Author’s note: This week the local news highlighted the demolition of the last high-rise at the infamous Cabrini Housing Project. It was where I cut my teeth as a patrol officer in Chicago. Good people and the dregs of society lived in those buildings along side of one another. Also prominently featured this week is another story alleging two uniform patrol officers sexually assaulted a citizen. Of course it is the bad guys that always make the news. That brought to mind the pair of stories below:
Several years back my son was the first officer to arrive at the scene of an automobile crash on the north side of Chicago. In the middle of the intersection was an automobile on its roof. Hanging from the seatbelt, upside down in the driver’s seat, was a grey haired woman probably in her mid sixties, screaming for help and nearing complete panic.
He realized that he could not safely release her from her seatbelt without risking further injury or possibly even paralysis if she were to fall downward on her head and neck. He notified dispatch that he needed the fire department for extrication and then laid down in the glass strewn street, crawled partially into the overturned vehicle and held her hand and talked to her until fire rescue units arrived.
About a week later, the woman appeared at the station with a bouquet of flowers… “I didn’t know what else to do.” she said with a little embarrassment.
Just about 45 years ago two young cops responded to a late Sunday night call at an upper floor of the Cabrini projects. A mother explained that she was on a week-end pass from the Reed Mental Health Center and was overdue on returning. But in the apartment with her was her 5 year old son. Her son’s caretaker had not returned and she would not leave him alone. The cops promised to call Reed and explain her absence and then they looked around the apartment. The five year old was scared and wide-eyed as the cops opened the kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator. The sum total of all food in the entire apartment was a Morton’s salt shaker in a kitchen cabinet and a bottle of Tabasco sauce in the fridge.
The cops left, but it bothered them. They stopped at an all night gas station at Clybourn and Ogden (yes there was a Clybourn and Ogden in 1967). They dug into their pockets and left a few minutes later with a grocery bag of milk, orange juice, bread, peanut butter and ice cream. Back they went to Cabrini, up the urine soaked elevator to the 16th floor and knocked. The boy, still wide-eyed, answered with his mother at his side. The cops unloaded the bag on the kitchen counter, gave the youngster a hug and headed back to the dark elevator. As the elevator door started to slide shut, the five year old’s head ducked out from the screen door for just a moment… “Good-bye pals!” he said.
(Yes, this author was one of those cops.)
With combined police service of over 40 years between my son and me, I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that scenarios such as these play out on the streets of Chicago hundreds of times each week. Yes, each WEEK! It’s what cops do… it doesn’t make the news and they seldom tell anyone, even other cops, unless of course a senior citizen shows up at the station with flowers. That of course requires an explanation.
Bad cops hurt us to the quick and every once in a while there seems to be a barrage of negative stories. We try to hold our heads high and likely spend days off the following weeks with family and fellow officers to avoid negative conversations with the civilian public.
Life goes on… there will be another several thousand random acts of cop-kindness before the next bad-ass grabs the headlines. All we can do is hope that the grateful lady and the now 45 year old black man, and tens of thousands of others like them, smile and think kindly of us as they listen to the news. After all is said and done, WE are the real police!