CopLand 12: Finally, the Finale

Yeah, yeah, I graduated from the academy May 10 and now it’s the 22nd or something. I should have written sooner, I know, but there was an odd kind of writer’s block going on.

I thought I should have something profound to say, some reflection on becoming a police or about what society will now expect or something IMPORTANT.

Turns out I got squat. Turns out what should have felt like an ending (the finale of the academy, the state certification test, the graduation and pictures, the packing up my apartment and finally coming home, the relearning my wife’s name) didn’t feel like an ending at all.

Actually, getting back to work, where I’m sitting in a car with a veteran officer who lets me handle the situation and then critiques me, feels exactly like the scenarios in PTI. So in an odd way, I still feel like I’m in school.

Obviously, I understand it’s different, but it feels the same. I guess that’s good. That means the academy training is closer to reality than I had realized. Or it means my Sergeant doesn’t quite trust me yet and is treating me like a student.

So the last week was pretty simply at PTI. Last few classes, things like first aid and a session called ‘Cop on Cop,’ where an actual copper veteran came and answered questions. Session was billed as the only time you won’t hear the politically correct answers, where the officer would absolutely answer the questions.

And the questions bounced back and forth between legitimate and stupid. Yeah, there were questions about cop groupies and how much free sex there was to be had from them. (answer included a scary story about a friend of the officer’s who is now an AIDS patient because of a cop groupie). But also questions on counseling for stress (and that answer included that knowledge that veterans cops will look down on you for being a pansy, but younger cops mostly all understood the need for counseling sometimes…I guess the profession is maturing).

Then the state test. Four hours and not quite as hard as test number three at PTI. Some really goofy questions and some really goofy syntax but we all got through it just fine.

Other than that, there wasn’t much. In fact, it seemed sort of anti-climactic, sort of let-down-ish. Part of that is simply the groove. We had a routine and a gang of friends. Now all of us have to go back and work with officers we don’t know, relying on policies we don’t know, in a routine and schedule we don’t know.

It’ll be fine, I’m sure.

One thing I did realize during the twelve weeks was this: we are all who we were. In other words, what we’ve done, in the past, is the foundation of who we are now.

I realized it one afternoon doing building searches. It was in a scenario and my partner had already been shot and ‘killed.’ Yeah, it was training and yeah, everyone was going home at the end of the night but the fact that I could look over my shoulder and see him laying there on the floor, watching me finish the search, was wildly disconcerting. Talk about an adrenaline dump. Holy crap, Batman.

But as I continued the search, I realized I had slipped, at least partially, into Theater Guy Mode. I moved through the darkened building — with some lighting through the windows from streetlights, some from ambient sources — with my flashlight, manipulating the shadows just like I did in theater. Stretching and shrinking them, bending them left or right to expose or hide. I felt like I was backstage again, trying to get something done with the audience realizing it.

The audience…or the bad guy. It was weird.

At another point, as I interviewed a sexual assault victim who absolutely didn’t want to talk, I realized I was back in Reporter Mode. And at that moment, I realized with a stark clarity that cops and reports, though on wildly divergent extremes, are after the same, exact thing: the truth.

They might define truth slightly differently, but they each want it. And they each go about getting it pretty much the same way: interviews, fact checking, fact discovering, poring over documents, etc. Much closer under the skin than either group would want to admit, I’m sure.

My point is this: working as a journalist, and later in theater, makes me a better cop. I can work in shadows and use lighting to my advantage, I can interview people and sort facts.

Who would have ever thought that hanging out with lefty liberal reporters and artistic gay men and women would make me a better cop, traditionally right and conservative and waaaaayyyy not into gay/lesbian issues?

Kind of makes me laugh, actually.

And another part of me — fiction writer — means I can take it all in and write about it to my heart’s content (insuring, though, that all the names have been changed to protect myself from libel lawsuits).

So…there is nothing else. But of course there is the entire universe as what’s next. There is more of the same and something new and different everyday.

I am the police now.


CopLand 11

So here we are: eleven weeks down, one to go.

More precisely: four days to go.

I’ve gotten close enough to the light at the end of the tunnel now to see it’s not actually a freight train bearing down on me, but an actual end to the tunnel.

Thanks the gods….

This past week, the class chose which of us would give a speech at graduation on May 10. The man chosen, Victor Villanueva, is the perfect one. He embodies the best of what class 2434 can be and frequently is.

But a writer he ain’t…or so he told me when he asked me to help him put words to what the class wanted to say.

So Victor and I spent a couple nights thinking it over and then a long night putting it together. I then spent a monring the next day tweaking and fine tuning and I thought I’d post the speech. This is the actual text, as written and tweaked. This is NOT the version that will be given at graduation. The administration of the Police Training Institute were slightly uncomfortable with my mentioning the turmoil that hit my class — hard — about half way through.

So Victor has excised that part and the rest, as far as I know, is good to go. I hope you enjoy it.

Good afternoon.

On behalf of Basic Law Enforcement Class 2434, I’d like to welcome our families, friends, our agencies, and the staff and instructors of the Police Training Institute.

As we celebrate our graduation from PTI, it is impossible not to notice the vast differences between each of us. Some of us come from big towns, some from small. Some were military with combat experience, some from various branches of law enforcement such as corrections or dispatch or parole. We even have one gentleman who hails from the Illinois Department of Revenue. So be careful because when he says hello, what he actually means “How about an audit today?”

He is, by the way, our oldest at 59 years. Our youngest, who we call ‘Junior,’ and who we think of as our baby, is a scant 21 years old. His graduation gift will be a shaving kit.

Many of us are parents. Many more of us are…adult children. Many of us are happily married. Some are happily single. We have athletes and we have ballet dancers. We have city folk who absolutely believed in the existence of wild cows, and country folk who didn’t quite understand crack houses.

