Police officers encounter all kinds.
A new officer recruit must always prove his or her worth to a department through graded efforts which are recorded during their performance appraisals in a field training program. The recruit, often referred to as a “rookie” cannot immediately don a uniform and demand respect. They must earn it through sweat equity and field experience.
As police trainers, we keep an eye on their productivity, conflict resolution skills, and problem-solving capabilities. Although paramount, the prowess required in these categories are not the only ones sought after in a new hire. Trainers must evaluate the entire package of law enforcement knowledge paired with communication and tactical skills. It is beneficial to be fluent in all techniques for the purposes of safety and resolution.
Often robotic, trainees are stiff in their approaches and communication. It becomes necessary to expose them to situations which may transform them from a cardboard cut out to an adaptive law enforcement officer. Many situations are handpicked by the trainer, so the rookie is exposed to a variety of responses.
However, with the field portion of the program, departments cannot dictate the everyday happenings of the city. Therefore, the trainee’s exposure is mostly random and unpredictable. In some cases, police trainers try to jump calls to gauge a rookie’s sensibility. At best, you hope for a mix of calls to examine their performance under differing circumstances.
Police officers encounter all kinds.
Sometimes we run into famous people. Or impostors. Or posers. Or someone who reminds us of famous people. Literally. Stunt doubles. It’s just life.
She was a petite elderly woman with a familiar look.
With my new rookie, “Wheels”, in tow I responded to a call at an old neighborhood with big trees and historical homes. I rang the doorbell and stood at an angle near the door but not in front of it. Wheels placed himself behind me waiting to monitor how I handled the call. This was one of those “demonstration” types, where the trainer shows the rookie how to handle a simple complaint.
Soon, a little old lady answered the door. She was a petite woman with curly, white hair styled neatly in elderly fashion. Her big smile greeted us as we were invited inside.
“Oh, my goodness! Hello, officers! Come on in. Would you like some cookies? They must be hiring only good-looking officers at the police department nowadays!”
We entered the open living area which resembled a throwback to the 1950s. It was orderly, clean, and very retro. Sure enough, there was a plate of cookies on the dining table.
I responded back to the elderly lady, “Uh, Ma’am, if that were the case, I would not have a job. No, thank you, on the cookies. We just had some breakfast.”
“Oh, no, dearie! You are beautiful. Haven’t you been with the police department for a long time? I know you! I’ve seen you on TV. You are so beautiful.”
She looked equally familiar, but I could not quite place where, when, or how I had known her. “Yes, Ma’am. I’ve been working for them forever. Haven’t been on TV for a while.”
The lady replied to my statement, “Oh, I see. Well, they sure are hiring good looking ones. And that uniform is so slenderizing! Turn around and let me see your behiny.”
Surely, this was way out of the ballpark of comfort zones. Perhaps we had even reached the twilight zone. Conceivably, the crazy radar was going off and approaching the uncomfortable level. I was starting to get a police panic attack from the awkward moment. These attacks happen when your personal space is attacked and the weirdness alarms sound. Not really. Well, close to accurate.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, they train all of us never to turn our backs on people. I’ll have to pass on that one. I’m terribly sorry.”
Why was I apologizing for not showing off my south side? I found this odd.
“Oh, honey, that’s OK, I’ll see it when you leave.”
Was I just sexually harassed by an old lady? This was not a good demonstration of command presence and control for my recruit.
Betty White lives on Ash Street.
I am sure my eyebrows raised up and I had a sudden eye blinking moment with hints of silence and “what-to-do-to-get-out-of-this-house” thoughts. Hopefully, she did not have a serial killer son come out of her basement to snatch us up. The headlines for us could not read: “Two Officers Duped by Elderly Woman.”
This was an extraordinary long rapport building session. Usually citizens want the police in and out and vice versa. However, occasionally, you get the lonely types who want to chat or are actually interested in your work.
“Officers, you are so beautiful. And yes, dear, I see you behind this lovely officer, poking your head around to see. Aren’t you just a handsome young man?!”
My recruit, Wheels, peered from behind me with a sheepish grin. Straight out of the Marines, he was full of politeness. I decided to grab this opportunity to deflect the attention to him.
I gently patted Wheels on the head. “Yes, he is just a cute young thing, isn’t he? Look at his nice smile and good teeth. And his hair never moves. Just a cutie patootie.” Maybe she would size him up as a pet or for dinner. I did not care which, as long as it was not me.
In the training manual, there is a clause where you can use rookies as visual aids on calls with citizens. It is right next to “How to Throw Trainee Under the Bus.”
“Oh, look at you two. Just so good looking. My, oh my. Stand next to each other. There you go.”
I was working on a segue into why we were called to her home to move forward in our police progress. However, we were abruptly shuffled by this woman. She pushed us around because we could not respond back by man-handling this nice old lady. We had to let the fragile woman have her way out of shear politeness. She then took us gently by each arm and physically tried to move us. We just started to kindly resist her touching mannerisms when she objectified us.
“Let me put you two together. Oh, look at that. You two look just like Barbie and Ken.”
Heavens to Murgatroyd! We were at Betty White’s house. Who knew she lived on Ash Street?
“Units on Ash clear for a burglary alarm.”
Every community needs more Betty Whites.
Yes, this is how cop work goes.
The newbie gets introduced to the town characters in due time and experiences the extraordinary randomness of police work and the unpredictable encounters. Instantly, they understand why they chose to be in public service. If it was only to eat a cookie baked by Betty White to bring some happiness into her life, then the call was properly handled by the officer. In the next minute, he or she could be intercepting a burglary in progress. These are the extremes officers go through to keep the peace in each community.
There is a funny thing about the collective attitude toward police. It is overall positive in the polls, but officers feel the brunt of public distrust. For example, there are those who freely disparage and criticize officers on social media but are the first in line at the box office to watch the lead cop go rogue to burn down the bad guy. Yet, when the community is hit with a devastating event and subsequently saved by first responders, the citizens rally around the cops. Needless to say, these are complex variances which put law enforcement at odds with perception versus reality. Perhaps, we all need more Betty Whites in our neighborhoods.