I. “It’s Not Gonna Be Easy.”
When I first got on the job, I would call my dad every day. One time I was telling him about this stolen car we stopped at Irving and Lincoln. The driver jumps out, starts to run. My partner gets out and grabs him, but the car’s still in drive. It’s going for the front window of a bank. We had a third officer with us that day—his partner was off and he was rolling with us. He chases the car down, jumps through the passenger window, and throws the car into park. Meanwhile, we’re fighting with this guy in the street, and all these people are watching. I’m telling this story, and my dad says, “You know, some of those people watching could be doctors, they could be lawyers, some could be making two, three million dollars a year. But you know what they’re going to go home and talk about tonight to their wives? They’re gonna tell them about what they saw you do.”
I remember my first day out, we had just left the station after roll call. I was with my FTO [field training officer]. We buckle up, and all of a sudden we get hit on the radio. Dispatcher goes, “2512, units in 25 and units on citywide, we got a man with a gun, shots fired, Laramie/Bloomingdale.” I’m like, “OK. Ten-four.” I start to—I don’t want to say shit my pants, but I’m like, “Holy shit, that’s four blocks away and here we go.” I get goose bumps just thinking about it now ’cause you’re brand-new and it’s your first call and you don’t know what’s going to happen. Is there going to be a guy there with a gun? Is he going to be shooting at you? Then we pulled up on the scene, and there was nobody there. It was 19-Paul [radio code for a miscellaneous incident]. And I said, “Wow, it’s not as exciting as I thought it would be.”
The police department wasn’t offensively antiwoman when I started. It was more like, “What are we gonna do with you?”
My first day on the street, there were reports of people going into vacant buildings—maybe drug houses, maybe someone hiding guns. We had to go in, clear a building, search it, make sure nobody was in there. They train you for it, and the training comes back if you actually paid attention to it. But just hearing the helicopter and seeing the spotlight coming down through the holes in the roof, and hearing the other coppers on the radio, hearing rustling and “What’s that? Oh, it’s a rat”—it’s like, “Wow, this is out of a movie.” You’re amped up, you’re on 10 the whole time. The adrenaline goes through the roof.
At roll call they told us, “Listen, unless they got your best friend or your wife or one of your kids in the trunk of the car you’re pursuing, don’t pursue it. Terminate the chase.”
I got tired of the despair right off the bat. I never thought people lived like that.
On my second day, someone threw a refrigerator out the window on top of the squad car. Lucky for us, we were in the building. We come out, there’s a big refrigerator.
It was my first murder, the first dead person I’d ever seen. The two [other cops] came out and formed, like, a wedge, and they literally walked me into the house away from the body so I wouldn’t see it. I kind of broke away from them and went to look. This was an elderly woman who had been raped and murdered. A young kid on drugs had come over asking her for money while she was getting dressed for church. It was a brutal scene, and the guys were so careful with me. There was no ribbing or gibing or jokes or anything. It was kind of a solemn moment where I realized this is what I’m gonna be dealing with, and it’s not gonna be easy.
The first time I dealt with something grisly or nasty, it was the day before Thanksgiving. We got a call about a 69-year-old lady who’d slipped crossing the Metra tracks. An express came by and hit her full speed, threw her through the air. Her body hit a partition near where all the people stood, but her head broke off and went another hundred, two hundred feet down the tracks, rolled in the rocks till it came to a stop. First thing I do is get the body bag and get the torso. Then I go down the tracks to pick up the head. It’s lying there in the rocks, a little on its side, kind of looking up at me. The eyes are half-open, and it’s chewed up a little bit—marks on her face and everything. The head’s steaming because it’s still warm in the cold air. I put my hand in the bag, kind of invert it, and just grab the head and pick it up. Then I zip it into the bag. The head’s a lot lighter than I thought it would be. ’Cause who knows what a head weighs? You don’t think about that until you’re holding one.
My FTO told me there were five people you should always approach with extreme caution: people who are high or incapacitated, because they don’t know what they’re doing; ex-cons, because they don’t give a shit; the mentally ill; the complete psychopaths; and juveniles, because they don’t have a formed conscience—they can kill you just as much as look at you. Which is ironic, because my FTO was killed. He was at Foster Park, which is a really beautiful park. There was a disturbance or something, and he approached a young kid on a bicycle. The kid had a gun and shot him right under the vest.
Back at the academy, they tell you to always be aware of your surroundings, but I never imagined that I’d be driving around in a squad car and someone would dive in the window. I was at Michigan and Van Buren, and this guy just started pummeling me. He hit me a few times in the head, then he attacked the computer for some reason, which was actually a godsend, because he hit the emergency button, and that’s when the troops started coming. He was trying for my gun, but it was in the security holster. You can’t pull it out, but he was grabbing on to it. I grabbed his arm and cuffed him, then cuffed the other arm. And then these civilians, God bless them, came and pulled him out of the car by the feet. He was handcuffed, so he landed on the cement face-first. I tried to put the civilians up for an award, but there wasn’t one. So I sent them letters and a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card.