The other week I got into a argument with a cop at a bar I like going to. The bartender asked him if he had read my op-ed in the paper. The cop said it didn't matter because I was never real police (of course didn't use those Baltimore words, but that was his gist). Generally I like talking to cops; usually we get along just fine. But after trying to hear him out and conceding much of his basic mistrust (there is a lot about policing I don't know), I mentioned that perhaps he should judge me on what I actually do, say, and write rather than call me a dick for what he thinks I might be writing.
But logic wasn't working. Oh well. I don't need him to like me or read my book. Now I know I can't win a whose-d*ck-is-bigger argument based on my time on the job (two years). But given where I policed, given a few too many damaged and dead friends, I don't take kindly to people asserting I was never there. So after telling him to go f*ck himself, I went on the offensive and questioned his policing credentials (and, while I was at it, his military credentials as well, since by his own ignorant logic, he had only served in Iraq for less than two years).
I also know he's never policed in a neighborhood as violent as where I policed, because such neighborhood don't exist in New York (perhaps the 75 in the late 1980s came close.) I know he's never patrolled alone. So I asked him how many drug corners he's single-handedly cleared? Perhaps I laughed when he doubted the number of arrests I had made. In the end, though my memory is a bit hazy, perhaps I alluded to him and his partner stroking each other off while other cops are out there doing real police work. See, I don't really care what you think about me, my writing, or what I know. But to say I never policed? Go f*ck yourself.
Anyway, it was all drunk stupid macho swinging-d*ck shit. Nobody got hurt. But here's what it all comes down to: if you think you know so much more about policing than I do, write your own goddman book!
Well, every now and then, somebody does.
A short while back I got sent a promo copy of 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman. I put it on the back burner. There actually are a fair number of "I was a cop and this is what the job is really like" books. A few are good. Most aren't. Some cops write better than others. Some police act too macho while others are not macho enough. But I wish cops would write more. At least more than police reports and texts to their lovers.
When I finally got to reading 400 Things Cops Know, I couldn't believe how good it was. I teach a lot of students who want to become police officers, and I can't think of any other single book that would so well prepare them for what the job is actually like.
Plantinga, a sergeant in San Francisco, seems to have both a pretty level head (though who knows? I've never met the guy) and he can write. He was an actual real English major (and a currently employed one, it's worth point out). Evidently, he can write fiction and non fiction. This is non fiction. These are anecdotes. Good ones. It's not heavy on the theory (which some will see as good), but it's a nice combination of this happened and these are my thoughts on those matters. Plantinga is both perceptive and able to articulate the, er, totality of the circumstances. Now I don't agree with him 100 percent of the time. But I do most of the time. Besides, what the hell do I know?
Anyway, with permission from Plantinga, I'm going to publish a few excerpts from his book. They're well suited to blog form. In fact in 2008, when I started this blog, I myself published a little pithy series of "Officer Pete Says".
So here's what I'm thinking: I'll print one of these every few days. It gives me material to keep copinthehood.com active, and you'll tell your friends about this great new policing book. I want to help get the word out and help Plantinga sell a few copies.
So this is my first excerpt from Adam Plantina's 400 Things Cops Know (Quill Driver Book). Available for less than $12 from Amazon. This is my numbering order, not his, but let's call this #1:
The job will change you. It changes everyone, for better and worse. You will become far more alert to your surroundings. You will keep your gun hand free even when off-duty. You will become hyper-aware when taking money out of ATMs, day or night. You’ll look inside convenience stores and banks before you enter to make sure you aren’t walking in on a hold-up in progress.
If you didn’t curse before you became a cop, you probably will once you have six months in on this campaign. You will curse like a dockworker. You will also become angrier. More disillusioned. Far more skeptical about the inherent goodness of humankind. The constant exposure to toxic social conditions and dealing with people at their hopeless worst solders an extra layer onto your skin. You see too much darkness and it becomes part of you in ways you may not fully understand. Some describe this condition as compassion fatigue, the main symptom being a vague sense of loathing for human frailty and for one’s self. Maybe this extra layer is good. It keeps you from being emotionally invested and affords you the detachment you need to be an objective investigator. It acts like a suit of armor against the elements. But part of you may want to be, well, illusioned again. Part of you wishes that guy you used to be, the one in the police academy with the fresh haircut and the extra-shiny shoes wasn’t such a stranger to you now. You know that for the most part, it’s good that guy is gone. He meant well, but he wasn’t an effective street cop. He was too hesitant, too trusting. He’s been replaced and you don’t expect him back.
But once in a while, you sort of miss him.