A lot has changed since I began this career over 30 years ago. When I think of all the different styles of policing that have evolved through the decades, sometimes it seems that good old common sense may have lost its way. To this day I have not forgotten the many lessons I learned from my FTO’s back in the day, the ones who took me under their wings and taught me a lesson or two about being a good cop. One particular call with one FTO still sticks with me as the best advice I’ve gotten in all of these years.
My FTO was pushing 30 years on the Minneapolis Police Department. He was just under 6 feet tall and weighed in at a solid 250 pounds. His first name was Jack, a Vietnam vet still sporting a silver crew cut. He had one major sign of rebellion, the best Fu-Manchu mustache you’ve ever seen.
Jack was close to 60 and had a reputation as a hard ass. During the first shift, my sergeant sent me to meet Jack. I found him down in the precinct gym on the bench press doing his “chest routine”. He was wearing duty boots, uniform pants and a t-shirt, pressing 225 lbs 10 times with relative ease.
He didn’t seem to be bothered by the lit cigarette in his mouth while he was lifting. “You ready kid?” he said as he finished up his reps, “Yes sir I am!” I replied. “Good, get the squad ready, it’s going to be a busy night” as he dropped the weights back onto the rack.
Once on the street, we talked about who I was and why I wanted to be a Minneapolis cop. I was spouting the usual responses like making a difference in the world when we got a disturbance call in a quieter part of our district.
Immediately Jack recognized the address as one of the regulars he had dealt with many times before. “Hey, you get to meet the Doctor!” jack laughed, “About once a month, he calls about strange things going on around his house. He’s a retired PhD, you’re gonna love this”. Somehow I felt there was probably more Jack knew but wasn’t telling me.
We arrived at the disturbance call and in usual recruit manner, I tactically parked a couple houses away, Jack chuckled as I cautiously approached the front door. While I was approaching the door, Jack jumped past me, knocked loudly and casually yelled “Police!” After a few minutes of silence I went to knock again, Jack grabbed my arm and said “You only have to knock once for the doctor, don’t worry he’ll answer”. Now I definitely knew there was more he wasn’t telling me.
I could hear some muffled noises making their way closer and closer to the door then a slight crack appeared between the door and the door jam. A sliver of an old man’s face peeked out and whispered “Are you alone?” “Just us Pooleece” Jack replied amusingly.
The door slowly opened as I was on red alert to all the possible scenarios that were running through my rookie mind. Jack said “Hey Doc, what’s the problem tonight?” We could see the old man was wearing a neatly-fashioned tin foil hat with a matching tin foil vest. In spite of the old man’s obviously odd behavior, I couldn’t help notice how nicely constructed the hat and vest were. For some reason, that really stuck out to me.
As Jack and I stepped into the small rambler style house, I could see tin foil covering every window and opening to the outside world. I also noticed that Jack seemed completely aloof to the oddity of the old man’s style of dress and interior design.
Doc began telling us about alien beings hovering outside his house trying to steal his thoughts. That’s when Jack told me, “Rookie, you see the doctor here is a retired biophysics engineering professor from the university. He holds several very important patents”.
The doctor told us that the CIA was communicating with the aliens who were conspiring to steal his ideas so they can take over the world. That’s why he put the tin foil everywhere to block the radio signals they were using to drain the thoughts from his head.
Jack strolled around the room. After a few seconds, he pointed at the old man and at the windows. “Doc, your problem here is very clear. You see all the tin foil you have here is wrong. You have the shiny side facing IN. If you’re going to block and deflect all those radio signals, you need to have the shiny side facing OUT!”
The old man was stunned, as was I. In a moment of silence, Doc waked around the inside of his house rubbing his chin. He went into each room mumbling to himself, “Of course….that’s it…..OF COURSE!” He came back into the living room and said “That’s it! I need to change this stuff around. I need to get my shiny side facing out”.
Doc shook hands and thanked Jack for seeing what he could not. Still confused, I followed Jack back in silence. Jack grabbed my arm in a very serious and quiet voice he said “Kid, this job is going to be tough. It can make you lose your family, turn your back on your friends, and hate the world if you let it. If you’re going to make it through life as a cop, you need to protect yourself from all of the bullS%$t this world is going to throw at you. Take my advice and don’t ever forget it-you always keep your shiny side facing out”.
Stay safe out there everyone!
Steven L. Blackwell is a public safety professional with over 30 years’ experience executing, leading, and directing in all functions of policing, with a special focus on community engagement and police special operations. He is an Army veteran who proudly served in Central America, Bosnia, and Iraq.