Law enforcement runs in the blood. Cops say it all the time: we bleed blue. Many times it is passed on to future generations, a rare blue marker on that double helix of DNA. I got mine from my hero, my mentor – my Dad.
My parents were high school sweethearts, growing up in Upper Darby, PA. They dated, broke up a time or two and basically did the things teenagers did in the early ‘50s. In 1956, they were married, moved to Marple Township and began an epic journey that would lead to great things like, well, me! Oh, and of course my brother and sisters and now our children and grandchildren. There are 5 children, 13 grandchildren, and thus far 10 great-grandchildren from this wonderful couple.
In 1965, Dad became a police officer. Later in life, when we were old enough to comprehend, Dad shared his “training” with us. He reported for work, was handed a badge, a gun and the keys to a patrol car. The Chief shook his hand and told him to be careful and set him loose on the town.
During the 1960s and 70s, having a father who was a police officer did not make you the most popular person in the schoolyard. But my parents instilled in all of us a deep respect for the law. They took an interest in us and encouraged us to be our best. They involved themselves as interested parents who sought to make everyone’s experience an adventure. Those who participated with us quickly learned knowing the cop was not a bad thing. Even now, old friends from the Boy Scouts still talk about Dad stomping out a campfire in his stocking feet and Mom’s spaghetti and meatballs packaged for our camping trips.
Another issue in that time was the violence being perpetrated against officers simply because they wore the uniform. Once, two officers were gunned down in their station in Philly by the Black Panthers. They were buried in Marple. Dad dressed in his uniform, herded us all into the car and headed to the entrance of the cemetery where we met the rest of the members of the department and their families. When the hearse arrived, we all stood silently, our fathers at attention and saluting, as the procession followed. Hundreds of police from miles around paraded into the grounds in a line that seemed to go on forever. We returned home in silence, the reality echoing through our young psyches.
Dad earned many honors during his time on the job. There was one for blindly entering a burning house and carrying the elderly homeowner to a window where he passed her to the arriving firefighters. There was an honor for his off-duty pursuit and capture of a serial cat-burglar who had been scaling balconies at an apartment building. There was a medal for his life risking actions on a suspicious package call. Well before robotics and bomb suits, the nearest bomb squad was far away. Rather than risk panic in a crowded shopping center, Dad tucked the package like a football and ran. There were honors for saving a popular public works employee who suffered a life threatening injury when he was struck by a car and pinned against his truck.
But one for which there were no accolades stays with me. In a park in Marple, a massive tree fell across a stream creating a bridge. The trunk rested on the rotted stump and created a diving plank into the deep part of the stream. One hot summer day, a young child was playing on the bank next to the stump while his family swam. Suddenly, the trunk slipped off the stump crushing the child. Dad freed the child while awaiting the arrival of the ambulance. But despite herculean efforts, the child could not be saved.
Dad’s Sergeant sent him home for the day. He was covered in the child’s blood and needed to shower and change. The emotional toll was overpowering. Dad denies it, but I know I heard him cry that day. As hard as that day may have been for him, if the job makes you care that much for someone you don’t even know, I wanted to do it.
When I spotted an ad in the paper for a neighboring township’s police department, I circled it and left it on the kitchen table with a note asking Dad what he thought about me taking the test. He was working midnight shift so I figured I’d find a note when I got up. Instead, Dad was sitting at the table waiting for me when he should have been sleeping. He looked at me and asked, “Do you really want to do this?” I said yes. He replied, “Then be the best you can be.”
I soon learned that just because you can apply at 18 doesn’t mean you will be hired. I was finishing high on the lists but getting passed over for appointments. Finally, one department told me the man hired over of me gained experience in the military, so off to the recruiter’s office I went. In 1980, Iran was holding Americans hostage and the drums of war sounded loud. I decided if I was going to war, I was going with the best and I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as an MP.
Then, I was a scrawny 130 pounds so joining the Marines was questionable. I later learned the members of the fire company had a pool going on when I would wash out. One person bet on me making it all the way – Dad. And he won. Mom, Dad, and family members made the drive to Parris Island to see me graduate. They were quite surprised to find me as a 165 pound Marine.
