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Posted on Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 5:55 a.m.

For some officers, one mentor can influence the rest of their career

By Rich Kinsey

Sometimes the brightest lights in our lives shine for only an instant. Such was the case with “TR.” TR was one of the many great partners I had over the years, but probably the guy who taught me the most about what it meant to be a cop.

TR had only a month more seniority on the Ann Arbor Police Department than I had, but he was a veteran who had been around. During the early 1980s the Detroit Police Department laid off a number of police officers. The Ann Arbor Police Department benefited from those layoffs by hiring some really outstanding officers. Several stayed until their retirements in Ann Arbor. TR was one of those officers laid off, but he eventually went back to Detroit when he was recalled.


Sometimes keeping your distance is key to keeping your cool when you're a police officer. file photo

TR came to the Ann Arbor Police Department, via DPD, Inkster PD and the Central Michigan University PD. His assignment in Detroit had been in a major crimes mobile “cruiser car” manned by three burly no-nonsense plainclothes officers and a uniformed sergeant. When the “Big Four” car arrived on scene, somebody was going to jail.

We met and immediately hit it off, and as soon as I was off my field training we partnered up. I had some great field training officers, but TR’s mentoring was like an advanced degree in street policing.

The first thing TR taught me was that I should “never take any of this (insert expletive for stuff here) seriously.” What he meant was that I should keep my sense of humor. Laugh at the ridiculous predicaments that humans get themselves into, enjoy the show, do a good job, but not get “too involved.” Police work can eat you alive if you do not maintain a little distance.

TR’s lesson continued, “These people you are dealing with aren’t your people.” Meaning that the calls I went on were not involving my family or close friends. TR added that since I was an Ann Arbor kid, if the call I went on did involve one of “my people” a good supervisor would take me off the case and even if they did not, I should take myself off and give it to another officer because I would not be “policing” objectively.

TR kept his distance, maintained his sense of humor but also was one of the most compassionate officers I have known. TR had a way with people and a style I have borrowed from throughout the years.

I remember him speaking to a distraught mother whose emotionally disturbed son had to be taken into protective custody because he was a serious threat to himself and his family. The woman was crying and very upset.

TR spoke to her in a very low, very slow voice. He knew the woman was agonizing over her decision to have her son taken into protective custody to get a psychological evaluation. TR turned the woman around toward him and made her look him in the eye when we were about to go into her son’s room to handcuff him for transport to the University of Michigan Emergency Psychological Services.

TR told the woman, “Now listen ma'am, we need your help. My partner and I are going in now to get your son. When we do, there might be a scuffle or fight that sounds terrible, but you have my word that my partner and I will do our best not to hurt your son.” This was before TASERs, the mere presence of which is often enough to persuade even an emotionally disturbed person peacefully into handcuffs.

TR continued, “Ma'am I need your promise that you will stay in this room and let us do our work until we call you in there — no matter how much noise you hear. Do we have your promise, because you have ours?”

That minute or two of bonding between police officer and citizen in need — that moment which bound us by a common problem and mission — was a moment of police genius that I never forgot. Those few extra words and eye-to-eye contact to explain what might happen — but that we were on the same team — really calmed that scene and many more for me throughout my career.

TR was a master policeman and he was funny. I never laughed as much in a police car. I was with TR the night we faced an "armed suicidal" man brandishing a butter knife in his hand, a crazed look on his face and a live blue parakeet on his head.

TR and I worked midnights and loved to prank each other. One of the games TR and I played—as double units still probably play—was trying to make your partner laugh or pause while broadcasting on the police radio.

The officer not broadcasting using gestures, facial expressions or low inaudible comments — that could not be heard on the radio — tries to make the officer-broadcasting crack up on the air. The game is won if the broadcasting officer maintains his or her composure while talking on the radio —or— lost if the broadcasting officer has to take his or her thumb off the transmit button in order to laugh.

Another game we played was the old get your partner talking and not paying attention and drive them next to the curb where there is a misaligned lawn sprinkler. If the passenger officer’s window was down, any collateral spray the driver experienced was worth the laugh.

