Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Game Warden Files--Chatham PD years

If there was one defining moment in the decision to become a police officer, it was watching the movie Serpico, that turned me to wanting to be a police officer.  I'd already given up on the dream of being an EnCon Officer, but as Peggy and I sat watching Serpico, something stirred within me.  I can't really put my finger on what it was. While working at Blue Seal feeds I had become friends with Johnny Bell from Chatham PD. Charlie Brown--yeah, that's really his name--was another old-timer on the department, and two of my high school classmates were members of the force and yet another had been and gone.  So, I put in an application there and began the wait.  That was sometime right about the time we were married, June, 1974.
In 1975, there was a sudden shakeup in the department and I was offered an interview.  Peggy and I had a vacation planned to Mystic Seaport and had to cut our plans short by a day so I could attend the interview, but I got back in plenty of time and along with four others, was appointed to a part-time position on the force.  Of those five, three of us have done well.  One is retired from the State Attorney General's Office, one is the (now) semi-retired police chief in Chatham who has made a name for himself in the training field, and I've been successful in many ways myself.
I started working the "D line." on the nights before my day off driving truck.  The D-line went from 8 PM to 4 AM and was there to provide a second officer during the hours of the night when more violent incidents might take place.  As I grew into the job, Sunday afternoon solo shifts were offered and then ultimately I was allowed to work all alone on days or evenings during the week and then even the busiest nights: Friday and Saturdays.  I even picked up a few of the mythical A-line tours--midnight to 8 AM.  That was the shift of the "real cops" or so it seemed.  Generally the greatest problem an A-line brought was staying awake.  Something that's still not all that easy when I work them.
Those were good days.  We helped a lot of people with problems, made a lot of good arrests and had a lot of fun.  All work should be fun--at least in retrospect--even when you're caked in mud or soaked in sweat, and the job was fun.  Police officers and others engaged in high stress jobs often find humor in weird things and I was no different.  I might recall some of those humorous moments in later posts.  There were also some dangerous moments, some crazy ones and some "WHAT WAS I THINKING?" segments that might get written also.
If I have two regrets from those years it would be that handling domestic violence incidents was not a priority within society and I fear that some who could have been helped were not.  Even thought we tried our best, the support services were not there and families continued in their dysfunction.  The other regret would be the lack of skills in handling child sex abuse cases.  I still have one that bothers me.  The defendant's attorney's face told me all I needed to know; I never developed enough information to make an arrest, though.
When I started in Chatham, it was pretty much "Here's a badge, gun and law book--now go to work."  Though I rode with another officer for several months before working alone, there was no real training--there were no opportunities for part-time officers to go to a basic police school.   Then came an incident in which an untrained police officer used excessive force and a lawsuit developed.  Two part-time schools became available almost immediately.  I was given the chance to attend the one held at the New York State Police Academy.  It was the only municipal basic school ever to be held at that facility and, to the best of my knowledge, still has been the only one there.  At the time of the training, I was working only part-time jobs as I'd left my job with Blue Seal Feeds (a story in itself) and was scratching for any work I could, with Peggy doing a few things too.  School occupied my time, but it was all MY time, I wasn't paid for any of it.
That training paid off though, when it opened up the opportunity for me to be hired by the Taconic Region, New York State Park Police in July of 1997.  That put me back to work full-time for most of the time until I was picked up full-time by Chatham in 1980.  The Park Police, in the summer, was a great job.  Lots of people, a sufficient number of complaints to  keep me occupied, and the chance to travel between parks and see a bit of countryside.  Next to the job with DEC, it's the best I ever had.
In April of 1980, I was appointed full time to Chatham and stayed there until I was called to work for DEC. From 80-82, I also did some work part-time for the Sheriff's Office, under the newly elected Paul Proper, and Undersheriff Jim Bertram.  Interestingly, it had been Jim Bertram who had issued me my one and only speeding ticket the summer after my senior year in high school, and it was Jim who had been Acting Chief when I was hired part-time by Chatham.  He almost ended up as Assistant Commissioner in DEC and would have again been my boss had so politics not gotten in the way (or at least that's the way I understand it).
In April 1982, I took a few days off to do some work on a kitchen for a friend and take a quick couple days away with Peggy and the boys.  The day before we were to leave, our car started acting up.  In those pre-cell phone days, it was only because I was home to get the phone call that got the call which would take me into the job as an ECO.  It's often said the "The Devil's in the details," but here was a case where it was certainly God who in the details.  The thing that kept us home to get that call was a $2.00 fuel filter, plugged by some bad gas.

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