On December 15th, 1989, I graduated from the New York City Police Academy. As a member of the now-defunct New York City Housing Authority Police Department, I was assigned to Police Service Area #6 (P.S.A. 6) in the confines of the 32nd precinct in Harlem. My field training officer was a man named Joe Brown. Joe was a twenty-year veteran and a long-time field training officer who took his duties seriously. We were gathered in a classroom in the community center of the Drew Hamilton Houses on 143rd Street near the PSA for in service training. Joe was the first of the field training officers to address us. He stood in the front of the room and eyed all of us young rookies with a serious stare.
“Let me start by saying that the only people who are impressed that you’re a cop are your parents,” he said. “The way you’re going to get respect and earn the trust of the people in the community is by treating the folks you meet the way you’d want another cop to treat your mother. If a cop pulled over your mom and talked to her rudely, you’d chew his head off.” Joe paused and observed us. “If someone stops you on the street, talk to them. Help an old woman with her packages. Hold the door for the person behind you. Be nice and don’t act like you’re someone special. You need to give respect to get respect, and if you run around thinking you’re Dirty Harry, you’re going to get killed.”
After our lesson in the community room, we went on patrol. I was stationed on a foot post at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 125th Street. Being from Long Island, I was unused to the hustle and bustle of the city, yet I had an appreciation for the neighborhood I was assigned to protect. A gentleman in his forties approached me and asked me if I was new. The grin on his face indicated that he knew the answer. I told him I was in field training, and he said that he could tell because I was a “new jacket.” The man referred to my brand new duty jacket with the clean patches and my shiny, new shield pinned to my chest.
We spoke for several minutes. After exchanging pleasantries, he said goodbye and walked away. Days later, I was given the same post. I noticed a limousine parked at the curb not too far ahead of me. The limo driver opened the rear door and a man in a tuxedo stepped out. He paused, turned around, and took the hand of a beautiful woman wearing a fur coat. The man in the tuxedo saw me and called out, “Hello Officer, remember me?” I approached him and tried to play it off as though I knew exactly who he was.
“You don’t remember me do you? That’s okay, I wasn’t wearing this.” The man pointed to his attire and smiled wide. It dawned on me that he was the gentleman I spoke to a few nights before. We shook hands and he introduced me to his wife and then turned his attention back to me.
“I’m glad you’re here in this neighborhood, officer. We need young cops like you who are polite and willing to do the job. I’m a doctor. I grew up in this building here, and tonight, I took my lovely wife to a Broadway show. I feel safer knowing that you’re around when I come home each night.”
When we parted ways, I was impressed that a man of his stature appreciated the presence of motivated police officers in his neighborhood. If I had been aloof or dismissive during our first encounter, I not only would have missed out on meeting a remarkable person, but I would have lessened his confidence in the police.
Throughout my career, I treated citizens with dignity and respect. I was impatient with officers who would no adhere to the basic rule of “do unto others,” and I passed on this insight to rookies who came on the job after me. Joe Brown’s wisdom was proof that courtesy and respect are crucial for police to win the public trust.
After field training, the officers in my unit and our instructors gathered at a local watering hole. Joe was uncharacteristically bright and cheery. He hugged each of us and wished us all long and healthy careers. It was on that night Joe announced his retirement. We were the last class of rookies he would ever train. The job would soon be in his past, and it would be our duty to carry on where he left off. Six months later, the sad news came. Officer Joe Brown had died. Each day on patrol, I recalled Joe and his simple, yet valuable lesson. I’d like to think I made him proud.
About the Author: Michael J. Kannengieser is the author of the police thriller, The Daddy Rock. He is a retired New York City police officer who lives on Long Island with his wife and two children. Michael worked as the Managing Editor for Fiction at The View from Here magazine, a U.K. based literary publication. Currently, he is employed at a performing arts college as an Instructional Technology Administrator. He has been published at The View from Here, and in Newsday, a Long Island newspaper. Michael speaks as a guest lecturer on campus. Click Here to buy a copy of Michael J. Kannengieser's new novel "The Daddy Rock."