It was 40 years ago this month when I raised my right hand and was sworn in as an Oakland police officer. The phone call telling me I was accepted had arrived a few weeks earlier, and I hustled get released from Army active duty on terminal leave, find an apartment in Oakland, and move my meager possessions from Monterey.
The year before, I had met an OPD officer at a hostage negotiation course in San Francisco that the Army MP sent me to. He told me, “Listen, kid, if you want to do police work—I mean really do police work—then come to Oakland, because there’s more police work to do there than anywhere else.” So, I added OPD to the FBI and other federal agencies I applied to.
I was excited when Oakland invited me to take the physical agility course. They had already checked my criminal and driving record and waived the written test since I had a college degree. I aced the physical agility course, which was nothing compared to the obstacle courses I ran in the Army. The department then set me up for a medical exam, physiological exam, and oral board.
A few weeks later, I received a letter advising the next step was a detailed background investigation. I filled out a personal history questionnaire and sent it in. I heard from friends, old neighbors, and co-workers that investigators were asking about me, and shortly thereafter, OPD offered me the position. I later learned that out of a hundred applicants, only two made it through the selection process. To this day, I’m grateful OPD called first.
The 22-week academy (California POST—Police Officer Standards and Training—only required 12 weeks), was arduous. Classroom instruction that reminded me of college, and physical hands-on training and discipline was like what I experienced in the Army. Those who made it through went on to field training, where we rode with senior officers for another 18 weeks or longer.
I still remember being released from my FTO and my first day on my own. It was exciting, freeing, and a bit scary knowing the gravity of the many decisions I would have to make, any of which could have enormous consequences. But I loved it. Every day, I looked forward to coming to work, and felt a letdown when the shift was over.
I spent 25 years with OPD, and I seldom felt differently about the work. I collected plenty of bumps and bruises along the way, some physical and others emotional. It cost me a marriage (although I can’t blame just the job) and my health for a while. I weathered internal investigations and lawsuits, mostly holding my head high as they ran their course, because senior officers assured me that the only cops who never received complaints were those who never did anything.
Throughout my career, I worked alongside some of the bravest, most ethical, and most dedicated men and women in the world. I saw people at their best and absolute worst. And I got to help thousands and thousands of people: crime victims, members of the community, and even offenders. When to sent someone to jail, I knew I was helping those in the community who would no longer be victimized by that particular person, and sometimes, the trip to jail was the wake-up that caused some offenders to turn their lives around.
I saw numerous changes to our profession and the way we operated during my career. More occurred after I retired. And more will occur in the future.
People today often ask me if I miss it. I do. Everyday. But I’m also glad I’m retired. I have many wonderful memories. And a few recurring nightmares. But I feel truly blessed to have worked in a profession filled with purpose and meaning, a profession dedicated to protecting and serving others, and a profession where I could make such huge differences to so many lives. And those experiences give me plenty to draw on in my writing.
I’ll always remember the day 40 years ago when I took my oath and was handed my badge.