The old breed walked beats, worked alone and came of age under tumultuous circumstances. When they were young, beginning their careers, law enforcement struggled to become a profession, to shrug off the deserved criticism of racism, favoritism, intolerance. Many had come home from war in the Sixties and early Seventies, only to be thrown onto battle lines at home with little training, rudimentary tactics and uneven support from society. Most of them were determined to serve, to give everything to they had.
There wasn't a lot of money in the job then, perhaps five or six hundred dollars a month. Free coffee, half-priced meals, the bottle at Christmas - gratuities - stretched the family budget. The practice was easily corrupted, and fell into disfavor among progressive organizations trying to weed out dishonesty. Today, the veterans fondly remember the generosity, decades removed from the tiny gift.
Some officers walked beats alone, communicating with their department through a system of call boxes, not radios. If the light on the call box was on, it meant that a citizen needed police service. The phone inside connected the cop to their headquarters. Paychecks, memos.... dropped off at the call box.
Police officers, then as now, learn their craft by watching and listening to the "jurassics," the men and women tempered by experience. The war stories, peppered with invective and profanity, don't just tell amusing, often self-deprecating tales. They are cautionary, instructive. Teaching moments, over coffee at work, or beers after. Sitting beside them, we learned from the old breed.
Years ago, two of us went to a house, to secure it while detectives (my friend among them) obtained a search warrant. The sole occupant, a middle-aged woman, waited impatiently with us, sipping from a glass of water. At least, it looked like water.