Alex Teach on the beatalex teach on the beat
Officer Alex gets to keep his cheese
“You’re worried about your cheese,” my sergeant said.
“What?” I replied, slowing the rise of a sloppily made cheeseburger to my lips as I sat in a greasy spoon that no longer exists on the corner of Bonny Oaks and Lee Highway at 2 a.m., our customary lunch time.
“Your cheese,” he explained. “We run around this city chasing every piece of shit and every disease and every false call because it’s fun for a while, but after a while it stops being fun.” He paused to look over my shoulder at nothing in particular before he went on.
“After a while, this gets kinda old, but we have to keep chasing shit around and getting it on your hands because you know that if you just keep doing it long enough, you’ll get to the center of the maze and you’ll finally get your cheese. That’s your pension. Your prize at the end of the race, and it scares the hell out of folk when someone touches it.” The smile left his face and he looked downward towards is food. “And it should.”
That was my first discussion about a pension change with my first real supervisor in 1998. I’d been on the job a few years by then, but he was the first sergeant to actually supervise me and this was the first of four times since I started working that some official had decided it was about time to stick their hands in the fire and police pension tar baby.
To their credit, the changes that came about a year later in 1999 were the best our fund has ever seen. Without getting into the math, we were overfunded, but the benefits paid out so low guys genuinely couldn’t afford to retire, so they worked until they were 60 years old or older.
Now, I’m not sure if you understand the concept of a 60-plus-year-old cop here. One patrolman in that category (God rest his soul) would start his day at work slowly dragging an oxygen cylinder behind him up a set of steel-and-concrete stairs at the back of headquarters. “CLANG,” pause. “CLANG,” pause. “CLANG,” pause…this happened 24 times in succession because there were 24 steps to that back door, and he wouldn’t even turn off the tank to smoke outside on a stoop. He’d just jerk the nasal cannula to the side and fire up a cig. This man had no business being in a uniform anymore, but there he was, and he was not unique.
Now this recent thing is just about settled (thanks to equal shares of foul language and patience), but not before more than double the average amount of people retired this year, including the chief of police and all but one of his command staff giving mere two week notices…but I think we’re back on solid ground again, and with a bit of luck a lesson was learned on both sides.
That said? This isn’t about the details of the changes proposed this week. No, sir and ma’am…that would take several more pages than I’m allowed to use, but I did want to give you an idea of why it spooked us all so. And it was as simple as saying someone was messing with our cheese.
This isn’t always “just a job”. After a while, it’s kind of a sentence when you experience a few decades of horror, so to get more time tacked on to the end of your sentence when you’re so close to the end? It borders on being dehumanizing.
It HAS to end at some point because we can’t sustain this life, these things we see, these things we have to do, with the bodies we have breaking down and with this level of expected perfection because you’ll just tell us to quit and we’ll have nowhere else to go. But if we can just get to the center of that maze? We’re home free.
Just let us run this maze. We’re almost there.