TALES FROM THE BLUE LINE 11

 

Field training is your real beginning moment as a cop. I’d been a police aide for the Milwaukee Police Department for nineteen months, been around cops and precincts and commanding officers and even close up to some people who’d been arrested for serious crimes. And then I was sworn in as a full-fledged police officer and attended four months at the police academy being trained.

 

The first day that I walked into the second police district on Milwaukee’s south side seemed like the first of my life. I could not have felt more brand new and untested. Walking through the building’s front door at 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday, and then entering the general police assembly could not been more intimidating. I couldn’t have felt more exposed as a nobody. At least newborns aren’t aware of how naked they are.

 

Nobody? A cop? Yeah. The uniform identifies you as one who virtually has an infinite amount of power compared to a “regular” citizen, with no true understanding of what that means on your first day of work. I knew at that moment I would only understand what being a police officer meant once I’d actually committed a police act. And what would that act be? Of course, I thought of the first time I’d make an arrest. Placing your hands on a fellow human being, telling them “you are under arrest” while placing the cold, unrelenting steel handcuffs on their wrists. Then taking them to the lock up and slamming the door. They sit in a ten by ten room, with no choice, and you walk away to get on with your life.

 

That is power.

 

That is the key moment, the ice breaker, your baptism into your new world.

 

I honestly thought all of that as I walked through the assembly door of the 2nd precinct. Took me

4-and-a-half seconds. Maybe five. Well, I didn’t think it; I felt it. And feelings are more meaningful than thoughts when you’re walking blindly into the most serious environment you’ve ever been in.

 

A long high, specially constructed table, with two tops slightly tilted downward from each other, stretched more than half the length of the room. Some uniformed officers leaned against the table. Others sat on benches placed against the wall. No one looked at me, even though I was a stranger in their room. They’d been expecting me, one of the new guys reporting for duty that day.

 

I followed along with all of the “roll call” rituals; descriptions of suspects, changes in department procedure; sergeants checking each officer’s work gear. The veterans went through the motions in a  bored manner. I saw the other new officers who were assigned to the second precinct for their field training.

 

Roll call ended, and everyone went to their assigned posts; supervisors to their offices and street officers rounding up their equipment  go to the garage and parking lots to get into their vehicles. The sounds of shuffling feet and mundane conversations about – about anything that was going on in their lives. I did not absorb or join in with any of the chatter. I was a rookie. Rookies keep their mouths shut.

 

Along the way I was introduced to my FTO – Field Training Officer – who was professional and pleasant but kept to himself. We went to the squad car and he opened the passenger door for me. I was surprised and hesitant. He smiled at me and said that this was the nicest thing to expect from anyone at work. It was a first and last time thing with him. An ice breaker, a lightening of the mood. I was grateful for his easy going manner.

 

The Second Precinct is what was in 1971 a second tier area as far as the number and seriousness of crimes. The FTO was quick to mention that, but just as quick to say I shouldn’t let it lull me. With police work, any thing can happen at any time.

We began covering the assigned squad area – the FTO rapidly pointing out things that cops look for: The grocery store was still open; his car was parked in front of the store. In the early moments of riding in the squad it was, in a way, too much too soon. (I’ve spoken with many veteran officers since then and all say they were completely overwhelmed when they first hit the street.)

“Well, I got some heavy duty things planned for us tonight,” Roger, the Field Training Officer said to me. “Couple of high speed car chases. A bank robbery – even though it’s Sunday – and I’ll let you choose one yourself.”

I let out a short, polite laugh, not knowing exactly what he expected. I rolled my eyes left to glance at him. He was steering the squad with one hand a the top of the wheel, expressionless. He did not look back at me.

I’ll never forget that moment. It was my first real introduction to police officer style humor, which is to speak of major crimes as though they were unremarkable incidents. The way two people might discuss their plans to do the laundry some time that day.

I didn’t understand why, exactly. It wasn’t long until I myself had the hard heart that is foisted upon you by co-experiencing the disastrous moments of the victims of crime for whom you worked. It was necessary to protect yourself while you were living through informing a mother that her teenager had been killed in a car accident. It became an unfortunate habit – too often expressed in front of citizens.

“Squad 27,” the dispatcher said on the police radio.

That was our squad number.

“2-7, go,” Roger said into the microphone.

“They’re holding a shoplifter in the drugstore on K.K. and Lincoln.”

K.K. and Lincoln where cross streets in our area.

“10-4,” Roger said nonchalantly and replaced the microphone on its latch on the dashboard.

“That’s back the other way,” he said, pulling to the curb before wheeling the car around. “Sounds like you’re gonna get your first arrest.”

Of course all the physical reactions available in a human body under such circumstance began to set off. But they all boil down to one word: Anxiety.

“2-7,” the dispatcher said again. “Better hurry it up. They say the thief is fighting.”

Roger grabbed the microphone once again. “10-4” he said, and turned on the siren and flashing red lights on the roof.

“Now, if this guy fights with us, you know how to deal with it, right?” Roger asked.

I’d been trained endlessly on how to subdue a person who was fighting. But that didn’t lessen the already throbbing anxiety I’d felt. “Yeah,” I said. What else was I gonna say?

In what seemed like seconds we arrived at the drugstore at the corner of K.K. and Lincoln.

“Follow me,” Roger said when we arrived and parked.

It was a small shopping area, and people stopped to watch.

“No-o-o!” we heard a girl’s voice shouting.

Geez, what was going on?

A man was trying to hang on to a young girl, who we later learned was 9-years-old.

She was squirming and trying to sink down from his arms. Roger grabbed her, as did I. She stopped for the most part, but still struggled and tried to break free. We took her out to the squad. She struggled all the way. More people had come by and were stopped, and watching.

It was all phony resistance; putting on the show of not wanting to cooperate. But we both held her as we forced her to the squad. While putting her in the back seat of the squad a man’s voice said from behind us, “This is what she was after.”

We turned to look. He was holding a chocolate candy bar.

While driving to the precinct she screamed and kicked the back seat. “I did not steal!” she shouted.

We stopped at a stop sign. She grabbed the door handle, attempting to exit.

“Put these on her,” Roger said, handing me his handcuffs.

I was turned around in my seat, on my knees. She kicked at my face. More false resistance. She stopped instantly as I put a cuff on one of her wrists.

The precinct had only been blocks away. We arrived, and she stopped her “resistance.”

“You guys got her!” the desk sergeant yelled when we came through the front door. He came around quickly and leaned down to study her face. “Yeah, she’s the one. Been missing from her aunt’s house overnight.”

In the conference room I studied her while Roger took her statement. Her eyes were – bland. Cold, but unemotional would best describe them. She badly needed a bath, her clothes were dirty. All of the fight had gone out of her, and she admitted taking the candy bar without hesitation.

She didn’t care. Didn’t care that she’d be gone from her aunt’s for more than a day, that she’d stolen something, and that she’d struggled with cops. She was a young soul headed for trouble.

The sergeant told us after we’d finished that she wasn’t going back to her aunt’s, or back home, for that matter.

“They gotta keep her away from her old man. They say he likes to play slap and tickle with her, if you get my meaning.”

Unfortunately, we did.
ROb2This is the 11th in an ongoing series from Rob.

He spent thirty-two years as a Milwaukee police officer: seven years doing undercover narcotics investigations and twenty-two years as a major crimes detective. Writing and reading have been lifelong passions, and he began by writing short stories more than thirty years ago.