By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare (1597)
Here I am, sitting in the shadow of a good friend's retirement, anticipating my own. We joked repeatedly - look at his retirement countdown calendar, add 365 and there you had it.
The scholar in me rebels at going into such a life-changing moment without consulting the experts. Pat and I attended classes, did the workshop and met with our longtime financial advisor. I spoke to someone who knows about cop retirements. Everything I read, wrote or heard was valuable, but this little gem beat all.
"Don't spend a lot of time arguing with people you don't know about police work on Facebook."
I don't know if wiser words were ever spoken, so let me tell you a story.
Several days ago, on a police site focused on supporting law enforcement officers of all stripes, someone asked an entirely reasonable question. Paraphrased - why do most police departments call their officers "officer" but the [my department] calls them "agent?"
That is an entirely reasonable question, one I am often asked by LEOs from other jurisdictions, and by citizens. The answer is easy...sort of. Let's take a step back in time.
Law enforcement in the middle 60s was something of a shit show. Good work was being done by honorable men (and a smattering of women) but scandals plagued departments coast to coast. Graft was endemic, training was uneven and, in some places, cops were the focus of criminal investigations. In Denver, for example, this nugget was popular: "If you find a burglar in your house just get his badge number. We'll get him at briefing the next day." An excellent book, Burglars in Blue, was written on the subject by an ex-cop who went to prison.
In 1965 President Johnson commissioned an examination of the police, with the study published in 1967. Among the findings and recommendations - have several levels of officer, with each succeeding level reflecting greater education and experience.
In 1969 a group of citizens living in Jefferson County, CO decided to "incorporate," that is they decided to create a new city. The successful vote had the collateral effect (or, to an extent the intended effect) of causing a new police department to form.
It was someone's idea - the first generation cops would know this - to pattern this ground-floor organization after the 1967 recommendations. Fair enough, huh?
One suggestion was to allow experienced officers to move from department to department without the need to start at the bottom - to "lateral," so to speak. It is a term that survives to this day and has found a formal process in POST rules.
Another was standardized state requirements - Colorado's (and everywhere else's) Peace Officer Standards and Training office is the result. God help us all.
The Commission envisioned that police officers would have high school educations or perhaps some college credits. They would undertake basic police investigations - the sort of bread and butter things street cops have done for almost two hundred years. The more sophisticated the investigation, the more likely it would need someone with more training, a higher level of education. That position? Agent. A department would have both, paying the agents more.
Of course, in typical [my town] fashion it was felt someone with a higher level of education could pick up the mundane stuff in their spare time and so, except for one group in the 80s, we never adopted the "officers and agents" structure. Legend has it that the mundane stuff was occasionally put off in those early days, but oh well. When I got there a bachelor's degree was required of everyone applying for the agent position, there was no officer rank and the department was structured along fairly traditional lines.
That outline persists to this day. One might argue that a degree is no guarantee a person is suited for a law enforcement career. Conversely, it's said that the lack of a degree doesn't preclude someone from being an exceptional cop. Trust me, both are irrefutable. Nevertheless, our way has worked for us so far.
Oh, yeah... The blazers. Following the Commission's original notions, the initial uniform issue was a blue blazer, gray slacks and a light blue shirt. The gun belt was worn under the blazer. Women wore skirts at first, but that's for another day. Eventually, it became obvious that the outfit caused more problems than it solved. Now agents wear a traditional blue uniform that is evolving right along with everyone else's.
Several of the commenters on Facebook made fun of the blazers, the title agent and the presumption that having a degree in - I don't know - underwater basket weaving made you something special. Or, that we were paid twenty-five grand a year more. I took a pay cut to come over from my original department, so I'm not sure where they got their information. Yeah, yeah. Whatever.
I'm very proud of my organization and the people I work with. They are committed to service, dedicated to professionalism and among the bravest people I have ever met. When one of our folks took a job with the FBI (and became - wait for it - an agent) he interacted with a number of agencies on the East Coast. His assessment? "[Our shop] does it right."
So, now you know.