A few days ago, I wrote an update just after Starfish Assignment Vice President of Homeless Services, Jim Stewart, went on his ride along last Saturday with Ofc Pete Casuccio. You may recognize Ofc Casuccio's name because he's been on the news a lot the last week, talking about the lecture he gave to a child who was brandishing a BB gun on the streets of Columbus. That happened on Jim's ride along that day. In fact, if you watch the official video released by Columbus Police, you can see him on the right hand side of the video.
Jim called me after he completed his ride along that evening. I was looking forward to hearing about his experience with Ofc Casuccio, who was one of the first supporters of Starfish Assignment Columbus. Jim raved about Pete and talked at length about what good judgement he has, how much he loves his job, and how good he is at handling situations. Jim told me some stories about the calls that they went to that night, but when he told me about the BB gun incident, my blood ran cold. This is what I wrote on the Starfish Assignment blog that evening: "Ofc Casuccio responded to a report of a person with a gun. It turned out to be a boy of 11 or 12 with a very realistic looking BB gun. Jim said it was very intense, and for a few moments he wasn't sure if it was going to end well. Somehow, Ofc Casuccio was able to determine that the gun was not a threat and he lowered his own weapon without firing. The boy was delivered home to his parents, who were no doubt horrified."
The next day, I woke up with the incident still on my mind. I decide to tweet about it on the Starfish Assignment account, where I wrote, "Stories that don't make the news: Last night, Columbus Division of Police Ofc Casuccio faced a life or death choice. Thanks to his incredible, split second discernment, a child with a BB gun was returned safely home instead of the unthinkable alternative."
I was railing against the fact that Ofc Casuccio, who is such a huge proponent of charity, compassion, and responsibility, would have ended up all over the news if things had gone another way. However, when he and countless other officers make decisions that preserve or even save lives, their stories are untold. The "Stories that don't make the news" aspect made me angry.
As it turned out, I've never been so wrong in my life.
Columbus Police retweeted us and pulled the body camera footage, posting it to their Facebook page in the afternoon. Pete was interviewed by two local news stations that evening. He is very well spoken, informed, and passionate about his job, about Columbus, and about making a difference. I cried when I saw his interviews, because it usually never happens like this. Police officers are never given this kind of platform, and it was wonderful to see it happen to someone who so well represents the overwhelming majority of officers who go to work every day and try to make a difference.
Ofc Casuccio went on interviews with CBS, CNN, Fox News, and even an Australian news outlet, continuously saying that he was just doing his job and that other officers do the same thing every day. This truly is the side of policing that people usually don't know about. This week alone, two other officers told me about instances when they'd had the exact same thing happen to them.
Throughout the week, I updated Jim and sent him links to the interviews so he could see them (and sometimes see himself on the corner of that screen). Our charity was even mentioned in the New York Times: "Denise Alex-Bouzounis, a spokeswoman for the Columbus police, said on Wednesday that the body-camera video came to the department’s attention after it was highlighted by The Starfish Assignment, a community organization."
Jim is not a bit surprised that things went the way they did. He has maintained since July that everything associated with his journey out of homelessness and into being a vice-president of a rapidly growing charity has been "providential." Whenever I tell him we're lucky, he'll tell me, "You say lucky, but you know I have another word for it."