Wildly divergent backgrounds. We started with 75 different people from 75 different walks of life, each speaking their own language.

We had, essentially, a Tower of Babel.

But we learned each others’ languages. And we began to learn those languages early on with a surprising team-building exercise. You know the kind I’m talking about…corporations use them to build both morale and sales.

During our first few days, we were divided into groups of about twenty and given various tasks. One of these tasks was to stand on a four inch wide beam without stepping off, make nary a sound, and put ourselves in order from youngest to oldest.

Not a single sound, mind you.

No talking, no chatting. No grunting or groaning. No clapping or snapping. No coughing in Morse Code.

Not a sound.

Yet somehow, we did it. We found a common language and lined up youngest to oldest.

And remember, we never stepped off the beam.

Which meant there were twenty people climbing over and around each other; an act much more surprisingly intimate than you would think.

It was all about non-verbal communication.

But it was also about problem solving.

As was, actually, most of our training. Rarely did an instructor tell a student they were dead wrong about an issue. Rather, the instructors wanted to hear what our thought process was; how did we think our way through the problem.

In other words, what language did we invent to solve that day’s problem?

In other other words, how did we keep ourselves on the beam?

It was that very first problem, that four inch wide beam, that set our learning standard for the next twelve weeks. PTI forced us to learn by thrusting us into situations in which we never would normally have found ourselves.

But these situations are normal for us now, and in dealing with them, they have changed us. We are no longer just individuals in it for ourselves. Now we are police officers, in it for everyone else – those we protect and serve – and for our team members.

On day two, which now seems like 487,392 years ago, every individual had to pass a physical test. A good friend of mine had some difficulty running down his mile and a half. He missed the mark by eight or ten seconds, and was forced to make that run again two days later.

In class 2434, we don’t leave anyone behind.

When the officer ran again, he had support. I ran with him and those who didn’t run with him cheered him every time around the track.

We ran and ran. Four laps out of twelve. Six laps of twelve. Eight laps. And as we ran, we realized he was running out of time and stamina…out of strength.

This is class 2434. We don’t leave anyone behind.

We encouraged him. We cheered him. Running at his side, I even yelled at him, trying to get him to run harder and faster. As the time slipped away, I was forced to tell him I would definitely be there to support him when he had to pack his bags and go home.

In that instant, the officer became Superman. Faster than a speeding bullet.

He beat that mile and a half with two seconds to spare.

Because we don’t leave anyone behind.

We are a team.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Many of the problem solving scenarios were scary. There is no other word for it.

During a number of vehicle stops, wherein we practice writing tickets, role-playing drivers would dive out of their cars shooting at us. All of us knew it was a paintball gun. All of us knew we were going home safe at the end of the night. But that didn’t change the fact that someone was shooting at us; shooting at us because we were – are – the police.

A sobering thought. This is a serious job. I’d like to believe we all take it much more seriously now than when we arrived twelve weeks ago. This is a job where we have to fix broken lives…even as some of us are young enough to barely be beginning our own lives.

Our team didn’t happen instantly, nor did it happen easily. There was turmoil. There was a moment when the entire team was threatened by the actions of one person. All of us got painted by a broad brush aimed at that single person.

But this is our career now. Getting painted by that broad brush will happen more often than not. In the media, we are portrayed, oftentimes, as the bad guy. Remember back to Rodney King. Or remember more recently and more locally with the officer in Chicago who beat a bartender and then tried to bribe his way out of the trouble.

Many of us spent days answering questions from friends and family about that officer. We had to answer – to a degree – for his actions.

Stories in the media do not often cast us in a golden light. They do not let people know what we’re doing for them. Mostly, it’s what one of us might have done to them. Who knows, maybe we’d get some good coverage if we managed to find Jimmy Hoffa alive, eating donuts with Elvis.

Okay, maybe a joke about…you know…cops and donuts…wasn’t the greatest joke to make, but you understand what I’m saying.

In this industry the actions of a few color all of us. The bad incidents impact and dishonor every one of us. Because of those kinds of incidents, far too many people have a negative opinion of police. Perhaps it’s also because a majority of time, the public summons us for problems they can not resolve on their own. Maybe they are embarrassed to have to need us.

I challenge all of us to put our newly acquired verbal judo skills to good use. To treat the public and those we serve with respect and dignity, empathy and not sympathy, to not lose sight of the age old principles of policing: to serve and protect.

I challenge us all to stop the strong from victimizing the weak, to mentor the young and counsel those who need it. To enforce the laws fairly, across the board, with impartiality.

Perhaps more importantly, I challenge each and every one of us to guard against developing an us against them mentality.

Becoming police officers was a long time dream for many of us. Sometimes life got in the way but we kept trying. Now we are here, on the cusp of graduation, with the future and career we dearly wanted. And we can not say thanks enough to our families and friends for loving us and standing by us. Thanks, also, to our departments for showing us absolute faith by hiring us and then spending the money to make sure we became police officers and not just cops.

Lastly, to you, my fellow classmates, I wish to say thank you. During the last three months, I have stood next to you in awe and I have admired your mental and physical dedication. But mostly, I have come to realize that any of us could be standing up here today. I am humbled that you chose me to speak on our behalf and I hope I have made you proud. It is my honor to serve in this great law enforcement family with you. I wish you all a successful and safe career and wish you every happiness in your personal lives.

With wishes for a long and fulfilling career, here’s to Basic Law Enforcement Class 2434. Thank you.

CopLand 10

So the last post was about how scary the shooting was, how quickly it happened and how the officers involved really had no time to think about it and how dramatic it was and all that.

This time, over the last few days, it’s been the banality of police work.

We did vehicle stops a few more times and at every scenario, it was some version of: “Here’s your ticket, have a nice day.”

(Yeah, yeah, pretty funny, huh? I’m’a write you a ticket that’s gonna cost you $100, and then I’m’a tell you to have a nice day. Not how I’ll probably do it, but you never know.)

