The Kid, just out of the academy, was walking a foot beat with his training officer, Linc, in an inner-city, midtown precinct. Linc, a 20-plus-year veteran, taught rookies the way of the streets — streets belonging to gangs warring with each other for control of the drug and sex trafficking, the area’s economy.
Linc told the Kid, “I’m going to show you what survival looks and sounds like, something you didn’t learn in the academy. You need to know what to notice and what to look and listen for. Even the sound of the keys will keep you in the fight.” A baffled wave of expression washed over the Kid’s face, “What the hell are the keys?” Linc laughed, explaining, “The keys dangling from the duty belts of the officers running to help you. Remember, you’re a foot cop. At times, you will be surrounded by those who hate you.” Linc continued, “Truth is, if you bought it on this post today, the job would give you a nice funeral, but the job would have a different blue suit walking this beat tomorrow, without a second thought. The pieces are interchangeable, Kid.”
Linc spoke from the streets, not the training manuals. He wanted the Kid to know how a typical 20-year police career would unfold into what many refer to as “the 20-year nightmare.”
“Kid, here’s the deal, the first five years you have no idea what’s going on. Hell, you’re not even a cop. The second five years you’re a sponge soaking up what it is to be a cop.” Linc went on, saying, “Your next five years, you’re super cop, using every tool you have making arrests, solving crimes, saving lives and feeling pretty good about yourself. During those last five years, you’re just waiting for it to end. You go out, stay on post, answer the radio, handle your jobs and hopefully, you get to go home.” He added, “They only get five good years out of you and, believe me, Kid, that’s more than enough and about all you can give.”
The Kid thought about what Linc said with a look of disbelief, a look Linc saw on the faces of many rookies he trained. And, like all the others, he knew the Kid would come to understand it.
It wasn’t long before the Kid was on his own beat. He realized trying to enforce the law was not easily done — his job was just trying to keep everything in balance and keep his eyes and ears open.
One night, he interrupted an assault, recognizing the assailant as a thug who enforced street justice for a gang. The victim, a prostitute who withheld some money from her pimp, was having her face destroyed by the thug’s forceful beating. She escaped as the Kid grabbed the attacker. He was able to radio his location while grappling with the thug. The inflection and urgency in his voice let other cops know he was in serious trouble.
The struggle was violent, the Kid fighting to control the perp who pulled what turned out to be a defaced 9mm handgun out of his waistband. He got off two shots, striking the Kid in his left shoulder and arm. The Kid fell to the urine-soaked sidewalk as the perp stood over him, aiming to put one in the Kid’s head. A gunshot from a responding officer sent a bullet into the thug’s chest, dropping him to the same sidewalk, dead.
Linc was off duty, heard the news and rushed to the hospital. Entering his room, Linc found the Kid in pain, with his upper chest and left shoulder wrapped to his wrist, sort of like an entombed Egyptian mummy. Linc said, “Hey Kid, how ya doin?” The Kid weakly responded, “Hi, Linc, I think, I think I’ll be OK.”
They spoke a bit, but Linc could see the Kid was weak and beginning to doze. Once Linc saw his eyes closing, he turned to leave. As he got to the door, he heard the Kid say, “Linc, I heard the sounds, I heard the sounds.” Linc turned, saying, “What sounds, Kid?” The Kid replied, “The sounds, Linc, the sounds of the keys, the keys, Linc, the keys!” Linc nodded, knowing he did his job, and said, “Get some rest, Kid, I’ll see ya out there.”
Linc returned to the command, suited up and met his new rookie.
Note: The author, who spent a good portion of a 27-year career on foot patrol, can personally attest to the sound of keys.
As seen in the February 2023 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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