given the same response many times before, thinking nothing of it … but it’s different now. There is more meaning in a simple thank you than I realized.

“Never forget what it’s like to … not be the police.”

I always knew that police, fire and EMS were brothers and sisters. I knew I had friends in the community I serve. I’ve now found that I really didn’t know what I had all along. I have way more than that … I have every part of what makes Durham strong.

I have community. I have good people. I have Durham.

Officers, firefighters, EMS, even a cop from the U.K., citizens (local and from other cities and states) all came together to remind me that this is why I put my uniform on … every single day … with pride.

I am truly humbled and bow my head in thanks to you all.

I thank you, and my family thanks you.

Sgt. Dale Gunter works in the District 2 Criminal Investigations Division of the Durham Police Department.