By Marissa Kurtz
WASHINGTON — Kissing the wife, playing with the family dog, sitting down and asking the kids about their school day might seem like a bland routine after a long day at work for most people.
But when that career is in a dangerous line of work, that routine becomes one of life’s little joys.
That’s the view Cpl. Humphrey Rutherford takes. He’s a police officer for the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).
“When I go to work and see some of the things I do see, I go home and a lot of nights I just rub my son’s hair because I’m so grateful I’m able to go home and rub his hair,” Rutherford told student journalists at a recent news conference.
“I feel good because I feel that this is something I’m sure he’ll never have to deal with.”
Like Rutherford, coming home is a goal for every law enforcement officer — a goal that shapes the decisions they have to make each day. Whether or not to shoot a suspect is one of the toughest. But Rutherford said it’s necessary in some cases.
“I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by six,” he said.
Rutherford said he’s been forced many times to make life and death decisions.
In 2001, he was guarding the perimeter of a building in the Brentwood section of northeast Washington, D.C., when a man recklessly drove his car in Rutherford’s direction.
“I saw a young, white male with no hair, and I’m shouting at the top of my lungs for him to stop but it’s not registering. He’s not paying attention,” said Rutherford. He said he suspected the driver “was a skinhead.”
He was able to stop the driver, get him out of the car and down on the asphalt but then things became heated: The driver started to reach behind his back.
“The important thing for any law officer to know is this is what kills,” Rutherford said holding up his weathered hands. “So you want to see (a suspect’s hands) at all times.”
Fearful that the intoxicated man was reaching for a gun, Rutherford resorted to what every man and woman of the law dreads.
“I really had to think whether this was going to be justifiable in my conscience, not whether it was going to be a lawful shooting. It was going to be a lawful shooting,” he said.
He chose not to shoot, and it was the right decision. The man behind the wheel was a drunken seminary student running late for Bible study. In the end, the man was only reaching for his wallet.
“You want to go home every night, so you got to make a split-second decision countless times a day,” said Rutherford.
That’s the weight that every officer bears.
“Is this being hardcore? To some, yeah. But to me, I just want to go home because I love rubbing that nappy head of that little kid of mine every night,” Rutherford said.