The guy in charge of the scenarios told us, when it was all over, when we’d finished our last vehicle stop, that this was where most of our calls would end. Day after day, week after week, year after dreaded year, stop them, write them, send them on their way.

That was probably the most depressing thing I’d heard the entire academy. That I’ll spend twenty years doing something that basic and boring? Yeah, sign me up, hoss.

They told us we did some high end scenarios so we’d know what it was like. But the majority of our days will be spent with low end calls. That’s cool. As I get older and older — and yeah, crankier and crankier — the low end calls will be just my speed.


A few posts ago, I wrote about this asshole in Chicago who beat the bartender and then tried to bribe his way out of the trouble.

He was indicted yesterday on a total of fourteen counts. Yeah, the battery was in there, but the majority of the charges were about the attempted cover-up.

They were because his partners tried to offer money, then tried to threaten with phone calls about drugs in cars. God knows what else the morons did.

Ironically, as those guys were being indicted, my class was doing a block on ethics. Interesting timing. Is it okay, is it ethical, to take a free cup of coffee from a 7-Eleven?

The linkage is this: I can promise you those Chicago guys took the free coffee. Maybe not specifically coffee and maybe not at a 7-Eleven, but they took the metaphoric coffee.

It’s a mind set. It’s a way of thinking that says, I’m entitled to this because I’m a police officer. I take a chance on getting shot every day for this community, they can give me a cup of coffee.

And maybe that’s right. Maybe a free cup of coffee isn’t so much to ask. Except for this: it isn’t free.

Free coffee always expects something in return. More patrol presence. Or maybe simply the officer’s presence in the store while s/he’s drinking it. Or maybe it’s all about the car parked out front. Regardless, that coffee wants something in return.

And if that 7-Eleven does get robbed? The manager, the clerk — whoever gave you free coffee on every shift for eight months — wants you there instantly, other calls be damned.

It’s not free.

Makes me a bit of a hypocrite, actually. I’ve taken free drinks from a store. One of the convenience stores on the north end of town offers free coffee or fountain soda to anyone on duty and in uniform. Yeah, I’ve swigged from that free cup a time or two. Not often because I’ve not been on the road, but a few times.

They’ve not asked me for anything, but maybe they have asked the regular road guys. But I actually believe it’s more subtle than that. I believe this store won’t ever say anything blatant. I believe they simply want those marked cars out front, parked obvious and blatant for everyone to see.

“See who we have in our store?” those cars ask would be criminals. “Go rob somebody else.”

Is that such a bad trade?

Maybe that’s just community service. Maybe that’s helping out the people — the business owners — who pay a big chunk of the taxes that become my salary and funds to keep my car running smooth and keep me in uniforms and bullets and all the rest.

What about meals at half-price? McDonald’s gives 50% off to people in uniform. It’s not from the local level, but the corporate level. So what does that mean? A corporate directive, but the cost is still borne by the local franchisee.

So do those local people expect faster service? Or is it something they just do and not really think about?

I don’t know, and maybe none of this matters. Except it does matter for me because I know this will come up. It will come up constantly, and sometimes it will be people looking for faster arrival time and sometimes it will be people who simply support law enforcement and understand how hard the job is.

But understand this: if I do take a free drink, it absolutely will not be coffee.

If anything, it’ll have to be — obviously — Dr. Pepper.

CopLand 9

It was this fast:

“Unit one from dispatch. Report of a drive-by shooting. A silver Impala, occupied twice, male and female. Area of Willard Airport.”

“Dispatch from One, I’m behind that car. Pulling it over now.”

“JesusGodhelpmeidontwanttobeherehekilledthatguyhesgotagunhetookmeouttamyhouseitsmyexboyfriend – “

“Ma’am, stop.”

“ – itsnotmeitshimhescrazyhesgotagunhesaidhedkillmedontshoot – “

“Ma’am. Stop! Stop! Driver stay in the car!”

A few pops. A shout. More pops. A scream.

“Oh, God. Dispatch from One. I shot her. Get medical rolling.”

And still more pops. More artificial gunfire. The driver, the boyfriend, shooting and shooting and where in hell did he get all these bullets, diving around the car, still shooting and then –

“Sir, drop the gun or I will shoot you,” from a different officer.

And it was over.

A breath, maybe two, and the scenario was over. Results? One man in custody, two officers with empty guns and hearts stopped. One lady – kidnapped at gunpoint by a crazed ex-lover – dead.

And one officer with only two rounds gone from his weapon, but repeating over and over, “I can’t believe I shot her. I can’t believe I shot her.”

The facilitator called time on the scenario and left all seven of us in that group long enough to get our own hearts started again.

How in hell had that happened? How in hell had a complicated, but still doable traffic stop – with three officers – gone so completely wrong so instantaneously?

It was supposed to happen that way, of course. The scenario, unbeknownst to those of us participating and watching from the sidelines, was designed that way. We were supposed to shoot. We were supposed to leave an innocent woman dead in the street.

Or we weren’t.

But we were supposed to be stressed, confused, scared, drowning in our own adrenaline, watching our peripherial vision decrease by 70%…that tunnel vision people under stress talk about.

What decision are you going to make? How are you going to handle that?

When I started this odyssey, I wrote (CopLand 1):

“But while part of me is incredibly excited, another part of me is incredibly terrified. See, I spent three years in the jail and my job was to warehouse people at the behest of another officer or the court or the State’s Attorney. Someone else — someone NOT ME — made the decision to arrest someone or sentence them or whatever the case might have been.

Now it’ll be me. I’ll make the decision.

What decision? The decision of whether or not to take someone’s liberty. To take away that most basic thing all people have – that thing Thomas Jefferson said was a right by nature — freedom.

And that scares the shit outta me.”

