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Why I didn’t wait for animal control when faced with an unruly opossum

I thought about all of the professionalism classes where I lectured on providing citizens adequate assistance; now, it was my time to practice what I preached


To be completely truthful, I had reservations and feared for my personal safety. I’m slightly afraid of anything I can’t fight in a traditional fisticuff.


By Sergeant Warren K. Pickard

One Sunday morning, slightly before the church bells began to ring, I was dispatched on a call for assistance at a residence on the westside of Atlanta. As I pulled up to the residence, I observed a car running in the driveway and an elderly female standing on the front porch. She was dressed in a daisy print bathrobe and slippers. There were tears ruining her freshly applied makeup.

She told me she went outside to warm up her car before heading to Sunday service, and when she opened the door, an opossum ran into the house. She stated that initially, she thought it was a puppy. When she saw that it was an opossum, she grabbed her cellphone and ran out of the house. After I managed to calm her down, I assured her we would get the opossum.

I had dispatch call for an animal control officer, but none was available. I thought about all of the ethics and professionalism classes where I lectured on providing citizens adequate assistance. Now, it was my time to practice what I preached. To be completely truthful, I had reservations and feared for my personal safety. I’m slightly afraid of anything I can’t fight in a traditional fisticuff. Yet, not having any other options, I entered the house and began my tactical room-to-room search.

Why it is your job

Nothing is more disturbing than an officer with an “it’s not my job” attitude. In this situation, I could have easily said, “It’s not my job to do opossum extractions.” However, I have learned that no matter the crisis, more often than not, most of the world sees law enforcement as the answer.

As law enforcement officers, we should cherish the respect of citizens and do everything reasonably possible to honor their expectations of us. I personally never wanted to leave a community member thinking I could have done more to assist them.

I know that meeting this challenge can be difficult at times, but I approach these challenges with the question: Would I do it for someone I loved? If the answer is yes and it is within the scope of my professional duties, I help where I can.

A collective philosophy

This manner of thinking cannot be an individual thought but must be a collective philosophy practiced throughout the culture of an organization. Every single officer, from the bottom to the top, must have the desire to genuinely serve.

To protect and serve is only an idea – a slogan in three-inch block letters on the side of a cruiser – until it is put into action. Character is the engine that drives that action. When there are too many substandard officers, the culture of the organization and the organization’s commitment to service is weakened.

General Patton said, “The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers.” There is no difference here. We are the sum of one. All it takes is one officer to provide a citizen with less than adequate service for that citizen to see the organization as less than adequate overall.

I personally did all I could do that morning. That opossum and I caused major damage to that house until we were both exhausted and called it a draw. He went his way, and I went mine. The old lady winked her eye at me and smiled.

Even the smallest contribution does a lot. Do what you can when you can. It’s an opportunity to change the culture.

About the author

Warren Keith Pickard is a senior law enforcement instructor for the Atlanta Police Department, where he has honorably served for 30 years. Prior to joining the Atlanta Police Department, he served as a Platoon Sergeant in the United States Marines. He credits the Marines for the early development of his ideas of occupational ethics, discipline and character. As he raised through the ranks of the Atlanta Police Department, from patrol officer to detective to supervisor, he has conceptualized his theories on ethical energy and how that energy may change cultural behavior. Sergeant Pickard is one of the most decorated officers in the history of the Atlanta Police Department.