The Police Perspective is the seventeenth installment in my Bad Luck Cadet Series.
The academy was changing me, physically, as well as mentally.
Physically, I didn’t just have arm bicep muscles. I had muscles in my forearms, thighs and butt. No jello cheeks for that polygraph seat now.
Mentally, I was now seeing things from the “police perspective.”
This was pointed out to me by an old friend I saw during a weekend stay in the city. We went to Starbucks/Einstein Bagels for breakfast. She asked what I would do if someone walked in and robbed the cashier. I told her I would be an excellent witness and observe everything he or she was wearing, along with noticing facial and body features. My friend asked what I would do if I was actually an officer, off duty with my gun. I told her I would do exactly the same thing and I wouldn’t take out my gun unless the suspect started shooting.
My friend was floored. She didn’t understand. I was going to be a cop and she expected me to act like the cops on television. I explained my reasoning. I had to look at the amount of people in jeopardy if I opened fire, the people sitting behind me if the suspect opened fire. The suspect getting away with some cash was very small compared to an innocent person being killed.
I don’t think my friend “got it.” I just looked at things differently now. A motto drilled in to us daily at the academy was to go home to our families every night. Be smart and be safe. Police Officers are not like firemen. When we’re off duty we don’t advertise that we are officers. It’s dangerous.
During those last academy weeks we watched a movie that talks about keeping your family safe and teaching your children to not say anything about you being a police officer. The film shows a boy and his father at a hotel getting off the elevator and seeing two men fighting. The father tries to get his young son back into the elevator when the son says, “Do something dad, you’re a cop.” Both men turn, one pulls out a gun and starts shooting at the boy and his father. End of video.
I think this was something none of us ever thought of. Our children should be proud to have an officer for a mom or dad. In real life, “cop” families don’t advertise who they are. When they are with fellow officers and their families it’s a different story but when not on duty it’s important to remain anonymous.
I see firefighter t-shirts everywhere. I seldom if ever see a police t-shirt unless it’s the rock-n-roll band “Police.”
On the east wall of our academy classroom Sgt. Dickens posted the “Officer Down” memorial page of every officer, in the U.S., that was killed in the line of duty while we were at the academy. Without a word, he would walk into the classroom during our instruction time with the “page” in hand. Silence would descend. With measured dignity, he would post the page and then walk out.
Another officer dead. Another family left to grieve. Fellow police officers across the country left to mourn.
The longer we were at the academy the more pages appeared on that wall. During our breaks we would read the latest officer’s page and mourn in our own way. Two officers died in Arizona during our eighteen weeks. The sadness was overwhelming but until it happened to one of our own I don’t think we understood the sense of loss that we would forever feel.
Four months after we graduated the academy, I got the call at six in the morning. It was from one of the guys I sat with in the classroom.
Through tears he said, “This is Mike, P-Rod is dead.”
My mind didn’t seem to want to process the words.
Deputy Philip Rodriguez (P-Rod as he was known at the academy) was only twenty-one years old and just beginning life, engaged to the incredible young woman he gave his virginity to. He always had a goofy smile plastered on his face. He got a great amount of teasing from his fellow cadets, but he took it all in stride and we loved him. He was the baby of the class and he had so many hopes and dreams for his future as a police officer.
P-Rod was also the incredible young man who ran beside me through all ten punishment hill runs when I was at my lowest point. And he was the one who bolstered my determination when Donna quit the academy.
While crying Mike told me P-Rod was heading to a code-3 (lights and sirens) call, when he lost control of his vehicle and was ejected. He died at the scene.
I stayed on the phone with Mike as we both cried and tried to find some sense in P-Rod’s death. There was none to find, but we needed each other.
I went into work that day to request time off for the funeral. I was asked if I needed to see a counselor and told one could be made available before or after the funeral. I was shocked it was even offered but I would grow to understand what it meant to be part of a police department and wear a badge.
Deputy Philip Rodriguez’ funeral was held in his high school auditorium to accommodate the large amount of mourners. The stands were filled with his high school classmates and friends. On the floor of the gymnasium were hundreds of chairs filled with police officers and deputies from Arizona and surrounding states.
We, his classmates at the academy all sat together. The academy classmates working at his department were his pall bearers. When the service was over we walked up together to say our last goodbyes. We were in groups of three and fours and all holding hands.
When I turned to walk away I saw Sgt. Dickens to my side. He was crying. I let go of the hands holding mine and tightly hugged Sgt. Dickens. The day before graduation he had made us all promise to always wear our seatbelts while on duty. We made our promise. P-Rod broke his promise and you could see the hurt over this young officer’s life in Sgt. Dickens’ eyes.
We walked out to our vehicles to line up for the procession. Mike rode with me.
P-Rod was buried at the top of a hill in a cemetery overlooking the valley. I was about twentieth in line and as we came to a stop at the top of the hill Mike told me to turn and look down the hill. As far as you could see, there were hundreds of police vehicles with red and blue lights flashing.
At the cemetery, all officers lined up to give Philip our last solute. All the drills we had not performed since being out of the academy were used as we were called to attention. Every Officer knew the drill no matter how many years they had been on the streets. We saluted Philip and his family.
We were then told to turn on our portable radios. The dispatcher on duty, during the time of Philip’s death, announced his final call. His “End of Watch” was recognized and his watch was turned over to us. We would take his duty and live up to his dream of what is was to be a police officer.
Philip Rodriquez’ memorial page is at http://www.odmp.org/officer/18852-deputy-sheriff-philip-anthony-rodriguez. Philip’s time as a detention officer before going to the academy is included with his time of service. He held the detention officer job until he was old enough to begin his dream of being an Officer. His time of service as a Deputy was four months.
Yes, I was changing. Even before Philip’s death I was a different person than I had been when beginning the academy. I watched everything around me with a new eye. I had a different perception of the world. I was tougher and more secure in who I was. During those last weeks at the academy the world shifted and I began knowing I had what it takes. This was no longer a whim. This was the beginning of my life as an officer.
If you want to follow my adventures at the police academy from the beginning, start with Bad Luck Cadet #1 – Accidents Happen. It’s all about fun, laughter and pain. To be honest, at the time, it was more about pain, pain and pain! — Suzie
My story continues with Bad Luck Cadet #18: The Most Popular Cadet