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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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