Luke Bowe can’t guarantee that you’ll sleep at night, but, Lord willing, he does his best to keep you and your neighbors safe as an officer with the Anchorage Police Department. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of work for Bowe, 37, and the nightlives of others often take him to the ragged edges of humanity during the course of his 12-hour shift.
The tall, lean officer — married with three young children — is on duty the night of Anchorage’s first appreciable snowfall. He pulls away from the APD headquarters and leaves the brightly lit parking lot behind. An array of electronics hangs from his headliner, and his armrest is crowded with a locking vertical rack that holds his AR-15 rifle and a shotgun at the ready.
OUTSIDE THE SAFE ZONE
The screen of his laptop refreshes every few seconds with updated information, as the radio blares incessantly with the voice of a dispatcher and officers responding to calls of sexual assault, violations to restraining orders, domestic violence, gunshots to a vehicle, people lying on the highway.
By any measure there is a lot going down. But most Anchorage residents live in a protected sphere, rarely if ever encountering what Bowe and his fellow officers face as they drive through residential areas in response to calls.
“It’s our job to make it so people can go to bed and not see all of that,” he said.
In his nine years with the APD, he has had to break up countless domestic and public disturbances, haul inebriates to the warmth of shelters, discover dead bodies and everything else under the rubric of keeping the law. He has been shot at twice, been spit upon, threatened with every imaginable weapon. More than a few times he has had to tighten down on the trigger of his own gun in the sober task of taking down a gunman who’s threatening harm to fellow officers.
Night after night Bowe shoulders the duel task of enforcing the law and offering compassion, the demands of which often find him using words of consolation and handcuffs during the same household visit.
The most severe crimes demand drawing from within himself to treat hardened criminals with the same respect as any other citizen. That’s where his Catholic faith provides perspective.
“Were it not for my faith,” Bowe said, “this would be a pretty bad job.”
He and 380 other officers sworn into duty with APD have committed to protecting the safety of Anchorage’s civilians. In upholding the law, several of his colleagues and a first cousin have paid the ultimate price through the years.
That the possibility of death lurks but a radio call away provides impetus for “maintaining a spiritual readiness,” said Bowe, a cradle Catholic. In addition to keeping his spiritual life aimed at eternity he said he embraces a strong sense of resignation to God’s will. So far that arrangement has worked out well and he returns each morning to his wife Lisa, 36, son Leo, 4, and daughters Regina, 2, and Yvette, 8 months.
“God knows when it’s my time to go,” Bowe reflected.
Equally daunting in the spiritual health of a Catholic cop is the split-second decision to use deadly force to take the life of another. Involved in more than one shootout during his tenure with APD, he has not had to pull the trigger on a killing shot. Still, he well remembers his first time being among officers who did.
“The first thought that went through my mind was for the repose of his soul,” Bowe recalled, adding that he prays for perpetrators in crimes of all kinds.
DIVINE GRACE AMID EXCRUCIATING PAIN
“When you respond to a sexual assault call and (the perpetrator) turns out to be a relative (of the victim), seeing Jesus in any way, shape or form can be difficult,” he said. “Or when somebody with an alcohol addiction hits the bottom of the bottle, and I pick them up and they’re cursing me and urinating all over themselves in the back seat of my patrol car it can be hard to find Jesus.”
“They’re not Jesus in their actions,” Bowe observed, “but they are the image and likeness of Christ.”
He has responded to much worse: “I think across the board most of us would agree that a baby not breathing is the most difficult call,” he said. “We deal with the loss of life all the time; that’s a natural occurrence on the job, but when you arrive and it’s a baby there isn’t going to be anything optimistic to come out of that.”
He explained that in cases where caregivers or parents are not perpetrators and there has been no crime, the line of questioning can be excruciatingly painful.
“It’s bad enough that these poor people have just lost their baby, and then I have to ask a bunch of questions that makes it sound like they are suspects in a homicide.”
While it’s no secret that the night-to-night intensity of the work causes some police officers and other emergency workers to burn out and quit their jobs — or find less-than-healthy ways to cope with stress — Bowe relies on his connections with God and the saints to provide courage, wisdom and strength on his patrols.
“It’s God’s support that I get from him,” he said. “I think that there are definitely graces we get from those who are interceding for us in heaven.”
As for Bowe’s days off, you’ll find him singing in Holy Family Cathedral’s schola choir or serving as lector, attending eucharistic adoration, participating in a Catholic men’s group and spending time with his young family.
At 5 a.m. the calls coming from the dispatcher diminish in frequency, and at one point there is an eerie silence of several minutes. Bowe explains that Anchorage’s nightlife is winding down and that the majority of dispatcher calls will involve motor vehicle accidents with the coming of commuters in the new day.
He parks the cruiser, flips open his notepad and finishes typing up the night’s reports. It will be daylight soon. He will park the cruiser, head home for some rest and patrol the same streets the next night.