This is a funny time to do this considering that cops right now are slightly ahead of politicians in the “like” category. But I became a Police Officer knowing I’d probably never win a popularity contest. Here goes.
In 1979, I graduated with a degree in Astro-Physics. It’s not as useless as having a degree in say English Lit, but it’s pretty close. Back then, someone with a newly minted degree in Astro-Physics didn’t go to the help wanted section to get a job. We went to Obits. Unfortunately, not enough people in the field died that year to allow me land a job.
So, when your favorite uncle and mine showed up saying he’d been nice enough to loan me money to go to school, and it would be nicer if I paid him back, I went looking for a job.
There were two things I’d done in college that sort of positioned me for a career in Law Enforcement. One, since a lot of the courses I was taking demanded a lot of work and a high probability you’d bomb class anyway, I took a lot of courses in Psychology and Sociology. I took a class in Criminology, with several of the city and county officers.
I got to know some of them, and did “ride alongs” to see what their world was like. As one had explained to me, their job is 95% boredom, 4% paperwork, and 1% sheer terror. That seemed about right.
Wanting to know more, I built a relationship with the Campus Police, and the last year there, I worked with them. It was interesting work, and during the time with them, I got my first arrest.
Flash forward a year. Uncle Sam wants his money back. I read that Alamosa Police Department was testing for officers. So, I applied, took the test and all that, and figured it would be a cold day in you know where before they called me. See, part of the problem is I’ve never thought of myself as a “tough guy.” Even after being in the Army in combat zones, and being a Law Enforcement Officer for over 20 years, I still don’t think of myself that way.
So, it surprised me to no end when they made me an offer. I accepted. I was teased by some of the other cops that the reason they hired me was because I fit into the uniforms of the guy that was leaving. There are times I think there was some truth to it.
My first year on the street was rough, mostly for me. My first day out I got to see my first dead body.
Six months in, I had someone bust a beer pitcher over my head. I spent the next day in the hospital and several days recuperating.
Physically, I wasn’t hurt bad. Psychologically was a different story. I found myself unable to concentrate and going to work was met with a certain degree of fear and panic.
A few months later, I went to the Academy. To say my performance was less than the greatest would be an understatement. I made it through, but would have to take the test again.
Without the certification, I ended up leaving my first department.
An old expression I’ve lived my life by is that the measure of man isn’t by how quickly he can be knocked down, but how long he chooses to stay down.
So the failure gnawed at me.
Then I got my second chance. A few months earlier, there had been what amounted to a riot in the town of Antonito. The existing police force was literally run out of town with the tail between their legs. A new chief was brought in, the former sheriff Candi Gomez. Candi was a tough guy, and I think of him as one of the last of the old time cops. He could barely read and write, but he surrounded himself with people who knew how to to get things done.
He came and spoke to me, I was hired, and the not so tough guy found himself working one of the toughest towns in Colorado. That actually worked out. They tried me and discovered I wouldn’t back down and I wouldn’t run.
After that, it became community policing. What that means is that you build relationships with the community. I got to know my real trouble makers, often times on a first name basis. You found out about them, their lives, and you tried to work with them instead of against them.
That actually worked out very well. That small tough town taught me how the Police could help change lives. Sometimes, it worked out well. Other times not so well, like the guy who thanked me for not arresting him with a right cross to the nose.
I gave him a second chance.
He decided to go off and become a heroin addict.
I continued to do the job, even in the MPs. I built contacts all over the hill with the infantry, armor, and artillery guys, and that helped me out not only with investigations, but I had people watching my back. Where a lot of MPs would be concerned about going up on the hill and just walking around, I was comfortable up there.
But I still haven’t really answered the question of why I stayed in Law Enforcement.
Plain and simple, I wanted to make a difference, and I do believe I did that.
There’s people out there who are alive today because I was there. There were some extremely dangerous people who were either placed in prison or in asylums so they couldn’t harm anyone anymore. There are people I help to put their lives back together.
And truth be told, I think I’m a better person for having done the job.