Cold, Wet, or Hungry

“Kid, a good copper is never cold, wet, or hungry.” That’s what the veteran officer told me. We were sitting in the break room before my first district roll call. I was fresh out of the academy. Most of my uniform still nice and shiny. My pants didn’t have a shine yet but things that should be shiny were. My hat was still shaped like it came from the store and hadn’t been sat on. I hadn’t even met my field training officer yet. I knew my sergeant from the store I worked at before I got hired. He brought me down to the break room for a cup of coffee and to meet some of the officers.

Coffee came from a coin-operated vending machine. It was instant and dispensed in little red and white cups with playing cards on the side and one card on the bottom. I guess you could play a game with them. There were each different. It was difficult to call it coffee, that was unfair to coffee beans.

The old officer went on to tell me once I learned the ropes I would never be cold because I would know better than to get into a situation where I didn’t have my coat or gloves or sweater. You would never get wet because if there was a real deluge you don’t get out of your car. The only place you might is under the cover at the E/R if you were going in to use the washroom. He stressed never get hungry. We were working in a district with plenty of great places to eat. From simple greasy spoons to fine dining you were never more than half a mile from somewhere to get a bite to eat.

This old cop was past his prime. A hell of a nice guy and he would show up to help when needed but he was never aggressively patrolling the district.

Over the years I thought about it. I’ve been cold, wet, and hungry many times. Okay, if you know me you might think I was never hungry. I remember nights that the blood froze on the vehicle accident victim’s face before the ambulance arrived. I had on so many clothes that I was afraid if I fell I would need help getting back up. I learned to always have an extra pair of warm gloves in case you direct traffic around a fire in January. Your skin-tight leather gloves won’t keep you warm in that weather. I kept a neck garter I found for skiing in my bag. It could cover my face, ears, and neck and took up almost no room. With that, I was ready for the unexpected.

When it rained or threatened, my raincoat went in the squad. Sure, you might look like a dork but it kept you dry and warm. I found a little stuff sack at an army surplus store that fit it when I rolled it up tight. On a few cold and rainy nights when my partner was driving and I had been in court all day and there was nothing going on it made a nice pillow to rest my head against the door of the car.

Hungry? There was no excuse for that. In a nice district with lots of restaurants, the hardest choice was which one to pick. In districts with no restaurants, you were more creative or learned to bring your own. You probably had to go out of the district for gas or the detective division or motor maintenance. Swing by the hotdog stand or taco joint. There were always ways to eat.

After spending eight years in a district with little to choose from for dinner it was nice to get back to one with great restaurants. My partner and I transferred in together and were enjoying the splendor of fine dining once again. After a week, we decided to do a progressive dinner. Your parents might have done that. Appetizers at someone’s home, then salads at another home, and so on. We did it going from store to store and restaurant to restaurant. After we had taken a short foot patrol and stopped in at a trendy little pastry shop I informed the dispatcher we were up and clear but would like to request nap time. We both felt that satisfied sluggishness from a full belly. Of course, we were joking.

Although we weren’t getting any radio assignments we went along as backup on at least five jobs. Eventually, we ended up with an arrest and went into the station to process it. When I told the dispatcher what we were doing he said 10-4 and put us down on the arrest.

I stopped for a beer with the guys after work that night. The dispatcher from earlier was in there and he pulled me aside. “When you came up from dinner what did you go down on?” He asked.

I told him we were tired after such a good meal and had asked for nap time. He laughed, he hadn’t understood what I said and threw a blank card in our slot. Back then all the radio assignments were hand written on a punch card sized piece of paper and slipped into a slot on the board in front of them. It turned off your light on the map and you weren’t available for assignments. That sounds so ancient to me now but that was the mid-1990’s. He just tossed out the blank card when we went in for the arrest.

I guess I misunderstood that old timer back in June of 1983. A good copper never got cold, wet, or hungry and was still a good copper, if he used his head.

– Robert Weisskopf