I arrived at my precinct the day after my graduation from the police academy. I walked into the roll call room with my bright shiny new badge pinned to my shift. I nervously introduced myself to the sergeant who just looked at me and pointed to a chair and said sit there. I looked around as the older officer began to come in and take their seats. They were joking about an officer who split his pants while jumping a fence on a call the day before. None of the officers spoke to me; they would just occasionally stare at the new guy. Eventually, the sergeant, still not knowing my name, came in and asked who would field train me.
An officer with glasses, salt-and-pepper hair, looked up and said, “I’ll do it”. The sergeant said, “Bob” you sure? You are about to retire”. He replied, “I got it”. After roll call, Bob introduced himself and said for me to get my stuff. Before we headed out on my first shift he sat me down and said, “This is a calling for some and a job to pay bills for others. In time they will all become your family. If you make it you will see things that will break your heart, and things that will make you fall over laughing. When you think about giving up, something will happen and you will see the impact you can have on people’s lives. Above all else, remember you are a professional and the people you come into contact all had the same hopes and dreams as you at one time. Some people made it and some didn’t. One day your career will come to and end and I hope you look back and think it was worth it”.
For the next six weeks I rode with Bob. At first, he showed me the area and where the problems were. He showed me the places that I must have back up and the places people like to hide. Bob would constantly explain, “It is important that the same number of officers go home alive as attended roll call. But if you aren’t willing to risk your safety to protect your fellow officers and citizens then I should get out before I risk someone’s life”. During the time I reinforced my basic tactics and learned how to start investigations. More importantly, I learned how to really talk to people. The officer walking the beat comes into contact with people determined to commit crime, wealthy people who do not recognize the officer as he walks by, the person who lost everything and is now homeless, and the happy-go-luck person who is simply enjoying life. I learned to blend into each societal group and make the connection.
I learned that Bob had only a few months left before retirement. He had two grandkids and he and his wife were going to visit all of the places they dreamed of over the years. A couple of times his wife would come down and meet us for lunch. He had volunteered to train me because the day he started out an older officer about to leave volunteered to train him. To that day Bob never forgot what his training officer had told him all those years ago. After a while the older officers began to warm to me and I learned their stories. Eventually, the six weeks ended and it was time for me to go to my permanent midnight shift. I would see Bob in only in passing most of the time. If I had a question I would hurry in to see him and he would walk me through the problem.
Soon Bob retired and began to travel with his wife. After a while I lost track of him. I met my wife and had two kids of my own. The officers I worked with did become part of my family and we all helped raise each other along the way. Bob was right, I did have heart breaking experiences, ones that were so hilarious that the best comedy writers could never create, and when things looked bleak somehow something would happen that touched you and made the sacrifices worth it.
As the years went on new officers would come in and older ones would move on. I trained my share of officers who went on to very successful careers. One night my wife and I discussed when I was going to retire. We picked a date and the next day I told my sergeant that I would be leaving in a few months. We joked for a few minutes about the good-ole-days when a new kid fresh from the academy walked in. He too had a new shiny badge; mine had tarnished years ago. The sergeant looked up and said, “I guess I’ll have to find someone to field train him.” I looked at the nervous young man and said, “I’ll do it”. The young man walked up to me and said his name was Joe. After roll call I took Joe outside and sat him down. I then told “It is important that the same number of officers go home alive as attended roll call……” When I look back over my career it was worth it, and my foundation started with Bob.
Bob was not simply a leader, a mentor, but a friend. At the end of ones career in any profession, you will be extremly luck to have had your own Bob.