When you’re a young cop, you instantly become the smartest, strongest, best looking, bravest son of a bitch on the planet. You look in the mirror a lot to admire yourself in that superman uniform.
Soon you are sent to patrol and get an lazy old goat for a partner instead of another cool dude like yourself. That’s a bummer. Your new partner has bad feet, seems way too cautious and you just know he was hired when cops did not get real training like you’ve just gotten. You find it embarrassing to be in the same vehicle working with a guy older than your own father.
In Chicago I worked on the Near West Side (012). I had Cook County Hospital, Greek Town, Jew Town, Taylor Street, Skid row and a large high crime area with projects filled with poor African-Americans. It was a busy district and a great place to work. My first boss, Commander Ronald Nash took a big fall and went to the joint for corruption.
As you come to the end of your police academy training you are sent out for Field Weeks to district patrol units. The normal plan is to pair you with an experienced officer working as a “Field Training Officer”. Sometimes they just run out of those creatures and you get what you get.
I was sent to the Near North Side (018) for one such Field Week and was assigned to work a wagon with a real dinosaur. His first name was Gene but I can’t remember his last name. Gene was several months away from mandatory retirement because he’d be 63 years old.
It was Easter Sunday morning and I knew it would be a really dull day. Gene was complaining to me about having to baby sit for a recruit. I was to keep my ears and eyes open. Further I was told to keep my mouth shut and perhaps he’d let me live. We were off to a great start.
Our first radio call did not come in for two whole hours! Then the radio cracked, “Eighteen-seventy-two.” I grabbed the microphone and responded, “Eighteen-seventy-two” The reply was,“Eighteen-seventy-two, a complainant says there’s a DOA floating in the Chicago River." I retorted excitedly, “Ten-Four squad we’re in route!”
Gene said two words, “Oh fudge!” Okay, it was a little stronger than fudge. I was going my first probable homicide call! Gene drove the wagon to the river parking next to the bridge. There was nobody around, not even a complainant, or passers by. As we got out of the wagon to look for a body we were suddenly hit with a really foul odor. Instantly we knew the call was legitimate as we gagged.
Walking closer to the river there he was in all his glory. Large and obese, this fellow was floating face up in the water. He was wearing only a white t-shirt and had his left leg severed attached only by a little tissue. He was bloated and looked ready to explode from the expaneded gas inside his abdominal cavity.
Suddenly the glamour of being a cop was on the ropes for me. We would have to somehow put this huge smelly pile of sh*t into our wagon, take him to a hospital, get a physician to pronounce the guy dead (they won’t take a cop’s word on that in Illinois) and then we'd take him to the Cook County Morgue. Once at the Morgue we'd be expected to remove his t-shit and inventory it as evidence once it was dry. This last procedure has since changed and been assigned to Medical Examiner’s personnel.
Our uniforms would be destroyed and we’d be barfing for sure. Suddenly our fortunes were improving! Two little Black boys were crossing the bridge on bicycles carrying fishing poles. Gene quickly flagged them down and asked to borrow one of the poles. Next, I watched an expert fisherman go to work.
Gene cast the hook right to that T-shirt and snagged it. Then I watched Gene pull the floating mess straight West from the bridge. The soon the body was on the West side of the river! Gene yanked the fishing line and broke it. He crossed back over giving the pole to the now complaining Black kids. Gene reached in his pocket and fished out $5 and gave it to them. The boys left happy and Gene said I now owed him $2.50.
Gene grabbed the radio microphone and called, “Eighteen-seventy-two” The dispatcher responded, “Eighteen-seventy-two.” Gene replied, “Eighteen-seventy-two, be advised this call is bonafide but the DOA is on the 13th district side of the river, we’ll stand by for 13. They’re going to need the Marine Unit or Fire Boat for assistance squad.”
We waited and watched the two poor bastards working a 13th District wagon as they handled the job in the finest tradition of the Chicago Police Department. That was the day I learned that the old timers were smarter than I was. There are some things you just can’t learn in the academy.