I was talking about arresting people, taking away their liberty. But shooting them, killing them, is the ultimate in liberty snatching. In fact, legally, it invokes the Fourth Amendment, the unreasonable search and seizure clause.

That scenario didn’t happen to me, though I was part of the peanut gallery and watched it. The entire time – and don’t fool yourself, the entire time was less than ten seconds from the time the suspect car stopped to the moment the driver gave up – I couldn’t believe how fast it all happened.

For eight weeks, they’ve told us when it happens it will be fast. It will be faster than I think possible, it will be the kind of fast that leaves people speechless and shaking their head.

And they were exactly right.

Brutally fast and at the same time, breath-takingly slow. I could tell you every single detail, every moment and movement, every shock of face and tighten of muscle.

It left the rest of us in the scenario, those who had yet to stop this particular car (and who would later stop it under different parameters, there was to be no more gunplay that day) shaken and quiet.

And it left all of us wondering what we would have done. Would we have had a body at our feet? Or would we have hit her with pepper spray to incapacitate her until we could sort it out? Would we have taken her down via hands, cuffed her and stuffed her in the car until we could figure it out?

And don’t forget, while making that decision and following through with it, the psycho ex-boyfriend is still shooting; shooting at the officer – me – and trying to kill the officer –

Trying to kill me.

I have no idea what I would have done. If there is anything I’ve learned in eight weeks, it is that I will not make a judgment until I’ve at least seen the shoes of the officer, if not actually walked in them.

I was talking to a local PD sergeant about the scenario today and he brought up something I hadn’t thought about. An officer is forced to make a decision in a split second about whether or not someone is a threat, about whether or not they have a cell phone or a gun (and let’s not forget the recent development of a cell phone that IS a gun…shoots 4 .22 bullets), or a fat wallet or a gun, or maybe a Blackberry or a gun. And if someone ends up dead, 99 times of 100, the officer is excoriated.

But if a homeowner has three or four minutes to decide someone is breaking into his home, or thirty or forty seconds to decide someone is carjacking him, and ends up killing the bad guy, he or she is generally considered a hero.

I’m not saying every homeowner or car owner who saves themselves should be prosecuted. Nor am I saying every officer who kills someone is automatically right in what he/she’s done.

I guess what I am saying is try to remember the last time someone jumped out of a room or a closet and scared you. Or the last time someone came around a corner in a quiet office and startled you. Could you have decided whether or not they presented a deadly threat to you? And if they did, could you have done anything about it? Not hours later, not days and weeks and months and years later, but then and there. In that split second when your hair stood up and your breath stopped and your stomach dropped.

I hate to say this, but I’m glad the recruit officer had to shoot that lady. As vile as it sounds, I’m glad it happened because until that moment, thoughts of killing someone had been theoretical.

At that moment, even in the artificial atmosphere of the scenarios, it became absolutely real.

CopLand 8

So here it is, the best random comment made this week by someone in my class: “We taught them how to mop hallways and they taught us how to smoke crack.”

HeheheHAHAHAHAHA, that cracks me up. Said by an officer who spent a few years in the jail. They’d get people serving time for smoking crack and get them minor trustee jobs mopping hallways. Apparently, that was the trade-off, mop water for crack knowledge.

Much funnier than the previous best random comment: “But I don’t want to wear a penis on my head.”

That one I have no context for at all. I heard it in class one day. I have no idea what the class work was about, I have no idea what the current conversation had been. I have no idea about anything that could have led to that.

The bell has now tolled eight times for eight weeks down.

(Wow, that sounds like a cool noir novel title, doesn’t it? Eight Weeks Down…might have to figure out what that story line is.)

(And yeah, don’t fret, I’ve already figured out what the police academy novel is going to be…I have no friggin’ idea when I’ll write the damned thing, but I know what it’s going to be.)

Eight weeks down and five to go. Really only four serious weeks because that last week we’re learning how to do graduation and taking our final academy test and taking the 9,497 question state certification test and moving out of our Section 8 housing and turning in our academy gear and all that rot. Mostly that last week is cake.

Unlike this next week.

We’re far enough along now that there isn’t much class room left. A few random things here and there, but mostly we’re done with that. Mostly, at this point, we’re into scenarios. We’ve been doing those all along, but now they’re different.

Now we don’t know what they are.

When we started, we knew exactly what each scenario was. A stolen bicycle report. A low-rent domestic that would have no resistance by the bad guy. A Terry stop, again with no resistance.

But Friday, we started with not quite knowing what we were getting. A service call was all we were told. In one, it was a loud noise complaint. Maybe a domestic, maybe a party, maybe some other thing. In another situation, it was a store clerk having a problem with a customer. But what did that mean? A theft? Someone banned from the store? Someone drunk and passed out?

And in the last? A silent alarm at a closed business. In other words, a building search.

Rock and Rooooooollllllllll!!!!!!!!!!

Wouldn’t have thought I would like wandering around a dark building with a tiny flashlight, hoping like hell I didn’t get hurt, but I did.

Actually, now that I think about it, it was – once again – much like working in theater. Cripes’a’mighty, I gotta tell ya, there are have been so many instances were working in theater has actually helped me as a police officer. Who’d’a thunk it? Maybe that’ll be the next CopLand.

So, yeah, I dug it, but I did want to whack the instructor who put the thing together.

I was told to put together my team of three people and we were escorted outside. We waited there for a few minutes, in ball-freezing cold that ripped right through my sexy brown polyester pants. Eventually, we were told to start the scenario.

We entered a building with a looooooong wide hallway, so many doors off that hallway that we couldn’t even count them all, at least two corners around which there was no way in hell we were going to be able to see, and absolute darkness.

Great. Thumbs up on that.

So we pinned the entire hallway with light (the assumption being that if a bad guy is there, he probably won’t move into the light) and I went to clear the first room. Palms pressed together, gun in one hand, flashlight in the other, sweat already breaking on my brow and between my cheeks, heart rate climbing a bit.

