column: For some officers, one mentor can influence the rest of their career
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.
AnnArbor.com 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.