Dad had a strong interest in arson investigation. He attended schools and joined the Pennsylvania and the International Associations of Arson Investigators rising to President of the former and Boards of Directors of the latter. My interest in photography led him to call me out on investigations to assist. Soon, my photos were used in trials. I began attending arson schools and continued to do so for over 18 years attending various general and specialized schools including a school held at the FBI Academy in Quantico VA.
In 1986, I was hired as a patrolman with Radnor Township. I attended the Pennsylvania State Police Southeast Training Center Municipal Police Academy and graduated second in my class. At my graduation, my Dad handed me a giftwrapped box which contained a silver Cross pen and pencil set. Before I opened it, he said to me, “Remember to use your head before you use what is in that box. You can change someone’s life.” It wasn’t long before those words echoed through my head.
As a rookie in Radnor, you get to work “the Block.” This beat is about 6 by 4 blocks comprising the business shopping district in the center of town. At certain hours, you stand on the corner of the main intersection and look good. If a pedestrian wants to cross the street, you push the button for them so the “walk” light cycles on.
One morning, I noticed a westbound car veer into the eastbound lanes because the westbound traffic had stopped for the red light. The car paused at the intersection and started to cross. I ran into the intersection, whistle blowing and shouting for the operator to stop while waving for cross traffic to stop. The car stopped clear of the intersection and the driver exited the car without putting it in park. Now I’m stopping the car, yelling for her license and trying to call for help on my radio. The driver was wandering around rambling about how her doctor said she should get out for a bit. And I’m thinking just how many citations I’m going to write.
She reached up to scratch her head which was wrapped in a light silk scarf. As she did, the scarf shifted and I saw what appeared to be a fresh surgical incision stapled shut running from her forehead across the topside of her head to the base of her skull. Suddenly, her eyes rolled back, she stopped talking, and she pitched to the side and began falling. I reached to catch her, hit my microphone with my chin and called for an ambulance. I eased the woman to the ground and checked her vital signs.
After the woman was transported to the hospital, I parked her car in a metered parking space. I took one of my business cards and wrote “Do not ticket. Owner in hospital,” and placed it on the windshield. As I went to put my pen away, I looked at it, and Dad’s message sounded loud and clear. I almost cited this woman. She was following orders from a doctor who apparently didn’t have a clue. She was not ready to drive. She wasn’t even ready to be out of the hospital.
Two weeks later, I received a phone message at the station from a man with a German name. When I called him, he identified himself as the German equivalent of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The woman I encountered was his sister. He wanted to express his thanks for the assistance given to his sister and to let me know she was recovering. He also wanted me to know he had arrived to remove her car and was quite surprised to find not a single ticket had been issued and my card was still on the windshield.
Dad has been there through it all. When a suspect placed a gun to my head and the struggle which I think took minutes but still feels like hours ended without a shot fired, Dad was the one I talked to. And his simple statement, “You’re still alive so you had to do something right,” made it all make sense. He was the one I talked to when, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t save the 20 year old kid who decided death was the best way out. And he was the one I was proud to tell I brought a 10 year-old back to life.
Unfortunately, my on-duty car accident ended my patrol career long before I would have liked. In an odd coincidence, due to my accident, my father and I both “retired” the same year.
My Dad is my hero, my mentor, and my inspiration to follow a career in the law. I hope I’ve made him proud.
Robert was raised by a 28 year police veteran in Marple Township PA where his parents taught him love and respect for the law and others. Robert served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the early 1980s as a Military Police Officer. After his discharge, he pursued a career as a municipal Police Officer in suburban Philadelphia in Radnor Township. He was involved in an on-duty vehicle accident which caused him to leave law enforcement after 7 years on the force. Robert enrolled in college earning his Associates Degree Summa Cum Laude in Paralegal Studies with a minor in Administration of Justice from the Delaware County Community College, a Bachelor’s Degree and a Certificate in Paralegal Studies from Widener University in Chester PA and his Juris Doctor from the Widener University School of Law. During Law School, Robert served a clinical internship with the Delaware County (PA) District Attorney’s Office. He currently volunteers his assistance with photography services to the Delaware County Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Foundation and the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation. Robert is currently not licensed to practice law and does not intend any information presented to constitute legal advice.