I cleared the room, and found, near the end of that clear, an open door leading into another room.

Well, ain’t this special? Had to get another officer to pin that door while I cleared the second room. Then I went into the second room and found —

–Another open door leading to a third room.

Son of a bitch. So I stopped, wiped the sweat away, thought about what I was facing. Handled the third room just like the second. And what did I find?

Tha’ss right, kiddies, a fourth open door.

I had a Charlie Brown moment. “Aaauuuuuugggggghhhhhhhhh.”

But knowing there might be bad guys in the place, I didn’t give voice to the scream. See, that would have been tactically unsound. Like Colonel Kurtz, and his ‘methods’ that had become ‘unsound.’ I know you guys aren’t official police like I am, and therefore have not had the same high-dollar, high-intensity traininge. You’ve not sat down with tacticians, and strategists and SWAT team members and the like, but you should probably be able to figure out that screaming in frustration during a building search would be…uh…bad.

What I had expected to be a single, small room, maybe two minutes to clear, became six small rooms, full of furniture and hiding places…call it nearly twenty minutes to clear.

Though it seemed like both twenty seconds and twenty hours.

How odd, I realized halfway through, sweat stinging my eyes and the muscles in both forearms exhausted from my hyper tightened grip on both weapon and light, that time both sped up and slowed down.

But I and my team got through it and did a generally good job.

It was fun. Lotsa fun, in fact.

Just as much fun as being able to say to friends, “Call me Grissom. Gil Grissom.”

We did a crime scene practical Friday morning that involved breaking into teams and collecting evidence from a crime scene, then packaging and cataloguing all the evidence.

My team got an aggravated criminal sexual assault scene.

Extremely bloody.

Lots and lots of evidence to gather, process, package. Scary stuff, too. Bloody and other-fluid stained sheets, bloody panties and clothes, a gun, a blood rope, all kinds of other stuff. Suddenly I understood why it takes evidence techs hours and hours to clear crime scenes.

The other big thing this week: drugs. Spent two days doing drugs. And as we were in the middle of learning that UPS guys and FedEx guys and mail carriers and the like were never held liable for the drugs they delivered (lots and lots of drugs simply get mailed around the country every day), the post office in Princeton was shut down because of a white powder.

Yeah, ‘cause Princeton is very high on the Al-Queda hit list. Damn near everyone in town thought anthrax. Come on, gimme a break. Ain’t no freakin’ anthrax in Princeton.

My thought was: coke to a local dealer. The guy I had in mind had just gotten outta prison and was living at the local flop house.

Officer Friendly suggested checking the post mark.

“Come from Columbia, did it?”

Ah, the cynicism I so miss while at school.

All in all, with the exception of daily early morning physical training, things are going swimmingly well.

But here’s the thought that festers in me right now: suddenly, come last Monday, my class, with all its head cases and whack jobs and no experience control freaks, became the senior class.

That just has disaster written all over it, doesn’t it?

CopLand 7: The Dreams Begin

I was driving the Hyundai again. An old, white, beater with white and black striped tiger seat covers. Except I wasn’t driving it, I had it the shop.

There were office areas at either end of this shop. They were connected by a covered garage-like area with open doors on one side. So the place was flooded with natural light.

I was there in casual clothes, but with my gunbelt and weapon, my OC spray and baton, my badge, my brilliantly shined name badge. I waited for a mechanic or someone to come tell me what was wrong with that Hyundai I’ve not owned since the mid 90’s in Denver.

While I waited, bad guys dressed in blue coveralls and hidden behind black, protective face masks — not ski masks or the like, but actual protective masks designed for sparring partners or hockey players or something — slipped into one of the two office areas. They took everyone hostage.

I remember my heart rate slipped up through the stratosphere. I remember my skin got hot and sweaty, that my stomach lurched two or three times.

And I remember that when I headed toward the second office area to call someone to do something about the bad guys, more bad guys had already taken those people hostage.

So I stood in the in-between, hands shaking, mouth dry as the desert in which I grew up, absolutely terrified. I had no idea what to do, or if I should even do anything. I had no idea who to call, or even if I should call anyone.

Should I race in, gun blazing, rescue every body? Should I try to negotiate? But more to the point, could I even trust what I was seeing? Was it actually a situation gone south? Or was I misinterpreting because I didn’t have enough information?

LuAnn didn’t bat an eye when I told her. Anxiety, she said. Nervous and uncertainty. Lack of self-confidence. You’re not sure you’re going to know what to do when it’s all up to you.

Right now, she said, you’ve got 71 other newly minted officers, as well as 10 or 15 instructors, all standing there watching everything you do. Making certain, in other words, you do the right thing, make the right decision, think things through slowly and certainly. And role-players in each of those scenarios — wearing those black face masks and wearing blue coveralls — who you absolutely know will not hurt you. They may push, but they’re not going to suddenly shoot you or beat you bloody.

In other words, you’ve got a safety-net right now. But you’re almost done, she said. Pretty soon, you won’t have all that back-up. It’ll be you and a squad car, save a few weeks with a field training officer. You won’t have 71 classmates or a handful of instructors or anyone else.

You and — since you’re a county deputy with officer back up better then 10 or 15 minutes away — you alone.

And now you’re dreaming your anxiety: that you won’t make the right decision. Worse, than you won’t even be able to truly recognize the situation to make a decision.

The pity is: she’s right.

This has happened to be before.

Back in Denver, when I joined a writers’ group headed by Edward Bryant — a legend in the speculative fiction field — I was terrified. But I was also a fan of the Denver Nuggets basketball team.

How does that matter? Well, I had a dream that I had joined the Nuggets but that they wouldn’t let me ride on the bus with them. That I was so bad I had to take a separate car to the games. Ed was on the bus, as was Dan Simmons and Peter Straub and others.

