Like most police academies throughout the country, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Academy drove home the notion of one for all and all for one. No one got left behind and, if one person screwed up, then we'd all screwed up and and we all paid the price.
Outside of such mass punishment, which really was meant to encourage conformity, there was something very fair about the whole reward and punishment concept, with merit being given to the most deserving.
If you maxed out on the P.T. tests, you were given a special recognition vest to wear during runs around the hills of East Los Angeles.
If you outperformed everyone collectively on exams, you were the Honor Cadet of your class.
And if you were caught punching holes in your shooting range target with a pencil, you were kicked out of the academy (unless you were the son of a contract city councilman, in which case you were given a pass).
These days, it's amazing what gets rewarded. I still can't wrap my head around Barack Obama's being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Even the Los Angeles Times got it right: It's embarrassing to him and diminishes the prize. If any entity wanted to bestow such a prestigious award on a black man who has done much to improve societal relations, then they should have gotten beyond the messianic cult of personality that is Obamamania and given it to Bill Cosby, who has quietly improved race relations by not making a federal case out of them in the first place, while simultaneously holding both blacks and whites accountable.
But then, so much of everything gets manipulated according to some other agenda. And that includes awards and recognitions.
The relative paucity of Medals of Honor awarded between the Iraqi and Afghanistan campaigns has been noted herein and elsewhere. It's almost as though the military is afraid to honor its own for fear of earning further opprobrium from its critics.
Sadder still, if they think that they can start orchestrating things toward some perceived advantage, they will do so. A prime example is the asinine attempt to cover up the circumstances surrounding the friendly fire death of NFL star Pat Tillman, thereby compounding the tragedy (See Jon Krakauer's "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman").
How increasingly rare is it that favorable recognition is extended simply because it is deserved.
I suppose some of this is due to the prism through which the person doing the evaluating is examining the subject at hand.
There was a sergeant at Temple Station who didn't particularly like me. But I will forever give the man credit: He assessed my work objectively. He didn't bestow praise that I didn't have coming, nor did he try to paint an unflattering appraisal of my work. He simply evaluated me fairly.
While I have had better, and worse, evaluations both before and since, I probably appreciated his the most because I was amazed at his ability to put aside some deserved reservations about me and document my performance accordingly. I might not have ever felt warm fuzzies about the man, but I respected him immensely for this.
Conversely, there was a peer of his who I'll just say I wasn't particularly enamored of (OK, I hated his guts). Not only was I pretty damn sure that he'd done a hit and run to my piece of shit Porsche 924 in the station parking lot, but the sawed-off li'l bastard had a Napoleonic complex that would have embarrassed Kim Jong Il.
In due time, he ended up becoming a police hazard hit in the station's jurisdiction. You know the kind: "Resident is former LEO with special weapons training who has numerous dogs and firearms at the location. Also: Crazy. Plan on bringing a sergeant and a Navy SEAL Team with you when you roll." Whatever else, the wife says I've always done a fine job of picking my enemies.
Anyway, one early Sunday morning, my radio car partner — Earl Shields, now a commander on the department — and I rolled on a heart attack victim.
L.A. County Fire got lost rolling to the location and we ended up working on the guy for fifteen minutes. I had cannily angled myself in a position to do the compressions, thereby allowing Earl the favor of the mouth-to-mouth stuff. Unfortunately, I was completely ignorant that I would be doing said compressions for fifteen minutes. By the time Fire arrived, I was drenched in sweat and exhausted (and this was when I was in shape, too … these days, I'd just end up on the floor right next to the guy).
But hey, we'd saved his life.
The fire captain was nice enough to call the station and say what a bitchin' job we did and that we should be commended.
The person on the other end of the line?
The asshole sergeant.
We never heard another word about it. C'est la vie. I felt bad for Earl more than anything else as he was vicariously paying a price for the sergeant's hatred of moi.
That's one end of the spectrum.
On the other end, you will assuredly be commended for things that will have you scratching your head.
People may call and tell your watch commander and say that they talked with you at the 7-Eleven and thought you were a credit to the profession, the Raspberry Slurpee stains on the front of your uniform shirt notwithstanding. The little old lady who called to say that you held the door open for her at Krispy Kreme.
Hell, I found a commendation in my mailbox for helping to quell a riot on a day that I was at the beach.
The thing is, a lot of times these things balance themselves out: People get recognition they may not deserve, don't get recognition for what they do deserve, and if they're really lucky, get away with murder. I'm still waiting to see how things actually pan out for Obama.
It's how we handle the more disappointing aspects of this reality that reveals our character. This has always been my Achilles Heel: I'm one of those guys who tend to wears his heart on his sleeve and let people know when I feel slighted. Not surprisingly, I have one of the most polarizing personalities around. Let's face it: I can be a prick.
But — he said defensively — I'm not the only one.
I've seen deputies who felt slighted they didn't get a blue star for a week's perfect attendance. I've heard them muttering because one of their trainee's got promoted before they did ("I taught that li'l prick everything he knows," which probably accounts for that ex-trainee's less than sterling personality).
But regardless of who's pissing and moaning, such griping never looks good.
For my part, I can't say I regret it. If nothing else, it's proven cathartic and, by not biting my tongue, I've kept myself from getting high blood pressure (I suspect I may be a carrier, however).
Still, I wish it was in my nature to have been more objective and recognize the whole karmic scheme of things when I was younger and working patrol. To just know that things do tend to come around, and that most people will ultimately get more of the good they've got coming to them than the bad they may be equally deserving of.
And that's no small blessing.
For as H. L. Mencken noted, "Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice."
So the next time you think that you've been denied credit that was due and decide that you're not going to make any more arrests, write any more citations, or save any more kittens in trees, take a deep breath.
Don't let it get the better of you.
Count to a hundred.
Take a second to thank God for the things you've skated on.
Know that you'll probably get something better even later.
And curse the SOB who screwed you over.