What's It Really Like on the Street?

Young med students wonder if they will kill a patient. New West Point grads wonder if they have what it takes to lead soldiers into battle. And cops straight out of the academy wonder if they are tough enough and wise enough to maintain the peace.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Young med students wonder if they will kill a patient. New West Point grads wonder if they have what it takes to lead soldiers into battle. And cops straight out of the academy wonder what it's really like on the streets and are they tough enough and wise enough to maintain the peace.

Doctors have mentors through internship and residency, young army officers have older officers and veteran NCOs to see them through, and you have your field training officer. You also have the advice of those who have gone before you. POLICE RECRUIT asked some of them to share their rookie experiences.

It Can Happen To You

Chuck Buis is now director of business development at BlackHawk Products. But in 1979, he was a rookie officer working in Athens, Ga.

Responding to an alarm at a jewelry store downtown, Buis arrived on the scene and saw that a man was standing on the sidewalk acting as a lookout. Inside the store, another man was smashing in the glass display cases and filling a pillowcase with the merchandise.

The lookout took off running. Buis turned his attention to the man inside the store. As he entered the front door, the man ducked into the back office. Buis then announced that he was a police officer and ordered the man to come out with his hands up.

"He jumped out and I heard a pop, pop, pop. I thought to myself, 'This idiot is trying to scare me off with a blank gun,'" Buis remembers.

But Buis soon discovered that it wasn't a blank gun. "My cheek started hurting. And I reached up and pulled out a wooden splinter. I looked at the wall in the entrance way of the store as I took concealment, and I noticed two holes very near my head," he explains. "The guy had a .32 short revolver. I was used to the loud boom of a .38 or .357, but that sub-caliber gun just made a pop."

Buis returned fire and called for backup. A five-minute gunfight ensued, and the gunman was killed.

"Getting into my first gunfight so early in my career taught me very quickly that it can happen to me," Buis says, advising young officers to always be aware of the danger of the job.

Retired Austin PD officer and close-quarter battle instructor Louis Marquez agrees with Buis' advice, and he adds that sometimes the most seemingly benign people can be extremely dangerous.

Marquez was still under the wing of an FTO when he started to roust a bum who was asleep in a public place. His FTO intervened.

"My FTO grabbed me and made sure that I patted him down prior to doing that," Marquez recalls. "It was a good thing I did because he had a blade on him, and there's no telling what he would have done if I had just rousted him." Marquez offers this advice to rookie officers. "Don't assume that just because someone seems harmless that they are. Always play the odds in your favor."[PAGEBREAK]

People Are Nasty

Lori Connelly is a veteran patrol officer with the Phoenix Police Department. But Connelly admits that when she joined the force, she was a bit naïve. "I had led a pretty sheltered life," she says.

During her rookie year, Connelly pulled over a motorist for a minor traffic violation. She soon realized that the man's passenger was a male prostitute.

Connelly searched the car. And reaching into the glove compartment, she withdrew a tube of personal lubricant. The top was off, and there was visible residue from its insertion.

"I wear gloves whenever I do any search now," Connelly says. "People are nastier than I ever imagined."

People Deserve Your Respect

There's nothing wrong with being sure of yourself and your abilities, but you also need to respect the dignity of the people you serve and even the people you arrest.

Consider what happened to Rick Gallia, a retired Hayward, Calif., officer, the executive director of the Law Enforcement Safety Foundation, and the CEO of The Backup Training Corp.

In 1981, Gallia was a 19-year-old officer beginning his career with the Gustine (Calif.) Police Department. Called to a domestic disturbance, he saw a woman being held in a headlock.

Exigent circumstances allowed Gallia to legally barge into the home without announcement and attempt to arrest the husband. But the man in question was much bigger than Gallia. He grabbed Gallia by the collar and quite literally threw him out of the house.

"Nobody just comes in my door and tells me what they're going to do," the man told Gallia. "I have kids bigger than you, and you need to show some respect."

Gallia understood what the man told him. He wasn't hurt, so he went back up the steps, and knocked on the door. "I told him, 'Sir, I need to come in and take you to jail now.' He told me, 'Come on in.'"

Gallia offers this advice to young officers, "You can't just treat every situation like you're the big, bad police with a giant badge on your shoulder. You have to show people respect."

Of course, there are situations where you have to act like the "big, bad police." But Gallia advises you to do that with respect as well. "You can say even to an uncooperative suspect, 'Sir, I'm trying to take you to jail, and I don't want to resort to other tools.' But if the guy takes a swing at you, then it's on."

You also need to respect people's feelings and empathize with their loss. That's the advice of Sgt. Dean Scoville, a patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.[PAGEBREAK]

Scoville, who is also associate editor of POLICE Magazine, says that one of the toughest things he had to deal with as a young officer was death notifications. "It was not anything that had ever been discussed in the academy. It was basically something we were just expected to do to the best of our ability."

Informing other people of tragedies in their lives is part of the job, and Scoville advises young officers to prepare for it. "I recommend that you talk to people who have to deal with this type of notification such as veteran officers, doctors, pastors, and people like that and learn how they handle it," he says.

He adds that officers should always show respect for what the accident or murder victim means to his or her loved ones.

"On one occasion we had rolled to a fatality on the freeway," Scoville recalls. "While we were out there, some jokes were made. Then we went to the person's house and made the death notification. When I saw what this person meant to his family and how he had worked so hard to provide for them, I felt very low about making those jokes."

Scoville says he realizes that cops use jokes about accidents and victims to relieve stress, but he says it should be mitigated by the effect the tragedy has on the victim's loved ones. "Gallows humor is a coping mechanism, but it doesn't excuse us from being insensitive."

Be Ready For Anything

It goes without saying that cops have to face the unexpected. Not a single officer who responded to the World Trade Center or the Pentagon on 9/11 expected as he or she went on duty that morning that 3,000 Americans would be killed in a terrorist attack and they would have to wade into the chaos to save lives.

Retired Cleveland SWAT sergeant Bob O'Brien experienced something in 1968-his second year on the force-that not even his stint in Vietnam could have prepared him for: war in the streets of East Cleveland when black militants shot it out with the Cleveland PD, killing three officers and triggering a riot.

What that incident triggered in O'Brien was a realization that neither he nor any Cleveland officer that he knew was properly trained for such a situation. He went on to seek out specialized training and to be a founding member of Cleveland's SWAT team.

His advice to young officers just joining the thin blue line is clear and succinct. "When the stuff hits the fan, it's going to hit you, too. Be prepared."

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