But not me.

There was another Nuggets dream later. It’s fairly foggy, lost to the twists and turns of memory, that involved me riding the bus but unable to sink any free throws.

So this is what my brain does when I’m unsure. It feeds me dreams where it illustrates in graphic detail my own perceived failings.

Yeah, thanks for that, really appreciate it.

LuAnn’s fairly certain I’ll have more of these. And she thinks they’ll all be dressed up in criminal situations that will be mostly gray, where nothing is quite what it seems.

And they’ll come, she and I both believe, because I’m getting close. As of 39 minutes ago, as I write this, it has been exactly six weeks since I started this particular journey.

Which means exactly what?

First and foremost, that there are just a couple days less than six weeks left, and right now, that’s about all I can see clearly.

Obviously, my subconscious is looking further down the line. It’s peering down past the academy and past my FTO days.

Yeah, I’ll have a supervisor on every shift I work and if I get completely in the weeds, that super will get me back to a manicured lawn, but still and all, it’s mostly my decision — a decision based on correctly reading what’s actually going on as opposed to what seems to be going on.

And as much as I like to be in control, this kinda freaks me out.

But it gigs me, too. Part of that dream was watching myself contemplate busting ass in there and saving everyone. Just like when the chemo dreams started and I kept dreaming I wore Indiana Jones’ hat and saved everyone all the time.

That was all about beating cancer. This, I suspect, is about beating my own self-doubt.

Great, just what I freaking need. More navel-gazing and intellectual sparring with myself…’cause I’ve NEVER done that kind of thing.

In my fiction, the main guy almost always just yanks the steel and gets to blasting. Somehow, I don’t think they’d let me do that now….

CopLand 6

It was such a good week at the academy.

Physically I felt great. Intellectually I was on fire. In the training scenarios, trying to figure out exactly what the suspect was lying about, holding my own with an armed robber leaving a bank and carrying a gun, issuing a handful of tickets to a driver on a darkened road in the middle of the night.

It all went so well.

Then Chicago happened.

More correctly, Chicago was reported. It actually happened more than a month ago.

You’ve all seen it or heard about it. A drunk, off-duty Chicago cop being denied another drink and turning his anger from a customer to the bartender.

And beating her brutally. I almost wrote senselessly, but that just doesn’t fit what he did. Neither does ‘brutally,’ to be honest. In fact, I have no words for how horrified, how absolutely enraged, how dry-mouthed with fury I am at this asshole member of CPD.

As a former journalist, I have been trained to write ‘alleged,’ as in ‘Allegedly beating her brutally.’ Except we know it wasn’t alleged. We all saw it. Over and over, given us by a security camera installed four days before the attack. Hanging quietly in the corner of the bar, recording everything Anthony G. Abbate did.

The way he yelled at another customer. The way he shoved that customer until the bartender, a five-foot, four inch woman who weighed in at a buck-fifteen, got in the middle. The way he shouted at her and then strode behind the bar.

The way he punched her. Kicked her. Threw her to the floor like a pesky napkin stuck to his shoe.

At the academy, we’re in a news bubble. Yeah, I check my news websites everyday, but things happen in the world that I don’t know about until the weekend when I catch up.

But I — and my entire class of 75 future coppers — knew about this mere hours after it was reported by a TV station in Chicago. We knew because we got hammered with the video late Thursday afternoon in class.

Ironically, our class Friday morning was Citizen-Police Relations. And our instructor, a 30-year member of the Illinois State Police, was stunned into near speechlessness. He hit us with that first thing Friday morning and for nearly two hours, we discussed it.

CPD has better than 10,000 officers, most of us knew. And this guy, this Abbate — who lots of people in later news accounts said was frequently drunk, frequently badging people, frequently threatening and shoving people including a homeless man who had the temerity to enter Abbate’s watering hole — was just one man.

A single officer. Less than 1/10,000th of the total force of Chicago cops.

And his actions were already painting every member of CPD, and many of the rest of us around the state and nation, with the same bitter, angry brush. Don’t believe me? Run ‘chicago cop’ and ‘bartender’ through Google. Dig up a bare handful of news sites with comments sections.

People are angry over this. People should be angry. Our instructors, who hammer recruits with integrity and honesty, are angry. Our instructors should be angry.

Most of the cops in my class are angry.

But we should be furious. We should be frothing at the mouth, spitting blood, pulverizing rocks in our bare fists furious.

That man, at least in public perception, is us. Behind that badge, regardless of the kind of badge or the jurisdiction, we are all the same.

This isn’t the kind of bullshit as the FBI abusing its power for National Security Letters under a provision of the Patriot Act. That was huge, scary, Orwellian; scary like a nuclear exhange is scary. But this…this…abortion of a cop…was frightening like a match held too closely to a face.

This was down the street. This was a man given the duty of protecting my Mama. Not national security or our borders or anything as amorphous as that, but my Mama in her car and her home and going into a grocery store.

The barkeep’s name is Karolina, and she’s a woman with a husband and a 16-month old son who was working a second job. Doing her job efficiently and well. He was drunk and so, as a barkeep, she cut him off.

No more booze. His response was to beat her.

But that’s not everything. Not if you’ve watched the entire video. Before the beating, Abbate can be seen yelling at her and flexing his muscles like a low-rent Hans and Franz from Saturday Night Live or a fifty cent Governor of California.

And during the attack, there are two men, one on the left side of the frame and one on the right, who do nothing. Absolutely nothing.

No, not technically correct. The man on the left makes a cell phone call. 911, maybe? Thus far there are no records of a 911 call. So who did he call before he fled the bar like a chickenshit, rather than helping the bartender?

Who knows but here’s the next thing: she took his beating.

Yeah. The genetic mutant of a cop was going after that man, the one on the cell phone, apparently taking a chair with which to blast him, though some reports say the copper put the man into a headlock and punched him.

