Saturday, July 29, 2017

God Save the Queen

"Wherever we want to go, we go. That's what a ship is, you know. It's not just a keel and a hull and sails; that's what a ship needs. Not what a ship is. What the Black Pearl really is, is freedom." -Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), The Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

I first saw The Queen in the summer of 1972 from the concourse of Frankfurt Airport, Germany. She was big, elegant, majestic. Her size dwarfed the other aircraft, and lent lie to her apparent speed. The approach looked impossibly slow, but as she sped past it was obvious she'd need most of the runway before slowing to taxi speed. Dressed in Pan Am livery. Clipper something, the type - Boeing's 747 - had entered service a short few years before.

I had flown "Across the Pond" in a rickety, packed-to-the-gills TWA Boeing 720. We'd departed Philadelphia for London in the dead of night, but stopped in Bangor to refuel. We refueled again to make the hop to Frankfurt.

The 747 - nicknamed "The Queen of the Skies" - came to represent comfort, even back in economy class. High ceilings, a wide body, and enough heft to smooth out all but the harshest air made flying in one a treat.

From the mid-1990s until very recently I sat on a lot of airplanes going to and from Rochester, NY. We sat down one night and guessed that there had been fifty (plus or minus) separate trips. Lots of aircraft. I became adept at finding bargains, getting a good seat, and reading. I was scheduled to fly Denver to Chicago one morning on the new United Boeing 777. We had a last-minute plane change - to a 747. It was beautiful. It was enormous. I should have taken pictures. United flew its last domestic 747 flight yesterday, Chicago to San Francisco. It was packed. 

About a year ago KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline, transitioned from its wildly popular 747 service to St. Maarten, preferring an Airbus that gets better gas mileage. Thousands of people flew to that tiny Caribbean island just to see her - a 747 called "The City of Nairobi".  The crowds cheered, the cockpit crew waved and posted a sign in their window. "Bye bye."

Larger, more modern aircraft have (in some ways) supplanted her. But...

At about five o'clock every night a 747 departs Denver International Airport and begins a slow, majestic climb to the northeast. She is full of fuel, baggage and upward of three hundred souls. She wears the Lufthansa livery; the next time she lowers her gear will be on final approach to Frankfurt's international airport. As though it was an everyday thing...which it is.

Long may she reign.

A Hundred Thousand Thank You Notes

Writers write, so readers can read. William Forrester (Sean Connery), Finding Forrester (2000).

The dogs had gone to bed. Pat was in Dayton, about to graduate. Slowly, Bikecopblog's view counter crept toward one hundred thousand. It ticked over just before 11 PM. I shut off the light.

To those who have read these pages, to those who have written guest blogs, to the many people who have encouraged me in this endeavor... To my wife Dr. Pat, a gifted writer. To Katy, whose blog Behind Blue Eyes and a Margarita Glass is totally worth your time. To Beth, who has written here with grace. To Matt, whose writing will soon earn him the graduate degree he richly deserves.

To the men and women of law enforcement. We live, and some of us die, in the service of others. We stand, and we fall, as one.

Thank you.

A Doctor in the House

In an august moment begging for pretense, she was gloriously, lovingly humble. Her commencement speech's "Historical quote" sprung not from the pages of classical thought, but from Winnie the Pooh, about a lot of gratitude nestled in a small heart. She was calm and clear about who she is, who she loves and what it took to get to that moment, to climb that mountain.

To graduate and become Dr. Pat Greer, PhD.

It was a massive undertaking. She spoke of the ups and downs - few in her audience could know how the depths and heights tugged at her. Graduate study, especially doctoral candidacy, is as much about looking inward as examining external realities. It's imagining a different place, a better world, and dedicating oneself as a scholar to saying something meaningful about what might be. Then letting a lot of very smart people pick it apart. And putting it all back together again.

Winnie the Pooh. Love, devotion to friends, cheerful optimism, worldly innocence, gratitude for a life lived in the service of others. Worthy of a doctor of philosophy, a teacher, a mother, a friend. A soul mate.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Unflattering Imitation

Maybe we as officers have a responsibility to this country to see that the men and women charged with its security are trained professionals. Yes, I'm certain that I read that somewhere, once. Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson), A Few Good Men, 1992.

 Nothing to write about? Ha!

I haven't done more than post a couple of oldies in the past few weeks. I suppose there is a good reason. Several, in fact. Maybe I can get into a rhythm if I write about why I haven't been writing.

