These were my words that were recorded during a weekend retreat. I do not remember saying them, but they were recently written on a card and delivered to me. I compare my life to a chapter in a story since it is the words that were written that help me define who I am today.
Hello and Thank You for stopping by. My name is Debra LaSalle; commonly known to my friends as Debbie, Deb, La La or even at times, Pepper. I was a Police Officer for the City of Summit, NJ. The Summit Police Department hired me and 5 of the guys that I had trained with at the John H. Stamler Police Academy. After we graduated and were sworn in, we took to the streets of Summit like a well-oiled machine. We worked together as a family. This went on for several years, with each one of us trying to find a balance between work, family, and friends.
[And before we go on, I’d like to set the record straight; in case anyone ever goes out to investigate this story. My name when I was an active Summit Police Officer was Debra Conte. It was my married name.]
As a female Police Officer, I worked to earn the respect of my “brothers” — going toe to toe with them, but also letting them know when they stepped over the line. They had my back and I had theirs. That was until the morning of Friday, January 28, 2000.
That day is erased from my memory, along with a few days before and a few days after. According to reports, on that frigid morning, I had the dreaded Broad and Elm traffic post. It was said that I was directing traffic for children going to school and commuters rushing to catch the train. Reports state that as I was attempting to stop traffic to allow a young boy to cross the street, the driver of a Mitsubishi Montero did not see me. The young boy and several other people who did stop witnessed my final moments as a Police Officer. A broken femur, ankle, rib and a Traumatic Brain Injury now defined me. From what people said, I spent the next 2 weeks in a Coma.
My life as a Police Officer is now just a story. There are no emotions or feelings that go along with it. I needed to reinvent myself and reclaim my life. It forced me to shift my mindset from the crumpled-up police officer to a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
A good friend once texted me a picture of a T-Shirt that declared:
“WHEN SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS, YOU HAVE 3 CHOICES…
YOU CAN LET IT DEFINE YOU…
LET IT DESTROY YOU OR
YOU CAN LET IT STRENGTHEN YOU!”
…. I chose the latter.
After 20 years, it hit me…it was not the uniform that defined who I was, but it was I, who defined the uniform.
Finally, to all my brothers and sisters in blue; past, present, and future. Please remember to make every day count because you never know when you will be called to reinvent yourself.
Thank you and please…
Take Care & Be Safe
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