The bartender, an immigrant from Poland, jumped in the middle of it and knocked Abbate off balance. The cop — hopefully soon to be a former cop and newly minted DOC inmate — slipped, slammed into the bar, then turned on her.

She stopped that man from getting hit; that man who then ignored her getting hit.

I can’t even believe the total amount of bullshit that went on in that bar. I can’t believe it happened, that two men stood and watched, that it took what appears to be at least one older guy to stop it, that she reported it to the cops two days later but they couldn’t arrest Abbate until March 14 because he had checked himself into rehab.

What? Rehab? Yep, the Great American Apology. Any problem at all can be solved, or at least softened, by immediately checking into rehab. In other words, it wasn’t my fault, the Daniel’s made me do it.

Excuse my French, but bull-fucking-shit.

But hold on, we’re not done yet, there is more.

Abbate is suspected of attempted bribery — within minutes of the beating, someone popped in to the bar and asked her how much she wanted to keep it quiet. She said no thanks and the next call was to the bar’s owner, with threats of finding drugs in his car or Karolina’s or both.

The heart stops at the sheer balls of that. I mean, you’re already a coward because you beat a woman less than half your size (250 pounds versus 115), and because you fled to rehab to avoid arrest and now you’re trying to buy her off. And when that doesn’t work, you threaten her with jail time?

Get the hell outta my industry, you’re giving the rest of us a bad name.

I am so angry about this, so furious that this happened to a woman trying to get her bills paid, and yeah, selfishly angry that I’ve already had to answer to friends of mine how the hell this guy could ever get a CPD badge, I can barely breathe.

One of the aspects of America that makes me crazy is the endless march of lawsuits. For everything, all the time. But this time, I would give this woman money out of my pocket to make certain she has the ability to sue the holy bejesus outta this guy.

And no, CPD and the taxpayers of Chicago will not have to pay the damages. He was off-duty and out of uniform, and even had he been on-duty, he would have been outside the scope of his employment and training. This will land, hopefully like a baseball bat to the head, on him and him alone.

Did he think he’d get away with this? Did he think Chicago and the rest of the state and the country would sit back and blow this off? Sadly, I don’t think he thought at all. (And yeah, I know this kind of thing happens too frequently and does, in fact, get blown off). But I do believe the moment it was over, he understood exactly what he’d done.

If he hadn’t understood, the attempt buy-off and the threats would never have happened. As for sorry it happened, I believe he’s sorry only to the extent that he got caught. After all, have any of you heard any reports of apologies? Any statements of regret?

Not a peep. Even after a month-long stint in rehab, where he cleaned himself up, got control of his hostility, came to grips with his alcoholism. Not a sound.

The only silver lining — and it’s not much of one at all considering her injuries and the injuries done to every single police officer in this country — is that it happened while there were two classes of future officers at the acedemy. More than 150 students, all asking and being asked the hard questions about our field and our members and our selves

Hopefully the answers are the right ones.

CopLand 5: The Spraying

I came. I sprayed. I screamed.

Actually, it wasn’t quite that bad. I didn’t actually scream, though there was a moment, call it thirty or forty seconds, where I damn sure wanted to.

The worst part of the entire experience was the hour and a half in class just before the spraying, where the instructor explained to us why it was going to hurt (the percentage of oleo rosin and capsicum or some shit) and why it was wrong to call it Mace.

Mace, he said, was a brand name.

“Like Kleenex,” he said.

“Well, not quite like Kleenex,” I offered, “seeing as how Kleenex doesn’t actually leave you in the middle of the floor, crying like a baby, screaming like a first grade school kid, and blowing snot rockets all over yourself.”

So not quite the same.

Anyway, Mace is a brand. The actual crap is O.C. spray.

And it sucks. Just so we’re clear on that part.

But the build up was the worst. Talking about it and then talking about it some more. And then, when we were done with that, talking about it some more still. And then more still.

I mean, come on already, juice us, let us run the obstacle course, and be done with it.

What’s that, you say? An obstacle course? Why, obviously there is. They couldn’t just juice us and let us drive home.

So we did an obstacle course. Get juiced, run about 100 feet down a sidewalk, into a door — that you had to find while your eyes were burning — crawl through a hole in a wall, fight with a ‘bad guy’ outside, run inside and handcuff another ‘bad guy,’ shoot a dead center laser shot, then run back to the start, where beautiful, life-affirming water awaited.

Did I mention it sucked?

So I watched a few other class members do their thing, my ‘nads tightening up with every new player in this bizarre game, and then I finally went.

No problem, actually.

I got sprayed — an orange gel across the bridge of my nose but closer to my mouth than my eyes — and I ran. And before I hit the door, I realized that crap tasted a little like Jack Daniel’s. Swear to God. Had just a bit of whiskey taste to it, with a touch of rum.

Or maybe I just desperately needed a drink, I dunno which.

Hit the door, through the hole in the wall, took down my bad guy —

–why doesn’t this hurt?–

— and moved on to my cuffing —

–I don’t get it why doesn’t this hurt?–

— Got the bad guy cuffed up and headed for the shooting —

–no, really, why doesn’t this hurt even a little bit?—

— Did decently on the shooting but tasted just a hint of burn on my lips –

— come on, shouldn’t it hurt by now? —

And raced back to the end of the course, surprisingly intact, unhurt, unbowed, head held high and a MANLY sort of pride in my chest, bursting from my chest, in fact. Then I headed to the hose to wash it off.

Yeah, you got it. Suddenly I felt like I wasn’t eating my beloved Tabasco, but had BECOME my beloved Tabasco.

As soon as the incredibly cold water hit me, I was done. Fork me, I’m cooked.

I washed my face, used Dawn dish soap, which, along with Johnson Baby Shampoo, absolutely helped clean me up, then walked away. Sat facing the breeze and opened my eyes.

