Not Unlike the Marine Corps
Many law enforcement agencies are structured in a paramilitary fashion in the ways of rank, discipline, and even training. It begins in the academy where stress is introduced as a manner of testing one’s fortitude and ability to withstand the pressures of the job.
If you can’t tolerate a drill instructor yelling at you, how will you deal with the savages on the street who hate cops, and in today’s society are outwardly aggressive toward them?
Paying my Dues
I recently reconnected with a man who was very well known throughout the department in his day. He retired as a lieutenant, but for most of his career, he was known as a great street cop, a veteran, maybe even what you would call the salty type. His name is Longobardo, and I met him when I was in the academy. Now, thirty-six years later, he told me I can call him Jim.
It was early 1984 and my academy class was at the stage of our training where we had been qualified at the range, had learned basic search and arrest techniques, and we could go in foot pursuit for eight miles if we needed to. Which meant it was time for patrol station ride-along assignments.
Patrol Ride: Pico Rivera
Two of my patrol rides were scheduled for Pico Rivera, an area south and east of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley. It has always been a busy station with a lot of gang- and drug-related activity.
That is where I met the big man with the skeptical cop eyes and a lumbering gait. It would be years later before I would realize that the gait was the byproduct of years of abuse: getting in and out of a radio car while wearing fifty pounds of equipment around your waist, many hours of sitting, and then sudden outbursts of energy and physical stresses such as foot pursuits and physical altercations.
Bottom of the Barrel
Cadets were viewed as lower than station trustees. A trustee is an inmate who has been allowed to “work” while serving his time. Every station has a crew of them who maintain the grounds, wash cars, pump gas and perform general custodial duties on the premises. They live at their assigned stations, as each facility has a jail. Deputies treat the trustees better than they treat cadets as a matter of practice. Nowadays, they call it hazing, and it’s forbidden. We called it a tradition, and accepted it as a rite of passage.
Jim, an “old-school” street cop, was no different. He grumbled and growled in the briefing room. He instructed me to have a seat against the wall (rather than at the table) and pay attention. After the shift briefing, we prepared our assigned patrol car. He watched carefully as I broke down the Ithaca Model 37 shotgun, making sure I wasn’t going to get us both killed. He barked about expectations, what I was to do if A, B, C, or D were to occur. (Though I don’t recall specifically, I would imagine that the list included A) if we get into a foot pursuit, B) if we have to fight a suspect, C) if we get into a shooting, and D) what I would tell my Drill Instructor if he were to ask how my ride-along went.)
His final message stuck with me for the rest of my career: “We go home at the end of our shift.”
With that, we went 10-8.
10-8: Unit is In Service
During our shift, we handled quite a few calls for service and we also made a few arrests: a drunk causing a disturbance at a fleabag motel, a heroin addict wanted for burglary. I wrote all of the reports and kept the daily log, all of which Jim dictated to me word for word.
My favorite memory, one which I recently shared with Jim and we both had a laugh over, was our dinner “break.”
Jim drove our sheriff’s radio car to the far end of a park, away from citizens, where we stopped beneath a cluster of trees. He left the car running and got out, and told me to do the same. Placing his food on the hood, he said, “Better get used to it, this is your dinner table for the next twenty or thirty years.”
We dined on the hood of the radio car paying close attention to the radio traffic as we did. It was another tradition of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: we did not take “Code-7 breaks,” like LAPD does. We ate on the hoods of our cars when the time would allow for it, and we were often interrupted by a hot call or another unit needing backup.
Once we finished, Jim took a long look around the park. I was watching him closely, as I had throughout our shift. But I had no idea what he was looking for. Finally, he pointed to a trash can at the far end of the park, about two hundred yards away, and tossed me his trash. “See that trash can over there?”
“That’s why God made cadets.”
I hustled to the trash can with his trash and mine and double-timed it back. When I returned he was sitting behind the wheel waiting, the air-conditioner keeping him cool. I was covered in sweat. When I closed my door, he drove off without a word, and we exited the park within feet of the trash can I had jogged to and from. Jim looked over at me and grinned as we drove past it.
Paying my dues.
The Sheriff’s Academy
There were many dues-paying opportunities while “on the hill,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Training Academy in East Los Angeles. In addition to the patrol station ride-alongs, we had daily opportunities during physical training that came in the way of running, doing push-ups, pull-ups, burpees, and jumping jacks, and then running some more.
Afterward, we were allowed to take five minutes to shower, change back into uniform, and fall into formation for inspection. At which time we would be told we looked like hell and be given five minutes to change back into our sweaty P.T. gear. Of course, that is but one example of the dues-paying opportunities we were afforded.
After graduation from the academy, sheriff’s deputies are first assigned to work at one of the several custody facilities throughout the county, where more opportunities would arise for one to pay his/her dues. After all, we were still rookies, “boots.”
After a year or two (or more) of working at the jail, a deputy goes out to patrol. If you are fortunate, you go to a station where it is busy, because that is where you have the most fun and are in a position to learn to be a good street cop in a short amount of time. It is no surprise that those are also the stations where deputies embraced the dues-paying traditions. After all, when you go out to patrol, you’re again a trainee, once again a boot.
Fond Memories and Pride
If you didn’t know any better, you might think I was complaining. But the truth is, almost every deputy sheriff who has paid their dues along the way are proud that they did, and we pity those who are part of a new era, a more “civil” department.
For my cop friends, I’d love to see the comments (below) fill with great stories of paying your dues
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