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The Blue Brief: Speed Demon & Lessons Learned

Sean shares a story from early in his policing career as a young deputy and how this important lesson shaped future interactions.

There are so many lessons I learned out on the road. Most of them came well after the police academy, in my Field Training Officer program.

As a very young deputy, I was paired with several different men to learn their better qualities, legal knowledge, or tact.

Hey, that’s me.

For a while, I partnered with Chuck to learn how to dominate a scene.

But one of the best lessons I learned from him related to the limitations of law enforcement.

The Ways of Old

I can’t tell you how many shifts I spent with the man, but it was a bunch.

As a young deputy whose prerequisite mustache didn’t even touch in the middle under my nose, I had a hell of a lot to learn.

Sweet mustache

I spent a good chunk of my FTO with the man and continually marveled at his ability to go from calm conversation to absolute hell on earth.

No job I’d ever worked before required this enormous emotional capability – moving between serene, engaging, even beseeching conversation then switching to complete and total war.

It took many years for me to understand and begin to practice this.

Much later, to a friend and trainee, I described it as being nice but keeping the Marine in your back pocket.

Following in the grand tradition of ask, tell, make, Chuck and I worked through hundreds of calls over the course of months.

These ranged from domestics, to barking dogs, homicides, and everything in-between.

Chuck was a mentor, in the classic sense of the agoge of famed Sparta.

The Agoge was the classic form of instruction in ancient Sparta.

From him, I learned to be firm when all the asking was done.

Chuck lived it. He embodied the idea my Undersheriff imparted. If you tell someone they are under arrest; it was going to happen – even if it took the entire department to make it happen.

A Different Era

Chuck was a Vietnam veteran. Many of his actions made sense to me when viewed through this lens.

He survived three tours in ‘Nam (all volunteer).

Chuck had been shot down in a helicopter, worked long range reconnaissance patrols as a sniper, took out enemy targets, and had even been shot three times.

He went from regular Army to the Rangers, then became a Green Beret.

This was a man with a confirmed kill count I won’t repeat, so when he talked critical engagements, I listened intently.

I can’t imagine some of the experiences I learned from vicariously.

Cruising around at night, on late shifts, we often listened to KOMA Oldies out of Oklahoma. It warbled eerily in and out on the A.M. radio.

When Elvis came on, shouts of “Oh shit, the King!” or “Big E!” were routine in the car.

I loved rock but truly learned to appreciate the oldies when riding with Chuck.

To this day I’m excited to hear Big E on the radio!

One night he talked about an offensive in Vietnam he survived.

The NVA stormed his position, surging forth under unrelenting fire. Chuck said they hollered “Choo hoy!” to all the Americans, telling them to surrender.

He said he remembered running past a fellow soldier named Fitzpatrick, who wore khaki cutoffs, no shirt, and Ho Chi Minh sandals.

Fitz dropped shells into his mortar as fast as he could. Chuck noted the mortar itself stood almost straight up and down because the enemy was already in the wire and closing.

I can’t imagine this scenario but I heard it enough to feel like it’s my own memory.

Amazingly, a transistor radio next to Fitz was blaring a song called Green Onions by Booker T. and the MG’s (recorded in 1962 for those who do not know).

It was an insane backdrop to a surreal situation that few of us could possibly imagine these days.

When this song came on KOMA, particular reverence was paid. I imagined Chuck was instantly transported back to that unforgettable moment in his life.

One of the Best

Without a doubt, one of the best lessons I learned from Chuck was not about standing up and kicking ass when it needed to happen.

There were plenty of opportunities for that.

Rather, it was a lesson that held overtones of the parable of the young bull and the old bull.

Old Bull Young Bull

I was young and idealistic.

At the time, I felt like we should be grabbing every maniac who threatened a stable and safe life for citizens in the community.

I had boundless energy. So, I likely would have worked myself into a hole, completely disregarding normal boundaries between my work life and personal.

I’ll never forget, we got called out early in the morning to back a trooper who had made an arrest on a DUI crash.

Someone’s in trouble.

The suspect resisted. So, we went flying like bats out of hell to assist our fellow officer.

Along the way, we learned the trooper was okay over the radio. We checked in with him anyway, then began the long trip home.

Chuck smoked in those days. I remember seeing his face light up from the orange glow in the dark patrol car as he pulled the smoke deep into his lungs.

Smoking in cars was pretty common in those days.

Suddenly, I saw a car approaching from the opposite direction. I could tell from visual estimate, it was hauling ass.

I guessed 85 MPH…in a 55 MPH zone.

Because we weren’t troopers, we didn’t run traffic a lot.

That said, Chuck chose to leave his radar constantly on so he’d know when someone was really going fast.

I saw the radar on the dash indicate 90 MPH. My anxiety instantly peaked.

GTA Speed
It’s not GTA, my friend.

The sound emitting from the radar was a high-pitched shriek confirming the reckless speed.

I knew at that moment I would likely die. Chuck would flip the car, trying to turn around to chase this insane driver!

After all, it was an arrestable offense driving that fast. Someone would probably get killed!

I literally mashed my feet into the floor and pulled my seatbelt tight across my body, waiting for his impending reaction.

Brace for Impact

The speeder blew past. I remember the concussive sucking force rocked our car.

Chuck drew deeply from his cigarette, squinting at the scofflaw in the rear-view mirror.

He blew his smoke out the wing vet window and hailed the unknown passer in the night. “Speed on, brother. Hell’s only half-full,” He said in his Texan drawl.

Lessons Learned

Chuck taught me a lesson that night.

Do what you can, but don’t take on the world single-handedly.

At the time, there was only one deputy per shift in that jurisdiction. If you stopped every single violation you saw, it would easily run into overtime.

Lessons Learned

Years later, I learned the value of going home to a normal life and even putting blinders on to get there.

I would never have let something serious slip, but sometimes people got lucky breaks because limits exist to what we can accomplish in a shift.

Odds are, as I found out later, if people perpetrated criminal acts on a regular basis, I would run into them eventually…

Like The Blue Brief or have a question about policing? Let us know in the comments below! Want to read more about law enforcement? Check out past articles of The Blue Brief!

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6 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    The question comes up, how do you really leave this type of job "at the job" when the shift is over? Even those with regular 9 to 5 office jobs where the worst trauma is maybe a paper cut or getting chewed out for a mistake have difficulty not taking work home. I'm really interested in your thoughts on separating home life and work life.

    June 5, 2021 10:11 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Thanks for your question Michael.

      Being straightforward, you don't. There are some things you can leave behind with compartmentalization techniques, but it's not uncommon to have "intrusion" (imagine an unwanted flash card session of your last bad call in your head while you are reading a book to your daughter).

      Exercise, healthy attachments, counselling, and other techniques can help you power through. Also, developing good habits about shutting it off is wise. Having friends outside of law enforcement helps you from becoming unmoored and drifting deeper amongst only those who get you. Look for more on this in another piece coming up soon.

      June 8, 2021 8:05 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Great article! I wish I could share it with someone through an attachment to a text. Not computer literate enough to do that.

    May 26, 2021 5:07 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Thank you Duane, it was quite an experience to live through! Try copying this link and sending it to whoever you'd like to share it with.


      June 3, 2021 9:31 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Great article. Do what you can, when you can!

    May 26, 2021 11:01 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Thanks Jeff! If we add "with what you've got" to your summation, we could complete the old axiom espoused by Teddy Roosevelt so many years ago.

      June 3, 2021 9:33 am
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