Work. Getting an academy class underway requires a degree of effort I would not have anticipated prior to my assignment into Training. As our organization has accelerated hiring, we've doubled the number of recruits...

No. Writing about stress is stressful.

Nothing about the real world is appealing, right now. Since National Review, or Vox or any of the alphabet big hitters don't pay me to write, I'm under no obligation to direct my attention to what is going on in DC. Sure, I'm a citizen. I should take a keen interest in the goings on of government because an informed opinion and blah, blah blah. Those people are weird. They are often stupid. Good people enter the Beltway and their brains - and their hearts - turn to mush. Writing about them for free seems like an exercise in futility.

Law enforcement has had some recent dark days. We've seen the deaths of several officers recently. But, nothing is as inexplicable (presently, anyway) as the shooting in Minnesota that took the life of a young woman. She had called police to report a suspicious incident. One of the officers who responded shot her. The reason has yet to be announced, other than a sort of general "He felt threatened."

I spent the better part of a bike ride framing a blog about that shooting. I reject, out of hand, the possibility that he shot her "for no reason." There is always a reason. Sometimes, it takes a while for the investigation to run its course. Occasionally, the underlying cause is not easy to understand.

About the time I was going to write about this officer's training, its potential good-faith flaws and the possible solutions, two things happened. One was the inevitable, foreseeable and totally predictable politicization of the tragedy. There isn't really a good reason to indulge any of that.

LinkedIn provided the actual reason I hesitated (until now). Someone posted an essay from an "Internationally-recognized expert on police training." I read it. That was a mistake.

The author's premise was that training (especially the lack thereof) could not be the culprit. He, an internationally-recognized expert on police training, had personally reviewed the curriculum of the academy the officer had probably attended. It was standard issue, as basic training goes and was mighty fine. There were no deficiencies he could detect, inasmuch as he was an internationally-recognized expert on police training and would be able to ferret out faults and flaws immediately.

I went to our pantry and fished out a bottle of tequila. The mere act of combining a glass of ice, some orange liqueur, lime juice and the result of distilling Baja Mexico's blue agave plants provided a chance to calm down. Here's to you, internationally-recognized expert on police training.

Training people to be police officers is a series of trade offs. The first one (a gifted friend turned me on to this) is the misappropriation of the word "training." I once made the mistake of using the T-word to describe a classroom lecture. "We were informed," he snarled. "It isn't training until the information is applied in a scenario, the officer's actions are critiqued, and the exercise is repeated successfully."

This distinction is often lost in the translation. Minimum training requirements at the academy level are often defined by hours delivered, tests passed and minimums attained. Had the young officer with two years' experience (did that include his basic training time?), partnered with a guy fresh out of the Academy, ever practice how to deal with threats while seated in his police car? If so, what was that like? How closely did it replicate reality? Was there a decisional shooting component - that is, was he trained (not just taught) how to distinguish between situations that are initially perceived as threats and ones that are lethal?

Good training is expensive, time-consuming and tough. Great training is rare and offered only to a select few, because it is prohibitively costly and takes officers away from their typical duties for long periods of time. So, departments do the best they can with the limitations facing them. 

Most purposefully-trained, genuinely decent officers (photos of the involved officer create a first impression that he is one) who are given a moment to reflect will ultimately solve the puzzles street situations present. But,  sometimes there is no time to ponder options. Instantaneous decisions are made, well or badly, based on how the mind has been trained to react. Not told, trained.

Was the young officer trained to handle what happened that fateful night? The internationally recognized expert says yes.

I am a mere simple country boy trying to make my way in this world. So I have to admit I haven't the slightest idea how the young man had been told, taught or trained. I do know one thing. Most professional police trainers will read the ultimate report multiple times, to make sure we are fulfilling our obligations to train the men and women charged with protecting our communities. We owe them, and the people they serve, nothing less.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Big Bike Bag of Happy

The rain came and went. It began just as we entered the underground parking - on bicycles. By the time dinner was over, breaks in the clouds signaled dry weather. We set off for our night ride, the last block of instruction.

Bike Patrol Class, May 2017.

The realization would hit me the next day, hit like a throat punch. After nearly 20 years of bicycle patrol, a decade coordinating our program, countless classes taught and many hours patrolling in the company of my friends... I might have rung down the curtain on my career as a bike cop with that last night field exercise.

I decided, as the emotions ebbed and flowed, I did not know how to feel about that. My current assignment is rewarding (training recruits), the enticing prospect of retiring looming on the horizon. Yet, many of my favorite moments came on two wheels.

