5 Lessons I Learned From the Old Timers (Veteran Officers)
I walked into the Marietta Police Department on October 15, 1981. I was 21 years old and excited about the opportunity to serve my community. And I knew nothing about being a police officer.
I attended basic mandate training, received instructions from my Field Training Officer and learned from experience in the school of hard knocks.
Our department was like many at that time, full of tough military veterans who joined the department in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I remember thinking “these guys are old.” Many of them started at the department before I was born!
Over the next several years, I worked closely with these old timers and got to know them. Many of them served as my supervisor throughout the years.
In 1988, I was transferred to Detectives. The majority of the Detectives in the unit were old timers, hired around the time I was born. We were as different as night and day yet over the next four years, we grew to trust each other and were a very effective unit.
I retired from the department after 28 years of service. I was hired as the first-ever Chief of Police for the Dunwoody Police Department.
Around that time, some of the retirees from the Marietta Police Department floated the idea of having a quarterly luncheon for retirees. Many of the old timers had passed away but there were plenty of them still kicking.
Everyone thought this was a good idea. We began meeting quarterly and did that for a few years. We then started meeting monthly and have been doing so for the last few years.
I enjoy attending these retiree luncheons. Many of the retirees are in their late 70’s and early 80’s. There are even some old timers that attend who left the department before I even started. The banter, the stories, and the comradery are priceless.
After a recent luncheon, I started thinking about what I had learned from all of these guys and all of the other veteran officers’ I was blessed to have worked with. I thought I would share my observations with you.
1. Never Forget the Past
A career in law enforcement is never boring. You respond to a lot of crazy calls, see many people at their worst, form lifelong friendships and make memories that will last forever.
I love listening to the stories of the old-timers, some of which even involve me. I am always amazed that they can recall minute details of a call they went on 30-40 years ago. They tell stories full of laughter, remember heartaches they shared and difficult times they survived.
I can’t help but think how important it is to keep our memories alive, especially after we retire. It is one way to carry our legacy forward. Share it with others.
2. Don’t Hold Grudges
As much as these men and women worked closely together, there are bound to have disputes from time to time.
I recall watching an argument blow up between two old timers at the department. Heated words were exchanged and those words almost led to blows. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. Their bond was evident a couple of hours later when one asked the other, “You ready to go to lunch?”
Even today, their conversations at lunch can turn to some of those long ago, but not forgotten, arguments. I think they enjoy ribbing each other about them.
Don’t hold a grudge is good advice for anyone regardless of the profession they work in. Life is too short to be angry every time you feel you have been slighted. And it certainly makes your job harder if you hold a grudge against someone you work with.
3. Use Experience to Guide You
These veteran officers gained a wealth of experience during their years of dedicated service. These lessons served them well throughout their career and they relied on that experience to make sound decisions.
I was a new Detective in 1989, full of knowledge but lacking any real investigative experience. I responded to a person dead call with other Detectives including one of our old-timers, Lieutenant Marvin Hill. Marvin was a seasoned veteran.
Anyway, the crime scene was a big mess. Blood was all over the place, including all over the victim’s face and head. I tried locating an entry wound but couldn’t find it. Marvin spent a few minutes assessing the crime scene and examining the victim. To my astonishment, Marvin turned to me and said “Natural”, meaning the subject died of natural causes. Before I could stop myself, I disputed his assessment and tried to explain why it couldn’t be a natural death. Marvin stood firm in his assessment.
Needless to say, the subject did die of natural causes. He had a ruptured blood vessel in his throat and bled out.Experience is a great teacher. One we should all pay attention to. Click To Tweet
4. Friendships Make All the Difference
When you answer your last call for service and hang up your uniform for good, outside of all the memories the only thing that remains is the friendships you made. You spend hours and hours with your fellow officers, building unbreakable bonds of trust and forging lifelong friendships.
I see and hear about those friendships each time the Marietta Police retirees meet for lunch. As I sit and listen to them, I can’t help but love the banter and laughter.
The people in our lives are the ones that make life worth living. The old-timers have shown me how important it is to cultivate those relationships while I am working and to stay in touch even in retirement.
5. A Sense of Humor Can Pull You Through Almost Anything
The old-timers lived life to its fullest. They worked long hours, played hard after work and made their share of mistakes along the way. They took chances at times and played it safe at other times.
Their sense of humor lifts me up today like it did when we worked together. I really believe a good sense of humor helped them cope with the terrible things they encountered on the job as well as the difficult circumstances many of them faced at work and at home.
As you can imagine, many of the old timers have faced some pretty serious health problems over the years. One was having prostate cancer surgery the day after our last luncheon. Still, none of them have lost their sense of humor that sustains them in the good times and the bad times.
Having a good sense of humor is like oxygen; it lifts us and sustains us in all that we do.
I learned a lot of lessons from the old timers I worked with throughout the years. These five are the ones that made the biggest impression.
I vividly remember attending roll call as a Captain in 2002. I looked out over the room at the officers and realized several of them was not even born when I started at the police department. It suddenly occurred to me that those officers probably look at me like I looked at the older officers when I started.
I was now the old timer!
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