Before retirement, I spent the last eleven years of my career as a police supervisor on the graveyard shift. I truly loved and cared about my officers and dispatchers, and they genuinely cared about serving the public and policing the community. Many of our shared experiences dealt with the wandering night owls within Upland’s boundaries, which bore witness to the depravity darkness frequently stirs in the human heart.
It had been my experience that people not engaged in legitimate work, whose pursuit of passion translated into a propensity for frequenting bars or attending wild parties, or who wandered the streets in the wee hours of the morning for no apparent or reasonable purpose were most often looking for and inviting trouble. In a more general sense, in the light of day many of the criminal activities my shifts encountered were much less likely to occur without benefit of the cover of darkness. That is not to say they would not happen at all in daylight, but in practical application such incidents happening in the light of day were exceptions to the rule. In hindsight, working the graveyard shift gave me greater insight into just how lost many of God’s children could be and have become. And where juvenile offenders were concerned, I encouraged my officers to strictly enforce curfew laws and call those offenders’ parents out to the locations of the violations no matter how inconvenienced said parents might have been.
With the exception of the perimeter of the local high school campus (when each school session ended), calls of large brawls were quite uncommon for day-shift officers to handle. Yet under cover of darkness, establishments where younger adults gathered to consume adult beverages quite often required a police response for the call of a shooting, stabbing, or general patron-pummeling on the premises. When our gang areas were more active, drive-by shootings, retaliations, and gang-related assaults were most often happening at night. Large scale vandalism (i.e., freeway sign-tagging, business complex window-etching, residential mailbox (baseball) bashing, and paintball and pellet gun drive-by targeting) were also more likely to occur at night.
And with the cover of darkness also came a variety of opportunists who found ill-gotten gain by preying upon victims while they slept. Cat burglars found pleasure in breaking into homes while their victims slumbered. A small percentage of cat-burglary victims were sexually assaulted. There were car burglars and auto thieves who found the general absence of witnesses a prime opportunity to plunder thousands of parked and unattended vehicles in parking areas and along streets. Identity thieves regularly raided unlocked cars and mailboxes for paperwork bearing personal information, or pried open community mailboxes at apartment and condominium complexes. Closed businesses were often targeted by roof-entry burglars, window-smashers, and copper thieves (thieves who also targeted construction sites.) Pharmacies were often victimized for their supplies of prescription analgesic (pain-killer) drugs. And arsonists (while more rare) were most often active on night shifts, especially where there were ample numbers of dumpsters in and around apartment complexes and closed businesses.
As anyone whoever worked on my shifts was well aware, there was a growing population of indigents who found residence in and around our business complexes; who erected makeshift camps along the freeway corridors and undeveloped lands surrounding Cable Airport. Enforcement of illegal lodging law was a priority on my shifts, when service calls were low. The majority of our homeless population was male, alcohol or drug addicted, and thoroughly enamored of scavenging recyclables and begging in busy thoroughfares during the daytime. In particular, our homeless population pilfered shopping carts to haul their belongings from camp to camp, leaving human waste and a garbage debris field in their wake; a mess someone else was left to clean up.
Conventional wisdom generally assumes that little good can happen under cover of darkness, particularly where the presence of mind-altering substances gains partnership with the absence of inhibitions. Inhibitions are the internal cues, the governing principles of our conduct in private and public. How we conduct ourselves with others determines our character, integrity, and trustworthiness. If stealing were not inherently wrong as well as illegal, ownership of anything would be irrelevant, if not impossible. People could take and be taken from on a whim without sanction or restraint. Most often secretive conspiracies and illicit behaviors manifest themselves among human beings where there are fewest witnesses. And the cover of darkness, whether clouded by the ingestion of a chemical, welcomed in the shadows of conspiracy, or concealed in the casing of the human heart makes it possible for a seemingly decent human being to engage in unthinkably indecent (as well as evil) conduct.
The inclinations of the human heart toward wickedness and evil are well known to God. Not only is Scripture the Word of God, it contains a record of the darkness that humanity perpetually finds itself engaged in because of the nature of sin. No matter how many times God warned the Israelites about their wicked ways in an effort to lead them to repentance, the majority chose to spurn God in the seeming comfort of the cover of darkness in their hearts. As often as God shed light upon their sinfulness, like a spotlight from a patrol car shining on a thief holding stolen goods, the Israelites continued to run for cover from God rather than surrender to Him through confession and repentance. Little has changed, from ancient times to this more modern age, where the cover of darkness is concerned.
From a very early age, I was taught the difference between right and wrong. As a child I was concerned that God could see everything I was doing and was fearful He might focus his attention on me if I was particularly bad (something I desperately wished to avoid.) But as I grew older, and appeared to have survived any perceived retribution from God for my shortcomings, I grew to become overconfident in God’s apparent lack of interest in my sins. While I admit I was nothing as serious as a serial killer or pervasive as a thief, I am ashamed to say I was particularly cruel and inconsiderate to a number of my peers, and specifically my little brother, Jeff. I said and did things that hurt and humiliated others in the name of fun and self-promotion, most often under the cover of darkness in my own heart.
Then one day, I heard about a man named Jesus during a sermon in a little Baptist church I attended (at the invitation of a friend, named Darryl Miller.) I don’t remember the sermon at all. But I remember the name of Jesus. His presence shined a light into my heart that I could not flee from. And before I realized what I was doing, I found myself standing in front of the congregation surrendering my life to him. Since that time until this, I have struggled to follow Jesus along a narrow path that I have wandered from and returned to more times than I care to tally. Yet God has remained faithful, especially when I have not been.
I found in the darkness of my graveyard work a compassion for those who were as lost as, if not more than, I have ever been. God knows how lost I was. Let’s face it, lost is lost—whether you are a million miles or a few feet off course, you’re still off course. What I did not understand as a child, I have come to appreciate as an adult. God has always been gracious to me in my darkness, in my ignorance, not desiring to see me perish in my sins because He loves me. That was why He sent Jesus to save me, because God loved me. That is the message I heard in that little church that led me, by faith, to trust in God’s promises.
Has the light of God shined into your heart and swept away the cover of your darkness? Ask God for a light. Pray. Do not give up.
He promises to answer if you truly believe He will.
(copyright 2012, Gregory Allen Doyle)