Nights, in the bitter cold. My friend of many years, a fellow sergeant, would arrive at my calls bearing a thermos of hot coffee. Up along Colfax on graveyard shift, my riding partner and I rolling up unseen on fleeing suspects. Hours and hours patrolling the Farmer's Market with a close friend. Working a beat along side an especially talented cop on her last night with our department.

Several of us created the bike patrol class - polished, honed and polished some more. We rode the obstacle courses a hundred times, proving their utility. We went over the curriculum. We delivered the class over and over, welcoming instructors from another agency - something that made us all that much better.

I was riding the Light Rail, headed home from lunch with a close riding friend. One of the RTD security officers approached during a fare check. I produced my law enforcement ID card and offered it to him.

"Sergeant, I know who you are," the young man said. "You taught our bike class."

The bikes were away, the 2017 class in the books. I was happy to ride - happier, really, that I could still ride well enough to teach. I was happy to have handed the class over to the two talented young men who had taken the lead. My legs were sore, I had several technicolor bruises from falling.

But, I am no longer...

"Two-fifty, I'm clear on the bike."

I don't think I'm happy about that.

A Fool for Marketing

Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay. Donald Francis "Don" Draper (Jon Hamm), Mad Men (2007).

It is a yearly right of passage - what are the Super Bowl commercials going to be? Some are amazingly clever (Doctors surrounding a patient on the operating table "He's got money coming out the wazoo!!"). Some are stupid (choose your "favorite"). There is one goal each company has for the $5 Million they spend just for the thirty second slot. They want to make money by influencing a viewer to purchase something.

The same is true with political intercourse (pun very much intended). Unless the writer/speaker is warbling on merely to hear themselves speak (a charge often leveled at Bikecopblog), the diatribes of pundits, politicians and the true believers is directed at influencing someone to do something. Sometimes, it is to open a checkbook, brandish a credit card or otherwise enable the transfer of funds from them to the chosen end user. Political figure A appears at a podium, reads a speech in high dudgeon written for him by a graduate student beginning a climb within their party and, within moments, out go the emails to the faithful asking for money to address the ill. Or, defeat the awful, evil demagogues in the other party. Etc.

We've all gotten used to it. When Nixon's Committee to Reelect the President turned out to be more insightful than intended, the jokes ran hot and heavy, even as he was forced out of office. Gerald Ford, a gifted athlete, falls once ("Drive one truck and now I'm a truck driver?") and Chevy Chase turns pratfalls into comedic gold. Carter is an out of his league peanut farmer with an alcoholic brother. Reagan a doddering old fool. All meant to influence.

We live now in an overheated maelstrom of vitriol, with apparently no self-imposed limitations as to subject matter. A woman holds the simulated severed head of the current president and important, influential people come to her defense. Formerly respected media outlets first patronize sleazy inside operators peddling damaging information, publish it on the front page as fact only to find out it is lies...and the correction is buried. People with whom one disagrees are not just wrong, they are the lowest of the lowly dogs, barely human. They have no redeeming traits - they should be jailed, banished or... No one would be surprised if someone shot them, or stabbed them to death. "Which, of course, we hope doesn't happen."

Careers are built not on sober, factual analysis but on raised voices and a barrage of baseless charges. It isn't enough to win an argument, one must humiliate their opponent, for that is what they deserve. An election takes place, the results are in and the other side refuses to respect the outcome.

So when a deranged, self-righteous, politically-obsessed asshole brings a rifle to a baseball game intent on killing Republicans, the calm and self-aware of us quietly opine that it is the lunatic at fault. Surely, it could not be the cesspool of irresponsible personal attacks that call, in all seriousness, for violence. "Shut it down, shut them up. Disrupt, destroy..."

Bullshit. An unspeakably brave Capitol police officer drew fire. It's what we are trained to do when the shooting starts and citizens are the targets. "Here I am. Engage me." It provides the civilians time to take cover, beat feet or otherwise save themselves. Armed with a pistol, she and her colleagues took on a guy with a rifle and won the running gun battle. She was shot - while at the hospital, President Trump and the First Lady visited, bringing the officer and her wife flowers. What did someone say in print?

Basically, that the critically wounded congressman's past views and votes rendered him unfit to be protected by her.

I know... How about we say "Isn't it awesome that courageous, well-trained people find themselves in the right place at the right time? Isn't it nice of the President to show respect? Isn't it great that America in 2017 this amazing officer's wife doesn't have to hide?