Dreading the knock on the door late at night
Prom season brings me much worry. I go to bed at night and hope my phone doesn’t ring in the early hours.
When it does, what comes next is the worst part of my job.
As a police officer, I respond to many disturbing calls. Some of these may be gruesome crime or accident scenes, others may be injuries inflicted upon a victim of crime.
By far the worst part of any police officer’s job is having to knock on your door in the early hours of the morning to tell you that your child has been killed in an accident. It’s something that I’ve had to do countless times; it never gets easier.
I get that sick feeling in my stomach. I begin to think about my own child. First, I find your house in the dark and shut my cruiser door. I’m always aware of how loud that door sounds shutting in the middle of the night. My heart pounds out of my chest. I always have an ambulance standing by around the corner in case you go into a state of shock when I tell you the awful news that I’ve been sent to pass along.
As I walk up to your door, I’m instantly reminded that what I’m here to tell you is going to change your life forever. Next is knocking on the door, then seeing a light come on inside. The locks are undone; the door opens and a person appears. Oftentimes when our eyes meet you seem to sense why I’m at your house. I hope I don’t recognize you because it’s time to tell you your worst nightmare has come true. There is no easy way to say it other than directly.
“There’s been a bad accident, and your child is dead.”
You never get used to it and you remember each time as though it were yesterday.
I know lots of young adults who never came home, many of whom were my friends. They never knew they were going to die that night at such a young age. But they did; that’s why it’s called an accident. It was not planned, but it happened. Each time, no one can believe it or expected it.
And you can never prepare for it. But you can do something to prevent it.
I’ve seen many parents who start with what they believe are good intentions, by allowing underage drinking at their homes. These same parents seem stunned when tragedy is the result of these underage parties.
I often hear “they’re all good kids.” Well, good kids sometimes think in the moment, and make bad decisions. Some good kids go to jail or end up dead. And, yes, good kids kill other people. The results of one bad decision can last a lifetime.
On Sunday, June 23, 1996, I received a phone call at home. An 18-year-old Marshfield resident was drinking at a graduation party in Cohasset. On his way home, in Marshfield, he lost control of his vehicle, struck a utility pole and died. As a result, his family fought for tougher legislation which became known as the Social Host Law.
Under the law, “furnish” shall mean to knowingly or intentionally supply, give, provide or allow a person under 21 to possess alcoholic beverages on property owned or controlled by the person being charged.
If you violate the Social Host Law and allow underage drinking in your home, you send the message to your child that it is OK to break the law.
Don’t send the wrong message. Under the law there is no defense like: “We didn’t buy the alcohol; we just let the kids drink here.”
I encourage you to know phone numbers of your child’s friends and their parents. Know where they live and do everything you can to check up on them. Be nosy; search their rooms and cars. It’s your responsibility to do everything you can to keep them safe.
Give your children good advice, teach them to obey the law, hug and kiss them every opportunity you have. You never know when it will be the last time.
We have had enough senseless deaths due to alcohol-related incidents here in Marshfield and across Massachusetts. Melanie’s Law and the Social Host Law are just two examples.
Please, please, do everything you can to make sure we’re not knocking on your door in the middle of the night.
Phillip A. Tavares is the Marshfield Chief of Police and director of the Old Colony Police Anti-Crime Task Force.