"Caution is the key to safe cycling. I'm aware that cars are bigger than me, but I feel quite safe. I'm in control, liberated and free, when I'm on my bike." Erin O'Connor
"Hey, can I get one of those jerseys?" the man asked.
"Of course," was my answer. It was true enough. Fortunately, that's where I stopped talking.
Saturday morning dawned a hopelessly bright, blue day. By 9AM it was warm enough to cycle in short sleeves. The meeting place teemed with cars, joggers and other cyclists as the group formed. Everyone signed a release, me included. That was an unnecessary gesture in my - Worker's Comp covered me in the event I was injured. I was there on official business.
Bike copping. Okay, this was strictly PR, as an ambassador for cycling with a local bike advisory group. They'd scheduled a group ride to raise awareness and asked for an officer to accompany them. In uniform, on a police bike... Can do.
I was stationed at the back, a sort of overwatch position that also put the "POLICE" letters on the back of my jersey at what was really the head of the line. That would be the first thing an overtaking motorist would see. Funny, it kept the comments about getting off the street to a quiet minimum. Hence the man's request for a jersey like mine.
Contemplating a more complete answer to his question gave me pause. Was it really appropriate to say to a community member trying to make conversation:
"It really is a simple process. First, you have to apply for the job. My first time out nearly a thousand people competed for twenty or so open positions. Minimal qualifications included a bachelor's degree.
Passing the screening advanced someone to the psychological tests, polygraph and oral board phase. Did the candidate harbor any prejudices (do you?)? What were their law enforcement goals? Did they possess good judgement? Maturity?
A few are backgrounded. Their friends, family, employers (always an interesting call - 'Oh, you didn't know (candidate) had applied to be a police officer?') are contacted and asked a series of personal, intrusive questions. Rejection lurks with every answer. A minor indiscretion ignored in other professions can end a police career before it begins.
Finally, the job offer.
The Police Academy... A remarkable experience. Military Academies are often called a "Million dollar education shoved up your ass one nickle at a time." With Police academies - 870 hours of training over five and a half months - one might only quibble about the dollar value attached. The paramilitary nature of the experience begins with the first classes. Inspections, running, hollering... Everything by the numbers, PT for both fitness and punishment. Scrutiny the likes of which most young men and women have never endured. "I thought the military held me to standards," said one recruit recently. "This (the police academy) exceeds anything I ever did in the military." Weekly tests, for which hours of studying are required simply to pass. A final - pass and you keep going. Fail, and all of the effort to get this far could be wasted.
Graduation day only means progressing to field training. Sixteen weeks of having experienced officers specially trained in turning recruits into rookies. Every action is scrutinized, critiqued, discussed. Is the recruit courageous? Can they put into practice the skills and knowledge acquired in the classroom? Do five things at once? Listen, learn, digest? There is a report card every day, a list of things done well, poorly or... The big questions asked by the entire work force - would I want to work with this person? Can I trust them when my back is turned? Am I (paraphrasing A Few Good Men) willing to place my life into their hands, and accept theirs into mine? Do they have the right temperament to succeed when everything around them is going wrong? Can they be counselor, savior, saint to the rescue? Are they the right combination of warrior and social worker?
Succeeding there is only the beginning. Rookies pay dues for several more years. They take the reports, book the evidence. Particularly vile offenders seem to magically find their way into an FNGs car. The fun stuff? Sorry, we don't trust you, yet.
Finally, they are off official probation and can aspire to things like...bike cop. Then, a three day class that teaches skills beyond anything a recreational rider thinks a bike can do.
Then a person can put on the jersey that says "POLICE" on the back."
But the man was being nice, and was trying to make conversation with the police sergeant escorting his ride.
"It's very comfortable," I offered. "And we're always looking for good people to come help us out."
Good people who are worthy of the jersey.