That was an entirely new lesson in pain. And for those few seconds when I was able to keep them open, the pain was actually worse than my heart attack. Different kind of pain, but way painful nonetheless.

But after a few minutes, it was over and I was good. Most people had to take a half hour to get back together, I did it in about ten. Am I a super stud?

Uh…no. I got a less than manly dose of the stuff. And I ain’t no kina proud, I’ll take a little boy’s dose and call it good, no problem.

So it didn’t kill me, though for a few seconds I wished it had. I did pretty well, didn’t cry like the baby I am genetically predisposed to be, didn’t throw up or stop during the obstacle course.

But I still question the wisdom of making recruits get a blast of it (which they’ve only been doing since 2001, by the by, so the old guys have no idea what we’re talking about). I think what’s really going on is that the old guys have developed a bit of sadism and are probably videotaping the entire thing.

“Hehehehhaaaaaawwwwwwhhhaaawwww,” I can hear them laughing. “Watch this one! He hurt so bad, his eyes actually popped outta the backa his head.”

Yeah, haw haw friggin’ haw. That’s funny. Maybe funnier still when I blow your fucking toe off and soak the wound in O.C. spray.

Excuse me, soak the wound in MACE.

CopLand 4

So tomorrow, just after we’re all fat and happy from lunch, we get to get sprayed with Mace. O.C. spray. Pepper spray. Whatever you want to call it.


Can’t wait for that crap.

Yeah, yeah, I get the theory behind it: that we need to know what it’s like so if a bad guy ever gets our Mace and sprays us, we wont’ be totally paralyzed with surprise. We need to experience what we might have to do to someone.

Just like control tactics and ground fighting. We train in that stuff, we get to experience that stuff. Ditto Tazer training. Those who might do it to someone, who need to be certified in it, have to experience it.

I understand all that, I just don’t like it.

I guess my question is this: I am trained to shoot people.

So who gets to shoot me…you know…just so I can experience it?

CopLand 3

For a moment, and it was only a single, terrible, nerve-shattering moment, it was chemo all over again.
I was tired. Not lack of sleep tired, but weak tired, as I had been most of last year. During physical training, I found it hard to raise my arms for various exercises, hard to keep my legs moving when we ran, hard to catch my breath beyond anything other than a shallow, slightly anemic breath.
It was the kind of weakness that had, so many times that month, simply invited me to gently pass out.
It was mostly, but not completely, physical that day. Other things played into it, dragged me down physically. LuAnn, the woman who absolutely did whatever needed be done during that last, awful year, was hurt. She’d slipped on the ice, cracked her tailbone, was home alone trying to run the household and the bookstore and I couldn’t do anything to help. I stressed about that.
The first exam was looming here at the academy. I stressed about that.
Desperately, I miss my wife and my mutts. I stressed about that.
And then, later in the day, I got cold.
Not just an external cold from standing at the shooting range, shooting in 30 degree weather, but the scary, internal cold that typified so many days when the chemo seemed to thin my blood or slow the flow of blood or whatever it was that left me freezing in a house baked to 80+ degrees in sweats and under a comforter.
So that moment, when I held my Glock .45 semi-automatic pistol hard out in front of me, my right elbow locked, my knees slightly bent, my right foot back and turned about 45 degrees off perpendicular to the target, when it all flooded back to me.
For that handful of heartbeats, for that single breath, I was back in chemo.
And then I shot the shit outta that target.
Better than 100 rounds and not a single one went anywhere near outside the ten ring.
In other words, absolute dead fucking center.
Shooting the cancer?
Maybe. I know I have a tendency to deal with things on a delayed basis sometimes.
Back when LuAnn and I first started dating, we bought a mutt. Max, we named her. She was a great – though flighty and high-maintenance – dog. Eventually, she got sick and we had to have her euthanized. I never really came to terms with taking her to the vet in the morning and having her killed in the afternoon.
A couple years later, I toured with the David Taylor Dance Company as tech director and we hit Reno for a seven day stand. In the middle of that stand, I had a dream and in it, Max came along and said, “That was me, telling you goodbye.”
I cried like a titty-baby for a week.
Yeah, yeah, sounds like crap, like liberal touchy feely bullshit, I know. But it happened and those of you with pets will absolutely understand that and those of you without pets never will.
So I have a tendency to deal with some things way after they’re done. Maybe feeling the chemo in the day’s events was part of that.
And maybe I’m just filling up space on the blog to say I wrote something.
But I do know this: I am a million miles further up the road than I was last year at this time.
March, 2006, I was just days away from discovering my biological father had died of cancer. I was in the middle of the toughest month I had because the chemo needed to be adjusted. I was barely able to make it through some days because of all the bullshit.
Now, a year later, I’m doing half an hour of physical training every damned morning, Monday through Friday. I’m three weeks off doing a power test in which I ran a mile and a half in 14 minutes, 31 seconds, benched 80 percent of my body weight (which was thankfully low because of the chemo diet!), did 30 sit-ups in a minute, and stretched some odd inches beyond my toes.
And I’m doing it as the oldest 40-year old you’re ever gonna meet.
I definitely ain’t no ironman, but overall, I’m feeling pretty good right now. Even that day when it all came back to me and I was snapped back to ChemoLand, I knew it was temporary. I knew it was a few bad days piled on top of each other.
I knew it would pass.
Not in months or weeks or days, but in minutes, maybe hours.
I knew, just like I knew when I took that last fucking chemo shot, that I was going to be good.
And something else: I don’t really spend much time thinking about all this crap. Corn-pone as it sounds, I don’t really have time because I spend too much time thinking about tomorrow and next week and next month.
Actually, truthfully, all I’m thinking about right now is friggin’ graduation day at the academy. May 10th, and not a moment too soon.
‘Cause after that? I get my own squad car.
With lights and sirens and everything.