I remember it clearly. It was Friday, February 11, 1983. I got a letter in the mail telling me to report to the Chicago Police Academy on Monday, February 14, 1983. I was hired and would be starting the police academy. After three years of testing and tryouts with every police department in the area I was getting hired to be a Chicago Police Officer.
That night I went out with my buddies and really celebrated. It was a wild night with good friends, some of which I had been close with since grade school. They toasted me and wished me well. It was a great night, one you don’t forget.
I entered the Academy on Monday morning all ready to be the police. Of course I was nervous, but I was excited about this new job. I guess I had always wanted to be an officer. I felt that I had been destined to be a police officer. I was happy to be there. I looked forward to the training, schooling, and challenges ahead. I felt I was ready for everything that came my way.
I knew I would be in for a tough physical training. I had played football and soccer in high school. I figured that I could get through anything that came my way. I wasn’t worried about the academic curriculum that I would go through. I had always done pretty well in school. I hunted, fished, and was always a pretty good shot so firearm training looked to be fun. I knew that I would be going through a bunch of training scenarios. I felt prepared for after all the war stories I had heard from my father and his friends.
I knew that after the academy I would be going to a district and work rotating shifts. I knew that every 28 days I would change shifts going from days to midnights to afternoons. I actually looked forward to that. I thought of it as a challenge.
I knew that I would work six days and then be off two. Every few weeks that worked out into two three day weekends off. For a young guy with a good paying job that really sounded great.
As I progressed through the Academy, we went from civilian dress the first week to khaki uniforms to the regular blues. I took great pride in making sure my shoes were shined, my gun clean, and my uniform pressed.
I knew that this was all going to take a lot of work and take a lot out of me. I knew that this would definitely change me and my life. I just had no idea how much.
Now that I am into my thirtieth year as a police officer, I can look back and see how it changed me and how it affected my life. Some changes are definitely an improvement and some definitely were not.
One change, that really hurt, was a great surprise. I lost quite a few of my friends. There were a lot of reasons why. Some friends decided they didn’t like the police. They refused to see beyond their prejudices and just turned away. I realized they really were not great friends in the first place. I could probably do without them.
Next, there were some friends that led a lifestyle that bordered on a path that was not the straight and narrow. They just started feeling uncomfortable around me now that I was the police. I might bump into them, but the calls and invitations slowly stopped coming. I miss some of them.
There were some friends who meant well. They were afraid to call me because they didn’t know my hours and didn’t want to wake me. Young with no seniority, I worked most holidays and was not available often. People stopped inviting after a while.
Eventually, the calls and get-togethers were fewer and fewer and farther and farther apart. Looking back it, was just as much my fault here as theirs. I could have made more of an effort to keep them close, but I was mesmerized by my new job and that was all I could think of. Eventually it became years between calls and now I can’t remember the last time we spoke. I recently saw a Facebook photo of one of these friends. He was with his kids. When did his kids get all grown up? When did he have a third son?
Of course I made some new friends. I got married after a couple years on the job. I got to know her friends but it was a different kind of friendship. You would be invited to a parties by her friends. When you were introduced it would be “this is Mary and her husband Bob. He’s a cop”. I could never really figure out if it was meant as a warning to everyone. Unfortunately this caused my wife to loose a few friends for the same reasons I mentioned before. For the most part, those were friends that you could afford to loose. After my wife and I divorced, I never thought of those friends.
I made a lot of new friends at work. I teamed up with another young guy for eight years. I always joked that I slept more with him then my wife. We knew how the other thought and felt. We were a great team. Later on I partnered with guy who is now like my brother, his family is like mine and although we haven’t worked together in more than 15 years we still get together all the time for dinner, holidays and to ride our motorcycles. Our schedules are never the same but we take the time and effort the relationship needs.
Something about riding with a partner for a tour of duty and trusting your life to him creates a bond that lasts. I can walk into Chicago Police Headquarters and bump into someone I worked with once or twice about 20 years ago. It is like we saw each other just a week ago. We are real friends even though we do not see each other often.
Now after almost thirty years, I realize I don’t have that many friends. I have a lot of acquaintances but not a lot of friends. I really don’t miss all those friends, I don’t feel that I need as many friends as I might have once thought I needed. I guess I have finally matured a little. I don’t need to have a throng of friends to make me feel worthy.
What I do have now are a few true friends, people who have stuck with me through thick and thin. They have forgiven me my flaws or perhaps even welcomed me because of them. They have also shown themselves to be someone I want to spend my limited spare time with.
The partner whom I worked eight years with recently stopped by to see me in my office. He has been retired for two years now. I was in his wedding party and he was in mine. He is godfather to one of my sons. We spent long hours on cold winter nights riding around the city’s West Side looking for trouble. We could finish each other’s sentences and we both feel like we could take on the world and win when we get together. Real friendships make you feel that way.
Remember that Friday night on 11 February 1983 that I talked about at the beginning? There were about ten of us out that night. I only see one of those guys anymore. He started the Academy with me on the 14th.
As I look back, some of the biggest changes in my life have possibly been friendships. Where I once felt I needed lots of friends, I now know I only need a few really good friends. I have also found that some of the truest friends around are my fellow police officers.
A new recruit needs to be aware of just how much this job will affect him or her. While I am probably not the average police officer when it comes to this kind of change, I am sure that anyone who wears a star or badge (Chicago cops wear stars) will recognize some of this in his or life. We look forward to the excitement of the new job. The lights, sirens, and all the other things that make us love police work. We know that there will be times that are emotionally very difficult, like when you see child abuse or a murder victim.
To anyone looking to become a police officer, please be aware there is more to this job then what you expect. There are changes that you will not be ready for. Friendships that you thought would last a lifetime crumble. There is disappointment from this. Keep in mind however you will make friendships that are so close and strong that they will more than make up for whatever you may lose.
Lt. Robert Weisskopf is a 30-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. Lt. Weisskopf comes from a law enforcement family, including two uncles, a nephew, and his father. Weisskopf wears his father’s lieutenant’s star. Lt. Weisskopf is a graduate of Lewis University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently serves as commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department’s Alternate Response Section, which has approximately 200 officers, a unit bigger than most police departments in the United States.
During his decade-long tenure, the unit has increased officer response from handling three calls per day to 8 calls an hour. He has been a patrol officer, a district rapid response sergeant, and a watch commander in the 17th District. He spent a year detailed to HUD performing public housing narcotics investigations.
Weisskopf is an expert in collaborative leadership and informally mentoring younger officers. He enjoys the constant challenge of policing and problem solving. He just finished a five-year term as President of the Chicago Police Lieutenants Association, the collective bargaining organization for the Chicago Police Department’s lieutenants and was chief negotiator of the current contract.