Officer Alex reflects on the good advice he’s actually listened to
I have had a very fortunate career.
Oh, it’s been extremely unfortunate at times as well, but those times are to be expected. (I’m not in the teddy bear manufacturing business, after all.)
What I’ve come to appreciate in my usual happy, glass-is-half-full “peppy demeanor and outlook” isn’t just the occasional food discount so much as the people I have been surrounded by through this demented journey. Advice before the job, during training, after training…good and bad, I’ve taken it all in.
For a few sparkling moments, I thought it had made me a fairly wise person, but fate has always intervened and hit my invisible reset button and put me in my place when I needed it to—usually before I even realize it, but I appreciate it all the same.
Some advice is fairly straightforward. In the academy, for example, they just can’t teach you that people are pretty much made of the very stuff “Liquid Drano” is designed to dissolve. You have to respond to a suicide call (not to be confused with an “attempted suicide” call, mind you) to figure this out, and the lesson pretty much unfolds from there. Straightforward, to the point, but otherwise tough to forecast. I get it.
Other bits of advice are less esoteric. I know that you’re not supposed to date the victim of the suspect you arrest, and that it’s a bad idea to lie about being involved in a shooting, however justified, because you were scared of being caught working an unauthorized side job in the wrong part of town, no matter how ridiculous either sound. You live, you listen, you experience, you learn. That is “The Job,” as I prefer to call it.
The stuff I did not take for granted but nevertheless put less emphasis on, however, is what’s come into the spotlight in the latter part of my career.
Part of this good fortune lay in working for very senior people early on in The Job. Then and particularly now, I find that it is nothing short of stunning how resistant new employees are to listening to senior ones, no matter the profession, as if you receive some sort of monetary bonus for unnecessarily repeating mistakes.
You’d think new technology was invented to allow them to do so, but whether it’s a slapjack or a Taser, you could lift the narrative of a bad example from 1980 and lay it over a poor choice in 2015, and you’d have about the same thing for the same reason.
Back to the wandering point, though.
I got a view of my job from the top down when most only see it from the boot-heel up, and despite my comparative youth, I actually tried to learn from it, and especially in this last year, a fairly innocuous line from years ago has come back to me over and over and over.
When asking a former police executive why he made a particular personnel selection and allowed some mistakes to take place more often with this person than others, he gave an answer I wouldn’t come to grasp for quite some time: “I am well aware of their failings,” he said. “But one day, you will come to understand the value of loyalty.” He left a pause at the end and smiled, letting me know that he didn’t need to say another word and that I didn’t need to say anything further either.
First, imagine the comfort zone I was in to ask my boss’s boss’s boss such a thing. This query came after a few years of working around him, mind you, but it was still telling. Second…he was right, but it took me a while to learn why.
Loyalty is as rare as a fit fireman or an empty methadone clinic parking lot, and I get that now. It is a gift difficult to bestow and easy to withdrawal, and its absence is as telling as its presence.
Keep your circle small, your ears open, treat “the help” well, and never underestimate both the value and the absence of loyalty.
Does that makes sense? If you’re smiling right now, yes. If not? Tuck this away, Constant Reader: Like an ingrown hair (or a weather balloon for my positive crowd), it will eventually come up.
When officer Alexander D. Teach is not patrolling our fair city on the heels of the criminal element, he spends his spare time volunteering for the Boehm Birth Defects Center.