Have you ever had a moment of clarity? A defining moment that changes your perspective irrevocably?
In the summer of 1981, I was a 22 year-old rookie police officer, working the 4pm-12pm shift. I had become a Danbury cop the previous August, and spent that fall attending the municipal police academy. A few weeks riding with several veteran officers (receiving practical advice like how to make a safe motor vehicle stop, and what not to broadcast over the police radio, like my home address when signaling out for lunch), and I was sent out on my own to protect and serve. For the next 6 months, I kept my head down, did as I was told, worked traffic posts, walked foot beats downtown, and otherwise (so I thought), learned how to do my job.
But I have to admit now, these many years later, that I was putting up something of a false front. To myself I thought, who was I to be mediating marital disputes, rousting teenagers, summonsing motorists, and otherwise telling complete strangers what to do? I was a young person, and a woman, who had never been in a fight in my life, presuming an authority I wasn’t sure I possessed, or was even entitled to possess. And what would happen if I were to be found out? Would someone, finally, just point at me and say, “Poser! Give back the badge!”
On this particular summer evening, things in Danbury had been relatively quiet for most of the night. Then, about 10pm, our sergeant, a tall gentleman named Jonas, was flagged down by a man claiming that he had just seen someone breaking into his car, parked on Ives St., near the rear of the downtown post office. A physical description (race, build, clothing) was broadcast over the radio, and another officer, patrolling past a nearby bar/pool hall called the Uptowners, spotted a man in a small group out front matching it. Jonas drove by with his witness and confirmed the identification.
Several of us had already driven to the area, knowing the rough & tumble reputation of the bar, and anticipating the possibility of things not going well. Jonas & another officer, Paul, went in first to make the arrest. They escorted the man off to the side, into a narrow space between the building & a car parked next to it.
(Note: This car, a late 70’s vintage, fully accessorized, two-tone (royal blue & gold), Lincoln-Continental, belonging to a local “businessman” named Neet, had its’ own backstory: it was rumored to have been stolen three separate times one very slow evening and parked at different spots downtown by several officers screwing with both Neet & each other. But this may be just rumor.)
Unsurprisingly, Jonas’ suspect was uninterested in being taken into custody. As Jonas and Paul began to wrestle with him, patrons started pouring out of the bar to protest the arrest and another officer, John, and I came running from across the street to assist. Paul, John, and I positioned ourselves in a line between Neet’s Lincoln and the building, with Jonas behind us, trying to handcuff his uncooperative suspect. Using horizontally held Kel-Lites (heavy-duty aluminum flashlights), we pushed back at the increasing crowd of screaming people. Then we heard Jonas’ voice, yelling over the noise, “Oh, Paul, have you got a minute?” Paul turned and saw that Jonas needed another pair of hands to secure his still struggling arrestee. Paul turned to John and said “Do you guys have this?” John turned to me, I shrugged my shoulders, and Paul went behind us to help Jonas.
For the first few minutes, John and I were doing ok, just pushing the people back, telling them to back off. Then, a fist came out of the crowd and punched me hard in the throat, knocking me back over the hood of Neet’s car, stunned, and in a quite a bit of pain. I managed to retain a tight grip on my flashlight, which the hand that had struck me was now trying to take from me. Time seemed to stop for a second, the crowd noise disappeared, and I thought to myself, “Well, now what are you going to do?” And I realized, I was outraged, angry, thinking, “How dare you hit me?” Apparently, pain pisses me off. I heard John ask me, “Are you ok?” I caught my breath, swallowed (most unpleasant), and said, “Yeah”.
As I straightened up, John and I both looked down and saw the hand trying to take my flashlight, so we reached into the crowd, and pulled out the body that was attached to the hand, the man who had hit me for doing my job. We threw him roughly over the hood of Neet’s car and fought to cuff him up. Neet’s previously pristine hood may have been (badly) dented during the process. Jonas and Paul had secured their suspect, so John and I began to head for our patrol cars with ours. We were closely followed by people yelling at us about the injustice of it all, and as John moved forward, half walking, half dragging our handcuffed suspect by the back of his shirt, I covered his back, fending off the crowd with my light, while occasionally turning to scream down at our suspect, “You hit me!!” Finally, John found his car, stuffed our man in the back, and we left the area. Other officers remained on the scene, dispersing the remaining group.
My sergeant had ordered me to go to the ER, to have my throat checked, so it was some time before I returned to the police station to do my paperwork. A fairly sizable group of unhappy citizens had gathered in the lobby of the station after the arrests, mostly to protest the situation, although one enterprising gentleman also tried to file a theft report, claiming one of the officers on the scene had stolen his ‘Rolex’. Both the claim and the ‘Rolex’ were found to be bogus.
When I came back from the ER, John had processed our prisoner and was in the hallway with him, prepping him to be placed in a holding cell. As I walked by on my way to the report room, he looked up and saw me. We stared at each other for a moment, then he turned to John and in a high-pitched, genuinely frantic voice, said, “Keep her away from me. That bitch is crazy.”
And I thought that was a fine thing to be. At that moment, I knew I was going to be all right. No one was going to take back my badge. I was learning to be a cop.