In our culture, you are generally considered “of age” somewhere around 18. Legal convenience dictates various ages where an individual accrues privileges accorded to normally functioning adults, a category of human beings that’s has widened dramatically with the liberalization of America. I smile broadly when I think back to my first day on the road, riding with an experienced officer, ready to unleash my newly acquired skill and training on the miscreants that surely surrounded us as we turned on to the interstate. I was basking in that glow that accompanies youth and enthusiasm. As a newly minted state trooper, I was flush with the excitement that surrounds the concept of making a difference and improving the human condition. I had no idea just how big that job was…..and how much that I didn’t know about human beings.
My training officer was a hard nosed Dutchman, physically imposing, energetic and challenging. He had just finished training a truly exceptional officer and had been assigned the responsibility of harnessing my enthusiasm and verbosity, although several of the Academy staff were not convinced this could be done. I was aware of their concerns, and determined to demonstrate that I was the right stuff for this job. We got along fine, in spite of our remarkably different approach to the business of policing. We differed, as any two officers will, on the occasional nuance related to our business. One very cold January morning, we were dispatched to the rest area to investigate a reportedly unresponsive man in a car. We arrived just as this young man, a soldier on a three day pass, was being loaded into an ambulance in which he was transported to a small hospital in Sweet Springs, Mo. His traveling companion, another soldier, remained behind and formed the basis for my investigation into the circumstances surrounding his partner’s illness. It was a slam dunk, as cases go, a leaky exhaust, bitterly cold temperatures and a tragedy that I was dutifully detailing in my report. When we arrived at the hospital, we were met by a wise, experienced country physician who led us into the ER where a very dead young man was lying, crimson red from the effects of the deadly gas. I set about recording times, details and the doctor’s summation, resulting in a sheaf of notes and a detailed report. As was the custom, my training officer reviewed my report and passed judgement. It was too long and overly detailed. I disagreed and we drove to the Sergeant’s house for a final opinion. The Sergeant, himself a fine scribe, lit his pipe and carefully reviewed the report before writing the remark, “excellent report” across the top, pronouncing it ready for submission. A win in the youth and enthusiasm category, but a loss in the age and treachery column. I was being introduced to the fine art of compromise, and didn’t recognize it. The takeaway from this experience is that one is wise to resolve conflict at the lowest possible level.
The path that I was obliged to navigate had been forged by one P.M. Mulholland, the officer, fresh from the Academy, that preceded me into our zone. Mike, as I recall, graduated at the top of his class, was a fine writer and had a megawatt energy level. Our next Sergeant was careful to not schedule us on the same shift, as he would spend the next few days sorting through the mischief we stirred up. We were troopers in the transitional era of the Highway Patrol, where “old school” met the new age. Technology was growing exponentially and we were more inclined to think our way out of a situation than beat our way out of it. The miscreant who spit in the face of the generations preceding us would get their spitter mashed, and a car/deer accident report would read “The car hit a deer”. We were privileged to rely on both old and new age techniques in the resolution of conflict. It was a beautiful era to be an officer.
An excellent example of the delicate balance between age, treachery, enthusiasm and youth occurred during my tenure as a senior Patrol commander, when a very hard nosed Captain who commanded a division that was in my Bureau dropped by to tell me that a young, civilian Patrol employee wanted to see me about his facial hair. This Captain did not like the employee’s walrus mustache. The walrus guy scheduled an appointment and stopped in. He quoted the General Order that did, in fact, permit him to have the rather ugly walrus stash. I told him that upon his insistence, I would direct the Captain to ignore his moustache, but would not interfere with the Captain’s preogerative to schedule his duty hours, which could result in considerable inconvenience to the employee. The Captain called the next day to report the walrus moustache had disappeared, and all was well. The takeaway here is to remember there is a difference between battles and wars.
As a final note it would be exceedingly wise of parents and guardians today to remind their children and students that while they may enthusiastically express themselves in shocking and challenging ways today………
….tomorrow they are very likely to be employed by individuals who rely on age and treachery to manage their businesses.