Can You Pass This Test?

Aug. 2, 2010
I divide my colleagues into two types: cops and those who simply wear the uniform.

Thirty-three years in law enforcement as a Chicago cop and FBI agent allowed me to work with a variety of colleagues. I shared a beat with guys who had a G.E.D., as well as some who earned a PhD. Most times those with the G.E.D. turned out to be the better of the two, street-wise and conversationally. That notwithstanding, everyone brings their own ideas about how to do the job. Some of the people I worked with were strictly reactive - content to hang back and wait for things to happen. Others, like me, checked their traps constantly and spent more time out of the car than in. There were never enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I wanted to do. More often than not, I was late pulling into the station parking lot for check off, causing the next crew to have to wait for the keys to the car.

Let's face it; spending an entire shift with someone in the cramped confines of a squad car can take its toll on both partners, particularly if you're just killing time. Little things as insignificant like blowing bubbles with chewing gum, can take on enormous proportions akin to Iran's nuclear policy - it's a crisis that needs solving, at least within the context of the eight hours. Those whose mission it simply was to get through the shift with as little effort as possible seemed to always have the most problems.

A smart cop can size up a colleague quickly. It's really no different than what we do when we're on a job. In a domestic, we take the combatants' inventory, instantly deciding who is blowing smoke and who is actually the victim (if any at all). When we question a robbery suspect on the street, our BS antenna is up, quickly forming an opinion as to the veracity of the subject's answers. (This isn't my jacket, it's my brother's).

So also do we evaluate what our colleagues may be telling us via their words and actions. One of the things that used to irk me was response time. Whether it was to a crime that had already occurred, or one that was in progress, the same units, remarkably, always showed up in like fashion. The guys who loved to work the street and considered it their vocation to help those victimized by thugs and knuckle-draggers, were always one of the first units on the scene - regardless of how far away they were when the call came over the air. Those who only wanted to get through the shift without making waves were guaranteed to pull up after the danger had passed and the offender was long gone.

It was common knowledge that certain units were not dependable, particularly, for backup. As I sped to the scene of a shooting, or robbery that had just occurred, I listened to the assist units come on the air. If we were backed up with jobs, as was often the case in Chicago, I knew that even if I didn't hear certain units tell the dispatcher they were going, I was confident they would drop what they were doing and be on the scene. Conversely, even when dispatch would assign assist units, I knew hell would freeze over before some would ever arrive in time to give me a hand.

So why the hesitation, why the reluctance, the avoidance of duty on the part of some cops? I can only offer speculation as to the reason why, but based on observation and overhears, I can conclude the following: some guys worked two jobs (the police job second on the list of priorities); others worked straight midnights and were always tired, some had pb (personal business) to take care of on company time, and, yes, others had extra-marital relationships which took precedence over the job. If I knew it, the bosses knew it also. There are myriad reasons why a supervisor failed to address the problem, not the least of which might be that he himself was guilty of one of the same transgressions. Once I accepted it for what it was; once I stopped relying on those units to assist and back me, I moved on and became a much better cop.

After I divided my shift workers into two categories: those who were cops, and those who wore the uniform only, I performed more efficiently and confidently. Essentially, I worked my shift as if the latter group didn't even exist. The only time I saw them was at roll call, because many times they would show early for check off and be on their way home before I made it back to the station. I did, however, assist them on any job they were assigned that was in-progress, or a violent felony. My oath and sense of duty would not allow me to ignore them completely.

All that being said, you are probably wondering: What's the test? It's simply this - the true measure of a cop and his effectiveness can be answered by this one concise question: Would you go through a door with this person? That, my friends, is the best indicator of who you are and what your colleagues think of you. If you're worth your salt, if you are who you say you are, then whenever someone asks another what they think of you, the best response you can hope for is: I'd go through any door with that guy.

Stay safe, brothers and sisters!

About the Author

John Wills

John M. Wills is a former Chicago police officer and retired FBI agent. He is a freelance writer and award-winning author in a variety of genres, including novels, short stories and poetry. John also writes book reviews for the New York Journal of Books, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. His new book, The Year Without Christmas, is available now. Visit John at:

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