It was 1973 and it seems like a lifetime ago. There I was, sitting in the Police Academy in Norfolk, VA. It was opening day, and to that point, I had already been through Military Police training at Fort Gordon, GA. But this was different. I was not going to be a weekend warrior, but a sworn officer for the City of Norfolk, my home town. Each recruit was excited about the path ahead, and could not wait to pin on that badge and strap on that gun and take a seat next to the field training officer as a rookie. Admit it—you remember that feeling too.
The day finally came for graduation from the academy, held in the confines of a courtroom. Chief Claude “Bubba” Staylor called my name and I walked to the front, receiving my diploma from Deputy Chief Charles Grant and moved on for the ceremonial handshake from Chief Staylor. My family sat watching and it was a proud day. I actually got a trophy for top academic honors.
You have heard the expression—looking at life through rose colored glasses—expressing a description of those who are optimists and see all the good things in life tinted by their own thoughts and desires. When I hit the street, I wore those rose colored glasses, wanting to be a great cop, helping the people of Norfolk. Because I was a deacon at Church, that became my nickname for a bit.
Then I began working around the old-timers—vintage ‘50’s and ‘60’s cops. Hard nosed, cast iron heart, cynical veterans of the streets who enjoy breaking those rose glasses. But their task is not hard after going to a few fatalities, homicides, suicides, and domestic fights. Norfolk was a Navy town, so Navy payday was a special treat. It quickly became evident that rather than help the good people of Norfolk, I had to defend them from the lawless dregs of society, those soulless, depraved criminals who knew no good. The truth is, that is where I got my blue colored glasses. The way we as officers learn to view society is tainted by the harsh realities of the streets. Later, when I went to the Detective Bureau, it changed a bit. It was not as severe.
When I left Norfolk I enrolled at Columbia Bible College and you can imagine the difference in a campus filled with rose colored glasses and a street cop looking at the world all blue. Soon I learned that I might—just might—have a skewed opinion of society.
There I met Robert. From the first look in a hospital room I knew he was a guy I would have busted—just because. After talking with him a while, I found I had a different impact—he decided that day to change his life—and he changed dramatically and quickly. I was there on a mission and did not know it. I also met Tom, and quickly learned he was there as an option to jail. The judge convicted him of drug smuggling, but gave the first time offender a chance to follow the change that had happened in his life.
At first I had the same reaction as you as you read this. Truth is, over time I saw the change was real. And then, several years later, came the big one—I worked six years building a ministry for a former Capo for the Colombo Crime Family. Yeah, an ex-cop and ex-mob guy standing in churches together. God does have a sense of humor.
All of this recolored my glasses—not back to rose, because that was just as skewed as blue. I learned a lesson. First impressions are not always accurate. Also, people CAN change, and sometimes do. Now for officers, it is critical to balance the understanding with skepticism, the optimism with a bit of cynicism. It begins with initial assumptions rather than presumption. It carefully balances being vigilant at all times – to never be caught off guard, but also to let the facts speak rather than assumptions. Over the years I have been fortunate to observe people grow from bad to good. Some were criminals. Some wore blue. We need each others help us to keep those glasses clean, clear, and balanced with the hope of rose and the vigilance of blue.