In the end, TR went back to the Detroit Police Department where he rose to the rank of deputy chief. When he left Ann Arbor he told me, “Partner no one else but you would believe me, but I have to go back. Those are my people in Detroit and somebody has to protect them.” In retirement TR still serves the citizens of Detroit, mediating disputes between high school students in the Detroit Public Schools. Thanks TR—you rock!

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who writes about crime and safety for



Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

Another great article Rich, sounds like JR would be not only inspirational but a real hoot to work with. Compile the book! I'm the broken record and I'm NOT shuttin' up about it.


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 10:16 p.m.

To Rich's editors: Get your heads out of your you-know-what's(please) and publish this! don't think about it! JUST DO IT!!!!!!!! I am, with proper motivation, the quintessential nag/broken record/pain in the butt. no apologies.

Rich Kinsey

Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 7:38 p.m.

Mady- Thanks for the encouragement. I e-mailed my editors to see if they would compile what I have written, that they now own, into a book. I have not heard back from them, perhaps they might listen to you. I am truly humbled by your support. Thanks Rich


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 5:07 p.m.

Anyone who has had a mentor like "TR" will appreciate the value of such people, regardless of the specific job or lifetime. I too had a mentor like TR, though it was in another profession. So I understand why Rich Kinsey would remember his mentor and want to communicate to us the importance of people good enough to fill that role. "TR kept his distance, maintained his sense of humor but also was one of the most compassionate officers I have known." -- is what I consider the key concept being conveyed by Kinsey. Being an accurate, objective observer helps a person maintain distance, keeping a sense of humor converts potentially bad experiences into good ones and being compassionate is easier when we keep in mind the pains and struggles of others facing challenges big and small. Lastly, speaking as one who is a published writer; Rich Kinsey's covering this very large topic in just 1,021 words speaks volumes about his writing ability. Nice going, Rich, you give meaning to the term "Contributor."


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

There's no doubt that mentorship, and the examples of veterans, plays a large part in professional development and the maintenance of culture in almost any organization. Tell us then, who mentored former Ann Arbor police chief Barnett Jones? Whom did he mentor? There was a culture about him, alright - one that he used to justify fleecing at least one city (and likely two) of valuable taxpayer dollars. Apples don't fall far from the tree, and you can't teach old dogs new tricks.


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

Kinsey said "The Ann Arbor Police Department benefited from those layoffs by hiring some really outstanding officers." That may be true but they also hired some really awfull, abusive cops who really liked to hurt people. The kind that drive around all day just looking for an excuse to put someone in handcuffs. Thank God that they are now gone.


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 10:01 p.m.

Same goes for the Detroit PD..remember when the FBI busted officers driving a pretend coke dealer from Miami around in mark Detroit police cars to sell the dope ? 1989 I believe it was. Then you had Chief Hart who stole over a million dollars from the dept. Crazy but true. Drug testing has help clean up some of the problems, there was no drug testing back in the 1980's


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

I see some here are not ready to take a break from the Venom Fest. But I think that's all that's needed. Surely, I've known bad cops. But that makes appreciating the good ones all the more important! I do however agree: when I first came to Ann Arbor, I met some bad cops, including ranking officers, who were really lousy. I join you in appreciating the positive change in AAPD. :-)


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

Tom Todd - it is really not that simple. I used to hang out with a AA cop who bragged that he knew so many of the unused and little know laws that he could arrest anyone walking down Main Street at any time!


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

Once bad apples infiltrate any organization, they tend to grow from within. If they get involved with hiring and staffing decisions, they tend to grow their own ranks. The rot grows to consume all of the other good apples, and you end up with a bad organization. The key is to prevent any bad apples from the start. Unfortunately, many institutions - police organizations chief among them - are loathe to "police" their own ranks, so to speak, preferring to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Tom Todd

Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

DON'T break the LAW!


Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

Maybe that is why the donut stores are almost non existent?