Even so, I can remember an occasional colleague who could not quite measure up to the demands of our task, especially that of the robbery-homicide detective unit, where serious crimes led to heartbreaks. I had one new addition to our unit whom I had to send back to headquarters, as he was stunned on one of his first days with us by what he had seen, a senseless killing that was the result of a gang initiation, done at a time when his own son was becoming implicated in gang activities. It hit too close to home.
Home is where the heart is, and I had to be careful not to bring my job home with me, to be careful to be “Dad“ not “Detective.” Generally, I succeeded. Some days I even brought home a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I am rather quiet and polite on and off the job, but it would be a mistake to interpret niceness as weakness.
Members of the NYPD did what we did because we thought it was right, and because it was our job. Over time, we gradually lost most of the friends that we once had. Part of this was due to the strange hours that police work often required, giving us night shifts or days off in the middle of the week, when friends and acquaintances were not available for socializing.
Then, too, like medical doctors and some other professionals, we had a rather specialized field that gave us a unique perspective on much of human activity, a perspective not easy for those not on The Job to understand. We tended to spend our social times with other cops.
As for my neighbors, some knew that I was policeman and others were unaware of it. I tended to keep my being a detective pretty much private. I didn’t wear a baseball cap with the NYPD logo or sweatshirt with the logo or a shield or any jewelry that showed my affiliation. The necklace that I wear under my shirt has a charm that is a tribute to my being a fine father, rather than for being a detective.
What did I tell the neighbors? Occasionally, I half-jokingly referred to myself as a “zoologist,” because I sometimes dealt with animals. On rare occasions, I called myself a “proctologist.”
One reason for choosing such privacy was that I didn’t want my professional affiliation to color all my interactions with people I dealt with outside of work. Another important reason was that not being obviously a cop could give me an advantage in certain situations when dealing with criminals.
Some individuals, especially when drunk, choose to cause trouble with a policeman just to show how tough they are. I had no need to prove myself to such people. If the would-be troublemaker was unaware that I was a policeman armed with a gun, I might be able to surprise him. The gun was generally kept hidden, partly so that no one would be tempted to go after it, partly to give me the advantage of surprise, if necessary.
I even carried two wallets. One wallet contained my police identification and shield. The other had my routine “civilian” materials, such as driver’s license and cash and credit card. In case of a holdup, I would allow the perpetrator to take the civilian wallet, then surprise him with my gun and his arrest.
One of the most difficult parts of being a policeman is delivering notification of the death of an accident or crime victim to the next-of-kin. It never became easy, but at first, as a 26-year-old rookie policeman, I found it particularly difficult. Whether the death was due to natural causes, accident, or crime, we were notifying the family because it happened suddenly. Especially hard was telling a parent about the death of a child, as I remembered how my mother would wait up for me at night when I went out after school. I could imagine the concern that other parents had for their children.
Now, as the father of two daughters, one only 22 years old, when I don’t know what’s happening with my girls, I wait with a scary film running through my mind, replaying many of the unfortunate things that I can recall happening to other people’s children while I was with the NYPD. I never want to have a policeman come to my door to deliver a death notice.
There’s no good way to deliver a death notice. Whenever the notification was to people in our precinct, we would do so in person. Typically, we would be reporting a stroke or heart attack, a horrific accident or crime. I tried to choose my words carefully, consistent with the seriousness of the situation, but avoiding the most dramatic words that might apply.
Where possible, I would try to make a gradual transition to the terrible news. I would introduce myself, then talk about an incident, an accident, or a crime, typically indicating that the victim had been sent to such-and-such hospital, where an all-out effort had been made to give the best of care, unfortunately without final success. If true, I would emphasize that the victim endured a minimum of pain.
Fortunately, the press of our other work usually meant that shortly after having to give such notification, I would be involved in a very different and often engrossing activity as part of my duties.
THE SHIELD OF GOLD, by Lenny Golino [PI and former NYPD detective] and Douglas Winslow Cooper was published in 2012 by Outskirts Press and is available from Outskirts Press, amazon.com, and bn.com in paperback and ebook formats. See Golino's site http://GSEInvestigations.com.
Dr. Cooper assists would-be authors in writing and publishing their books. See http://writeyourbookwithme.com.