Tea Partiers are right, sort of
As I get really old confessionals come more easily. Garrulous Geezer. I also find that I can only write about things I know a little bit about.
I entered the police world—the only universe I ever really trod—on Jan. 1, 1953, as a rookie cop. I left it the summer of 2010. Between the brackets were three police departments and a 20-year stint as an expert on police procedures all over the country.
I confess I was a lousy cop—in Brooklyn. My life was long stretches of boredom punctured by brief moments of excitement. The great cops lived for those moments. I was lost in the wilderness of ennui. The department needed Spanish interpreters and made me a detective. I could not “find a bleeding elephant in the snow” according to one sage.
The promotional system, though, was made for mopes like me—written exams every four years or so. I studied laws and police regulations with the fiendish delight of someone having discovered a lucrative secret. As a first line supervisor, after five years, I invariably thought every order would be greeted with a suggestion that I do something sexual with myself. It never happened but the suspicion followed me into lieutenancy three years later. Next came the captain’s test—the last of the competitive exams and I bore down hard.
Now, used to the high 80s, I was really stunned (not tasered) by my 70% score. A true downer until I learned only 34 of the about 700 had scored that or higher. Now I was on my way into the executive ranks but knew in my questioning, Socratic heart that I knew nothing of police work. Yet here I was on the threshold!
In December 1965 my salary doubled—from 8K to 16K—and I was catapulted into the middle class.
I asked for a street assignment, so I could learn something—anything—about policing, and got it.
The previous month John Lindsay was elected mayor and selected a high ranking guy as Chief Inspector and an outsider from Philadelphia as Police Commissioner—the equivalent of elevating (demoting?) the Archbishop of Canterbury to Pope.
The new C.I. had been my boss in ’60 and ’61 and clearly valued my intellectual pretensions. He flattered me by coming to my home (a four-star chief) to ask me to be his aide—a key post made keyer by the outsider named as his boss. I respectfully declined and declared I needed to learn police work—whatever that was. He reluctantly consented
but a few days later put me on orders and forced me to work for him.
I learned a lot as Svengali to his Trilby but not policing. His principal interest lay in occupying center stage, not in the arena of solving problems.
What was I to do?
I’d been a dumb cop, a hapless sleuth, a disoriented supervisor and now was on the cusp of greatness—naked. How could I succeed? What, in the profession, might I do reasonably well?
Slowly, tortuously, the notion of manager entered my head. Maybe I could do that. But what did a manager do?
Public speaking, effective writing, budgets, planning, personnel, physical plant, equipment, directing others, etc. etc.
I set myself to learning these things—got a BBA and an MPA and took on every opportunity to write, speak and such.
Thus began my climb. My boss promoted me once, but the next one (following the Serpico scandal a new P. C.—not from Philadelphia) rocked me.
Patrick V. Murphy became my model and idol. In his brief 30 months he promoted me (and used my newfound proclivities) three times. When he left, in early 1973, he made me commander of all Bronx forces.
My very first act was to dismiss my chauffeur—I’d drive myself—and abolish all reserved parking spaces.
Now I began to recognize the bloat and waste. I had ten captains more than I needed and wrote the new commissioner that he could have them for use elsewhere. He wrote back a tart refusal with the admonition that I was not to undertake any similar initiative again. He regularly sent inspection teams to demolish productivity programs I was initiating, yet curiously never moved to replace me—an easy task, except few of my peers relished the Bronx at the height of its fiery dissolution.
Unsurprisingly, he ultimately forced me to retire, and I spent the next three years basically doing nothing as #2 in the Transit Police. I wince with embarrassment thinking of this period of selfishness, laziness and shameless acceptance of both a salary and a pension. I wrote a book about my previous experience (“Bronx Beat,” Univ. of Illinois) and waited to be fired, which I was, along with my boss (the former Chief Inspector for whom I worked before, his boss and his boss) in 1979.
Now unemployed, I applied for and was named Mpls. Chief by Mayor Don Fraser (along with Murphy, another hero) and served for nine years—the only real job I left voluntarily in the years of my career maturity.
Then came about 90 cases where I thought we might help reform some abusive police practices all over the U.S.
At the end I loved cops and what they did. Heroic! Beautiful!
The waste is horrific.
A bloated officer corps (I encountered 22 captains and needed nine; 110 lieutenants and needed about 35, etc. etc.)
About 1 to 2% of the force were psycho, thumpers, alcoholics, criminals, racist bums or loads, but I could not fire them because of the union and civil service laws. This tiny number served as a pervasive incubus on the larger body.
There were six precincts—we needed four. No one had ever heard of 911. We adopted it in NYC in 1968 and in Minnesota in 1983. Hardly any minorities or women. All two- person patrols. No use of name tags.
I demoted some; froze promotions for nine years and failed utterly to basically fire anyone (maybe a couple). The union opposed everything—through the courts, civil service commissions, the City Council and anywhere else they wielded clout.
I suspect the teachers’ problems are precisely analogous, as are the issues surrounding other civil servants, their pensions and such. And the union even managed to reduce the work week after I left by implementing four ten-hour tours with three days off. Thus they’d show up for fewer than 200 days a year and no one was getting two additional hours of work.
And there are now ruinously costly lawsuits occasioned by bad faith police actions because of no real supervision. No managers. All members of the same union.
So, without really knowing it, and mistaking big government with intrusion, the Tea Party is on to something—accidentally. The bloat and waste of government. The lack of managers. The absence of supervision from within and without.
I’ll close with another bitch.
For the nine years I served as chief I watched overtime expenses, possible lawsuits and such with a beady eye and returned a surplus eight of those nine years. My reward was to be summoned to the Council chambers to face angry officials complaining they’d given me the money to spend and why hadn’t I?
In 1989 Governor Perpich appointed me Commissioner of Gaming for the State. I helped set up the lottery, wrote a long report and recommended my position be eliminated. Another superannuated supernumerary bites the dust. Sic transit …
The government needs the trimming the private sector routinely employs. The Tea Party’s dictum to “Starve the Beast” is mindless and makes us neither freer nor better served.