Heal the Healers Profile: Oscar Smith
Oscar Smith is a member of the NYPD Scuba Team. He sat down with Reunion’s Peter Hermann, to talk about his work and the toll it takes.
Peter Hermann: How did you get into police work?
Oscar Smith: I was lifeguarding and coaching while studying to be a teacher. A cop I was lifeguarding with said, "You obviously like to help people. You should try police work." That was twelve years ago.
PH: Why do you like to help people? OS: It goes back to when I was a kid. This kid named Bruce used to pick on me a lot. This other kid named John stepped in and told him to leave me alone. And Bruce said, "What's it to you?" And John says, "I'm just tired of you picking on him. He didn't do anything to you." That's what I like about law enforcement, helping people who don't have anyone to help them. It's that little umph inside of you that says, you know what? I'm going to stand up for this person.
PH: Do you consider yourself a healer?
OS: My old law professor, Professor Zuckerman, once said to me, "The business of the law is not to get something for someone who has lost something. It's to make them whole again." So whether you're a victim of a crime, or a broken heart, or you lost someone who's precious to you, you're trying to be whole again. And that's part of being a healer, helping them to do that.
PH: Can you describe a time when you felt like you really made a difference in someone's life?
OS: There was this huge army general who died in his sleep. He was dead for three days, and his wife still made him breakfast, lunch and dinner. She thought he was sleeping, or maybe it was just the power of denial. When she finally called the police, I responded and had to tell her what happened. She just said, "What do I do now?" Somebody who's been in your life for forty, fifty years is gone now. So I went back once a week to have tea with her. She said "Thank you for spending the time with me." It was the best feeling in the world. She invited me to his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Full military honors. Nobody knew he was a general. And shortly after that, she died too.
PH: Have you ever had times when you thought that you just weren't making a difference at all?
OS: When I did narcotics. That's the worst feeling in the world. You arrest people and they're out within two, three years. Even for murder. They get probation, and they're back on the streets doing the same thing they were doing before.
There was this guy named Big Boss, a dealer in Chelsea. I locked him up two or three times in a month, and next thing I know, this is around Christmas, I see him out on the street. He said, "I don't have to go back until after the holidays. I can show up for jail on January 10th." And he just laughed at me and said, "You know I'm not going, right?" And I said, "Yeah, I know."