Thirty-nine years ago today, I entered the Chicago Police Academy as a recruit. After six months of school, I hit the streets.
Being a Chicago Police Officer was the most rewarding experience, next to parenthood, I ever had.
I spent almost thirty years serving and protecting the citizens of Chicago. It was a great career. Time flew by. On the day I retired, it felt like almost yesterday that I walked into the Chicago Police Academy.
The streets of Chicago are the greatest social science laboratory in the world. I received an education that no university program could duplicate. Psychologists and psychiatrists do not get that type of real-world education.
I learned several things about human nature. First, and foremost, self-survival and self-preservation is the first law of nature. Humans will do anything and everything to survive. Myself included. I will prevail. If you get hurt or your life is lost, so be it.
Working in one of the most impoverished and dangerous areas of the city, I learned most poor people just want to get by. The majority are good people in dire circumstances. Some through their own fault and most through conditioning.
I learned how to communicate with people from all walks of life. From the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor. From the most powerful to the weakest. I can talk and hold a conversation with anyone. I can solve anyone's problem. Cops are problem solvers.
Rich or poor, powerful or weak, people all have the same problems. They are crime victims and criminals. They argue and/or abuse their spouses, their children get into trouble, their neighbors are expletive deleted and a host of other non-criminal issues.
People need the police to solve their problems, no matter how trivial or important. Who else can they call late at night? Their alderman? Good luck with that.
One of the earliest lessons I learned is, "There is nothing I can do," is not in our vocabulary. You will always find a way to help people no matter how dire or trivial the situation. Tell a citizen there is nothing you can do and a ton of bricks will fall on your head if they complain.
If you listen to people, they will tell you what they want to hear. All you have to do is repeat it back to them and they will be satisfied. It helps if you have a list of contacts they can use to solve their problem. I had 24-hour phone numbers for just about every kind of service.
"If it does not suck, we do not do it," is another lesson learned. Believe me, we did all kinds of things that sucked. Some sucking big time.
One of the most important lessons I learned early was, if you think you know everything, you are wrong. Policing is a constant learning and educational experience. You never know everything. Never is a very long time.
I learned there are two kinds of people in the world. Givers and takers. The givers give until it hurts. The takers take with glee and abandon.
I did things I am proud of. I did things I am not so proud of. I do not dwell on either of them.
I witnessed the worst of human's inhumanity to each other, especially to the most vulnerable among us. Human beings are cruel and more vicious than predatory beasts.
I witnessed the best of human kindness and charity, especially from those who have nothing to give.
Some of my friend's lives were taken for something called duty. Others suffered catastrophic injuries.
After almost thirty years, I came out somewhat sane, healthy, and alive.
I am grateful for every day I spent on the Chicago Police Department. I am grateful to the citizens who unknowingly taught me so much. I am grateful for my brother and sister police officers who worked side by side with me.
I retired almost ten years ago. As retirees say, I don't miss the circus, I just miss the clowns.
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