I preach this to every academy class of recruits:
“You’re joining a Brotherhood. You have probably received your last traffic ticket. Most times, when you eat at a restaurant, you won’t pay full price – if anything at all.” This is always greeted with grins and a few snickers.
But then, I add, “always remember this: for every single benefit you receive, you owe a hundred times more back to your brothers.” This usually draws blank stares throughout the group.
I have been favored with a wonderful career opportunity. While practicing my skills as a cop, I travel across the country. I teach classes to cops. Some of it is in the classroom. But much of it happens one-on-one in the patrol car – small agencies and large agencies, alike.
I have seen cop skills that are across the board. I have been exposed to methods and tactics by the best. I have ridden with hundreds of cops and done my best to learn at least one thing from each of them. I’ve been able to incorporate their best into my own style. That’s a gift that few cops ever receive.
While cops are reluctant to speak in a classroom setting, I find much the opposite in the patrol car. After working together for a short time, in most cases we relax and begin talking about everything and anything.
Some guys share some very deep thoughts about their personal life. Other times, it’s about lifting weights (I’m a bodybuilder), good beer, or hot women. On occasion, the conversation even drifts to topics of police work (wink).
There’s a story I’ve heard dozens of times. It usually comes from a seasoned officer. “It’s not like the old days, anymore,” the cop laments. “These kids today are here just for the paycheck. We don’t get together at the end of our shift for beer anymore. If someone’s out sick or injured, no one seems to care – much less stop by and check in,”
“Copping just ain’t what it used to be. It’s such a shame,” seems to be the common message.
They’re right. Today isn’t yesterday. Tomorrow and every day that follows will be different, too. But exactly what are these seasoned cops describing?
I’M ONE OF THE “OLD DOGS”
OK, I’m strange. I’ll admit it. I’m middle-aged and started my cop career in my forties. It was a second career. I was the “old guy” in my academy class. Mentally though, I’m still 10 years old (much to the consternation of my wife).
This approach gives me a great deal of latitude in my behavior. My chronological age makes me a dinosaur; my mental age makes me a kid. A strange mix, indeed.
I’ve looked back over my career for examples of how one “pays their dues” in this Brotherhood. I’ve decided to share some short stories. The big events of Brotherhood are obvious: funerals, academy graduations, saving the life of a fellow officer. We all can recognize those moments.
I think it’s the smaller opportunities that are often missed.
A LETTER TO THE EDITOR appeared in American Police Beat in September, 2003. It read (in part), “I was forced to retire on a medical in 2002 and I receive $831 monthly. My department made a lot of promises but so far not one has been kept. I have an $18,000 hospital bill and no insurance. I used to have pride, but I have none left. If any of my fellow officers know of a foundation or charity that I could call for help, please let me know.”
Our FOP Lodge banded together. We got the kids clothes. We sent food. We sent money for the utilities and other necessities. We saw to it that they had a good Thanksgiving meal and that their kids got everything on their Christmas lists. A Lodge brother in NY found a place to provide medical treatment.
I could have skipped over that letter and no one would have ever known – except me.
I BELONG TO AN EMAIL DISCUSSION GROUP restricted just to cops. There’s about 3,000 members, world wide. Some time ago, a cop from Connecticut posted that he would be traveling to my home town to take a pre-employment test for the feds. “Could someone recommend a place to stay,” he asked in a posting.
I could. At my insistence, he stayed in our home and I made a new life-long friend. It was a done deal.
I WAS HAVING LUNCH with some pals from my agency. Out of the group, a young kid/cop (2 yrs on) seemed very sullen and troubled that day. I asked casually, if something was wrong. “Things aren’t so good at home,” referring to his new wife and the struggles of being married to a cop.
While the others were paying the bill, I got him off to the side. I reminded him that he’s never alone, i.e. his brothers are there 24×7. No matter how difficult, he could always turn to one of us. Nothing big, but it drew a sincere handshake and “thank you” in response.
POLICE WEEK in Washington D.C. during May each year has been termed by some as, “spring break for cops.” Parts of it are, no doubt. On arrival each year, I wonder if that year will be the one where it becomes “mundane” or “routine,” but it never does.
The first visit each year renews my commitment to my brothers as I see the names that are freshly etched at the bottom of the panels on the Wall. I look at the letters, notes, pictures, and other items expressing both love and loss which have been left in the honor of a fallen officer.
I look for fellow officers who may (at that moment) need an arm, a hug, a word of encouragement, or simply a knowing glance of affirmation that they are not alone. We stand together. We always will.
I READ WITH HORROR the accounts of how a 3 year old child of a friend/fellow officer in another city had found his weapon and the child killed himself with it. My friend posted to our List some of what he was feeling: loss, remorse, guilt, and the pain of losing a child. He invited our prayers of support.
The night after the funeral, I picked up the phone and called him. I simply said that his brothers encircle him; we love him; we know that he carries a burden too great to describe and that he does not carry it alone. Then, I listened until my friend ran out of things to say. I reminded him that both God and his brothers will always love him and that he can always turn to us for consolation.
THE HOUSE THAT WENT SIDEWAYS is a story of how my best friend got into an investment in a house which made sense at the time. But, then the housing market went down and interest rates went up. Suddenly, he’s losing financial ground every month and making up for it by working overtime and side details every waking moment.
