When I was about 7 years old or so, I remember, a Cleveland police officer was shot in the line of duty and killed. Even at that age, I knew enough to feel lucky: My dad was a Cleveland cop, and he wasn't the one who lost his life.
In those days, I had a before-school ritual that would last months at a time. Whenever my dad was working the 3-to-11 shift, I'd wake up, clamber down the stairs and peek into my father's bedroom to make sure he was there, that he was alive.
See, he would leave for work before I got home from school, and I'd be in bed by the time he returned. And after that poor soul behind the shield lost his life, I had learned young that sometimes cops don't come home, that sometimes random cops aren't in bed when their kids go off to school. So, I’d check.
I wrote the words above just more than a year ago, before I moved to Virginia, when officers in Iowa were being criticized for pulling their guns on a doctor who was speeding to a hospital and who failed to stop when police cars with their flashers on were chasing her.
I thought then, and I still do, that the criticism was ridiculous. Those officers had no idea who was in that car. They had no idea what to expect when it finally stopped. And among the duties of any good cop is to do all he or she can to make it home safe, to be fathers and mothers. They work one of those rare jobs in which, even when doing everything right, things can go very, very wrong.
I was reminded of those criticized officers, and of my childhood ritual of checking on my dad, after Alexandria Officer Peter Laboy was shot in the head Wednesday when he stopped a van in Old Town. He's in critical condition, not home. When I looked at his Facebook page and saw the picture of him smiling with five kids —my dad had five kids — I cringed.
And I was reminded of this: Some people will never know what it's like to be a cop. Some people will never know that a “routine” traffic stop is never truly routine. Some people will never know what it’s like to hold a job with low pay, high stress, lots of hours, little thanks and too much unfair criticism.
I’ll never even know those things. My dad was the cop, not me. But I do know what it’s like to be the 7-year-old son of a police officer, know what it’s like to be a kid who realized, and has never forgotten, that cops are dads, too. And moms. And brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.
That's my dad, Tom Richissin, pictured with this story. He died young, but naturally. He lived as a cop and died as a cop, but he lived as a dad, too, and he died as a dad.
That’s what I hope people will realize today, that Peter Laboy is more than a cop. That's why I hope, if you're inclined to say a prayer for Peter Laboy, that you don't just pray for him as an officer. Pray for him as a dad.
And that's why I hope you pray for his kids, too, those little ones who can't peek into his bedroom to see him today.
Todd Richissin is Patch's senior regional editor for Virginia and DC.