The Real Police is proof that the similarities
among police officers and their departments
far outweigh their differences. David Ziskin and I
began our police careers around the same time;
however, we were three thousand miles apart, and
we never met. It's difficult to keep this review brief,
because The Real Police is deserving of extensive
praise. David Ziskin is an exceptionally good
writer...a circumstance which places this book firmly
in the "page turner" category. As you read The Real
Police, you'll lose track of the fact it's a work of
non-fiction. David's use of character profiles, and
the conversational tone gives it the feel of a novel.
But...make no mistake, there's nothing fictional
about The Real Police, and the title is most
~ Barry M. Baker
Forest Theatre on Garrison Boulevard had a deal for
kids on Saturday mornings. For the princely sum of
25 cents you could see a double-feature horror
movie show, complete with cartoons, newsreels,
coming attractions, and a couple of serials. You
could get a box of candy for a nickel.
Times were pretty good for my family then, and my
mother would often give me thirty cents or even
thirty-five cents for this purpose on Saturday. To
attend this day-long festival of 1950’s movie
schlock with a friend was a great treat. It was a
simpler time. If you could forget the Cold War (as I
could), the post-war period was a peaceful,
prosperous time. Then, as now, fun was at the top
of my agenda.
The horror movies ran to a pattern. A boy and girl
were on a picnic in the country when the aliens or
giant spiders or radioactive crustaceans or whatever
menace appeared. They ran into town and told the
sheriff, but he wouldn’t believe them or go with
them to see the monster. Neither would their
parents or various other adults, and the monsters
were unimpeded and undiscovered by the
community for quite a while.
I used to think that when I grew up and became the
sheriff, I would always look for the monster. After
all, parents, grocers, truck drivers, and whomever
else were not law officers. The sheriff should
respond differently. Besides, in the movie, it was
always a small town out in the desert. Did the
sheriff have more urgent business? An invasion of
the planet would almost certainly be considered a
“priority one call” in the jargon of today’s computer-
Well, I never became the sheriff, but I was a street
cop for many years, and I will now tell young
readers a universal truth about police work that you
probably won’t learn elsewhere – certainly not in
formal training or from an administrator in police
work. Real policemen work the street. You can take
it to the bank. The street, simply put, is the soul of
police work. Everything else is a hiding place or a
support function. Now, you doubt me. Thirty years
from now, you will know I’m right.
You can tell how advanced a society is by the way
its police behave. Street cops get there first and
make all of the important decisions in police work.
Everybody else is in the background, despite what
you see on television. The first cop on the scene
represents our civilization and our system of laws.
He or she is a living symbol of the Bill of Rights and
of society’s attitudes regarding both law breakers
and the vulnerable.
I answered hundreds, probably thousands, of calls
from people reporting strange things, like little
people from Venus in the basement of the house. I
always looked for the monster. I never actually
found the monster, but I always looked before I
asked the complainant if they had run out of their
Delusional people, apart from the pathology of their
illness, are not illogical. Nor are they insensitive to
the way they are regarded and spoken to by
others. They may look bizarre and they may say
and do things that we would not, but at some level
which they may not express, they are keenly aware
of how they are treated. Listen to them for a few
minutes, and look for the monster. Then, and only
then, ask about their medication and the status of
their psychiatric care and so on.
This principle works in other situations too. One
night I responded alone to a domestic disturbance.
This is not a good idea, but there were no backup
units available and a citizen had called for help. If
you needed help, would you rather see one cop, or
no cops? These are street decisions made by real
policemen on the street, not by a committee of
people who don’t want to do police work
The disturbance involved a married couple, but
there was no assault. They were both alcoholics and
both pretty sad cases. I stood in the kitchen and
listened to each of them in turn. Tactical note – The
standard method on domestic disturbances is to
separate the principals, but you cannot do this
without a backup unit. Also, the kitchen is a bad
place to work a domestic – too many knives and
heavy pots and pans and other hazards, like maybe
boiling liquids. But everything important gets
discussed in the kitchen, in dysfunctional families as
well as normal families. Sometimes you have to play
it where it lays.
The couple were not really drunk, but they had been
arguing about their situation and had called police
because the police are the default social service
agency for broken people. The woman spoke first,
outlining their troubles together. Then the man
began to speak. I didn’t know what to say. I was
not a marriage counselor, or an alcohol counselor,
or a mental health professional, or anything else but
a street cop. I was appalled at the sad wreckage of
their lives and couldn’t even think of anything non-
committal to say, so I just listened and made a
sympathetic noise once in awhile.
The guy was pretty articulate, so I let him continue.
I was looking for the monster, you see. Only, this
guy’s monster was not in the basement. It was in
his head. After maybe ten minutes, he began to cry.
He shook my hand and thanked me for coming and
for helping him. How, I wondered to myself, had I
In a little while, both of them said they felt better
and that they thought they would be OK. They
thanked me again and again for coming. I cleared
the matter with police radio and took the next call.
Some nights, the city’s agony is continuous.
You know what? I saw the guy again, maybe a year
later. He was in a group of drunks arguing in the
parking lot of a tavern. I was the second unit in on
the call. As soon as he saw me, he told the other
drunks to shut up. He pointed to me and said “This
man came to my house and helped me when I was
in trouble. I won’t argue with him.” And with that,
the disturbance was over. Every encounter you
have is an investment. Treat it that way.
Want to know how to be a good cop? Start with
the following statements. Write them down on a
card and carry them with you. Read them
periodically. In thirty years, you will thank me.
1. Never forget that real policemen work the street.
2. Listen more than you talk.
3. Look for the monster.
David Ziskin is a retired police
officer. He lives in Seattle and
pursues business interests and
does consulting work for
selected clients. The Real Police
is his first book.
|Copyright © 2019 Barry M. Baker