People frequently ask me: “What was your inspiration to get into police work?” or “Did you have a calling?”
First of all, I don’t know how the calling happens. I’ve heard others say they had a calling to do something — something significant — but the callings apparently escaped me in my youth. (Callings are rare after 50.) If I had a calling then, I missed it — something totally possible.
You can take people and compare them to others who did great things before them. In this business we’re frequently compared to TV cops. I didn’t even make that cut!
The last comparison I heard about myself was when someone compared my career to Bob Uecker and his baseball career. I thought about that and have to admit that it’s just about right on the mark. I didn’t plan on it, but it just turned out that way. So be it! Could be worse. Besides, I like Bob Uecker. He came and spoke to my Little League Opening Day ceremony back around 1964 or so over at Flowers Park in Doraville. The kid next to me kept his knees locked, I guess, because he fainted during Uecker’s speech. It was cool. Uecker never even looked at him.
One thing that I did excel in was thinking on my feet. I could adjust and I could adapt to significant changes, small and large. I had been married for more than 20 when I got a divorce. I adapted to poverty quite well over the next two years. I still have a fondness for Ramen Noodles and I became quite good at counting my change in record time at the checkout counter.
Any good police officer with any time spent on patrol knows that every plan needs a backup plan. And if you’ve got a couple of minutes to spare, a second backup plan would be time well spent. There are folks who don’t think well on their feet. Some of them aren’t with us anymore.
Fortunately, I had great experience in making split decisions when things went wrong since, for a while there, everything in my life seemed to go wrong to at least some degree. Not bad, bad wrong, but Murphy’s Law wrong.
There are several episodes that I remember when I was on patrol where I had things in hand and then things went south. That had happened a bunch, but one sticks out in my mind.
Probably the worst thing in the world for a police officer is losing his weapon — opposed to sometimes forgetting it and leaving it at home, causing a stark reality check and an extended ETA to work. (I’m just saying. …)
Once upon a time, in a far-far-away galaxy now known as John’s Creek, I had a large zone to cover. We worked the evening watch, which ran from 3 in the afternoon to 1 a.m. Around 10 or 11 p.m., things would heat up. It was fun time for young cops. Drunks would get toasted in the bar and about twice a week someone would get “nekid” and run amok.
“Nekid” of course is the equivalent of nude plus a lot of liquor. “Nude” has some connotation of art. “Nekid” means drunk, 30 pounds overweight and wearing nothing but a “John Deere” hat. Unfortunately for many young men, “nekid” does not include the female gender. They were more discreet. Supermodels don’t get “nekid.”
Aside from chasing “nekid” drunk guys blitzed on beer, the best part of the night was the adrenalin rush of getting priority calls. Priority calls mean blue lights. Blue lights equal an adrenalin rush. Blue lights plus the adrenalin rush — plus the Van Halen cassette tape I’d slap in the tape player and jack the volume for just such an occasion — was a total gas.
Back to thinking on our feet.
When men were men and chases were chases
On one evening about 10 p.m., a beat car attempted to make a traffic stop on a car in which the stop-ee didn’t comply. He ran. He hit the road up in the south part of Sandy Springs and headed north.
When a beat car tells radio he’s in a chase — “chase” meaning actually chasing the bad guy, as opposed to the new-millennium chase policies, which give you the leverage to shake your fist at the car and dock him five points on his credit report as he drives off — everyone in close range went to the chase.
It was like a big celebration. We would all follow the chase and, for me, I would slap the Van Halen tape in the tape deck and be singing at the top of my lungs:
“I live my life like there’s no tomorrow.
And all I’ve got I had to steal.Least I don’t need to beg or borrow.
Yea, I’m living at a pace that kills.
Runnin’ with the devil.
Runnin’ with the devil. “
Chases only lasted a minute or two. This guy headed north into the very well-organized and absolutely cute town of Roswell. He ditched the car after said car found a creek to get stuck in. He bolted and ran up a long hill. Coming south from my beat, I got on the radio and gave my positon, to which the radio dispatcher said, “What??? I can’t hear you over that Van Halen Music!”
I turned it down, gave my position and reported that I was on foot chasing this guy up a hill into the woods. I ran after him, jumped a creek and continued up the hill in the dark, all the while “Runnin’ with the devil” was still ringing in my head. I was about 15 yards behind this guy who, suddenly, turned around and faced me.
Now, when a bad guy turns around to face you, it means one of two things: He’s either giving up or he’s ready to make a stand. (That’s the point where you normally realize how !&*$_#-ing big they are!)
Fortunately, this guy was very tired and out of gas — as was I.
Now, during this initial meeting, I don’t know if he has a gun or what is going on in his mind, so the proper response is to cover him with a weapon until you can determine he’s not armed. Knowing this, and in a very macho manner, I reached for my .357 stowed away in my fancy break-front holster, all the while saying to myself “I wonder how many Grammy’s Van Halen has won.”
To my surprise, and not in a good way, when I reached down to grab my gun, I realized the damn thing was missing. My break-front holster had apparently broke-front, leaving my gun somewhere in the woods between me and my car. My backup gun, which I wore on my ankle in an (obviously) ankle holster, was also gone — a victim of the foot chase through kudzu, I suppose.
It was at this point that I had two choices: I could call Batman or I could sell this guy on the idea that I was in fact well-armed and in control.
Fortunately, it was dark. This fellow was on his butt, sitting on a rock, exhausted and cursing at me. I was barely standing, also exhausted, thanks to the 20 pounds of stuff on my belt. I pulled my four-cell Kel-Lite flashlight and planted it firmly in the square of his back, telling him this was my weapon and we were going to walk down the hill and not fighting me would be the right thing to do. He made a comment on the large size of the gun barrel he felt against his back as I cuffed him. When I was done, he looked at the flashlight and asked where my gun was. I admitted that I had lost it somewhere in the woods.
I tightened the cuffs.
He stopped laughing.
A couple of hours later, the wrecker driver who towed the bad guy’s car in called and told me he found my .357 in the creek. When I jumped the creek, the gun had apparently dislodged and fell out. The holster didn’t break. but the gun found its way out anyway — Murphy’s Law.
I found my backup gun the next afternoon. It was under a kudzu patch where we had left a trail of hot pursuit the night before.
The moral of the story is this: For every situation, there should be a backup plan or two — or three. Anything can go wrong. Be ready to adapt and always, without fail, have a theme song you can plug in to enhance your adrenalin moments!
Thank you Van Halen.