He doesn’t have time for himself, for fun, not even to hit the gym for a workout. He can’t go on like this indefinitely.
There are no miracle cures. But, our brother was so embroiled in the situation that he couldn’t see a way out. I found a real estate/financial advisor for him who knows how to handle this situation with limited pain. I will introduce them shortly.
I’VE GOT A BUDDY FROM MINNEAPOLIS who sent an email saying that he was coming to my town. I hadn’t known it, but he grew up here. His ailing mother still lived here. She had been taken to an area hospital and wasn’t expected to live very long. He wanted to be at her side as her life ended. He wanted me to recommend a rental car company, which I did.
Without forewarning, I showed up at the hospital room when I knew he would be there. I discreetly walked into the room, found my brother Bob, and introduced myself. I hugged him and told him that I was there to share his burden and help in any way that I could. He was overwhelmed in tears.
Enough of the stories. I could go on, but if you’re still reading, you get the message. The important points that I want to get across:
None of these were big, earth-shaking events.
No one would have known if I had chosen to ignore the opportunity to do something for a brother – except me.
These situations are best recognized through careful listening and watching, rather than talking and acting.
IS TODAY’S ACADEMY SYSTEM TO BLAME?
I have worked with departments where they held their own academy training. Today we’re more “enlightened” in the training process. Agencies are seemingly not smart enough to train their own cops without big brothers of the state agency telling them every move to make.
Learning to be a cop used to be like learning an art form. One apprenticed much like an electrician or a plumber. Learning the elements was inextricably wound around learning the style and the art simultaneously. But, no more. Learning to be a cop today is now done in the sterile environment of academia.
Of course, today’s academies must be politically correct and properly sanitized.
Gone are the days when guys in an agency knew their class number throughout their entire career. They worked the entire time with the same guys who were in their class. Most could name the guys in their class at any time, without much effort.
You learned to be a cop by being a cop. You worked with a journeyman, so to speak, until you were judged by your peers ready to go it alone.
Today’s cop spends hundreds of hours in a classroom. Many of the instructors are so boring or poor at teaching that the greatest challenge is staying awake. And in the end, do we produce better cops? I suspect not. Most cops aren’t considered “real” cops until they finish the FTO program, which is a modern term for an apprenticeship.
HOW DO WE TEACH “THE BROTHERHOOD?”
Yesterday’s cops learned about the bond of the Thin Blue Line by watching their training officers. They went along when someone on the crew needed help at their home with a project. They stayed at the end of the shift for a few beers out behind the station. They were in the car when the senior officer stopped by the house of another who was either sick or injured.
They watched this in their formative years. Like young children watch and learn from their parents.
Today’s learning experience (regional academies) preclude it.
If The Brotherhood is to survive, those who understand it tenets must step forward now and take responsibility to teach the young.
- Call the coordinator of your local academy and offer to speak to the class about The Brotherhood and how it has affected your life. If there isn’t time available during regular classes, do it while they eat lunch. But, do it.
- Offer to mentor a small group of recruits in the academy. Take them on shift with you as often as possible. Let them see “real” cop work while they’re doing their book-learning.
- Join the honor guard in your department and ask one of the rooks to join with you.
- Listen, listen, listen and watch the young guys in your department. If you sense that one of them is troubled or struggling, privately ask if they need anything. It’s a chance to remind and show them that we stand together. Young people learn much more from watching than they do from listening.
- If you have the chance to take a shift assignment with a newbie, do it. Use the time to ask and learn about him. Ask how he’s handling the stress of the job. Share your experiences. Don’t ever “tell” him what he should do but rather, let him know what has worked (or not worked) for you.
We must remember that the “old dogs” had a very different front-end on their careers. They learned from a different bunch of guys. They were taught that the bond of The Brotherhood was equal in importance to nearly everything else they would do as a cop. They learned it from their first day.
Today’s young cops probably have not had the benefits that we did. If they’ve figured it out for themselves (as many have), they’ve done it differently than you or me.
The seasoned veterans are responsible for proactively teaching. Don’t be afraid of sharing the message.
I train cops around the country. I arrive at an agency ahead of class with enough time to ride for part or all of a shift. My understanding of the agency and its people is far from deep, but I do the best that I can.
My class material is about 50% on the specific subject matter (usually technology), 25% on the tactical implications of that technology, and the remaining on the obligations we have to our Brotherhood. Nearly every class concludes with reviews or verbal comments that thank me for including the messages about our fraternal obligations. Many question why it isn’t part of our formal curriculum.
Good question. The answer: education eggheads don’t have clue. So, The Brotherhood gets swept aside. We are the only ones who can stop the erosion. One cop at a time. You and me.
It’s up to you. What will you do TODAY to strengthen our Brotherhood? Only you know. As my Dad used to say to me, “make sure that when you look in the mirror each day to shave, you’re seeing someone that you’re proud of.”
I’m doing my best. I hope you are too.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
I HOPE YOU WILL LEAVE A COMMENT ABOUT THIS ARTICLE OR ABOUT CopBlue IN GENERAL.
Note: this article was first published a few years ago. But, each year in May as we are called to remember those Brother and Sisters whom we have lost, I have an emotional need to once again remind everyone of our obligations to each other.
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