Thursday, June 12, 2008

Life - LEO vs Cycling

LEO is really L. E. O., which stands for Law Enforcement Officer. You know, a cop.

For a while now I'd been thinking of trying to get into the profession. It first started way back when I briefly thought about enlisting instead of going to college. Briefly means I interviewed with a few of the armed forces - Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard (no Air Force since I wore glasses and I figured I couldn't fly). College won. Many years later I learned about the State Department. And, of course, the FBI, after watching that FBI academy spoof movie. I didn't contemplate it seriously until after 9/11, but when I looked into it by then I was too old. I looked locally, but many departments required good uncorrected vision. Not willing to undergo Lasik surgery, I had to pass.

When the (then future-) missus and I moved up north, four towns in the area happened to recruit over the last 9 months or so. I looked into local listings, using, and went to do the initial physical whose requirements are listed at CHIP.

I studiously trained for the CHIP test, setting pretty high goals for myself (50th percentile for much younger recruits) and met them all in at-home self-testing. I got deathly ill just before the October test though and failed miserably. It devastated me because towns only recruit once in a while and without a CHIP card (indicating I passed) I couldn't apply. And the deadline to apply was right after the test. In other words, I wouldn't be a cop at that town.

Nevertheless I kept an eye out for other nearby towns. And would you know it, three towns decided to recruit a few months later. I duly got my CHIP card. This time I wasn't sick, and even without as much preparation, I did fine. Personally I was most surprised at my flexibility, as was the tester, and most disappointed in the run, but otherwise it was a breeze. I threw the weight in the air in the bench, expecting much more resistance, and I did my sit ups in about 35 seconds (they stop you after you hit your mark, so I couldn't keep going). The folks there commented that I did "well".

Right, for an old guy.

I started stressing about the written test. Some of it is straightforward, math and directions and stuff. Other bits are a little less simple - judgment calls require you to think applying both "common sense" as well as follow the basic rules that drive a LEO's actions. For example, if you are called to a disabled vehicle blocking a dangerous part of a highway, and on the way to that car you see someone walking drunk next to the road, which takes precedence? Life always takes precedence over, say, helping someone out, but both situations have the potential for injury or death, yet neither will assure it. Tough question, right?

I still don't know the answer to that one.

The hardest part is memorizing wanted posters. I was fascinated by wanted posters when I was a kid (including a 20 or 30 year old kid) but I always thought, "No way anyone can remember all this info". I'd look at a poster of some generic looking guy and think that if I walked out of the post office and walked by this guy, I wouldn't recognize him. He'd look just like another mean looking guy walking down the street.

Cops don't have the luxury of forgetting all the wanted posters they see.

So as part of the exam you have to look at a bunch of "posters", memorize them, and then answer a bunch of questions about them. To make it better they also toss in a bunch of procedural rules (written ones) which you have to read and memorize as well. Then they take away the booklet and ask you (in my case) 50 questions on the rules and posters in the booklet.

I think I was literally scared of doing poorly. And when I'm under incredible stress like that, I go into survival mode. Hyper-aware, hyper-diligient. I took the test May 3rd of this year. It's just over a month later.

Let me tell you about some of the posters in the exam.

(Note - as I mention just after the poster descriptions, I changed all the names, numbers, and locations in order to follow the agreement I signed not to distribute information in the test booklet).

Mike Zipp was the name of the first poster. I think he's wanted for making carbon wheels. He's 5'1", 150 lbs. White, black hair, brown eyes. Speaks with a stutter? Or maybe he has a calf gash. I forget the city, but I think it's Miami.

The other posters included a door to door salesman who assaults women (Brutus Maximus, Hispanic, forget hair, grey eyes, he was 4'11", 230 lbs I think - they make shorter people heavier it seems, and he was involved in the Arkansas area posing as a salesman, he knew cycling and one other past time well).

Next was two people who took a bike (Joe and Schmoe something, Joe is the dad, grey hair, grey? eyes, 6'3"?, Schmoe is the son, red hair, green eyes, 6'4"?, 195 lbs, and they tried to take Jan Ullrich's 2 year old Giant - Schmoe was his mechanic, and this took place in Berlin and they might be in Holland or Belgium).

Last was a missing neutral support guy (Butch, 6'1", 190 lbs, beard, black pants, yellow shirt, work boots, in Pennsylvania, disappeared from Philly but another town's force is in charge because that's where he lived).

Actually I should mix up the numbers a bit because I'm not supposed to help others on the exam. So I will.

Hang on.

Okay, now the numbers are all messed up, and ditto the names. You might notice a theme :)

You get the idea though, right? Anyone who did well on the test probably remembers a lot of those posters, and therefore would be able to remember real posters as well.

Apparently I did well on the written/memory exam, but it wasn't over yet. If you scored well on the written, you were asked to meet a bunch of people in the town for an oral interview. In my case it was the chief, deputy chief, a sergeant, and a captain from another city. They ask you questions about you, about your interests, and some designed to figure out how you make judgment type decisions. They sit you in the hot seat, a chair in the middle of the room, no table, no water, no nothing, and grill you for 30 minutes or so, writing notes the whole time.

Based on the written and oral interview, you get scored. The top four get put into the process for candidate selection. On the Sunday morning after the orals I got a call that I was in the elite Final Four, the final four candidates chosen to vie for one open spot in the department. I'd be required to go through another battery of tests and checks and then they'd make a decision.

This battery of tests/checks involves a background check (standard stuff but also some non-standard stuff), polygraph test, a more comprehensive physical, and psychiatric evaluation. I figured that I could prepare for the initial physical, written, and oral exams, but the rest of it really has to do with me as a person, not how well I can prepare for a given set of tests. I made a huge assumption that this latter set of checks would be a breeze.

I was wrong.

The process takes place all at once so it's a grueling time, rushing from one appointment to another. I realized pretty quickly that someone with no conscience (and a lot of free time - these things took a lot of time) could breeze through this process, but anyone who can feel guilt, well, it's tough. For one battery of screening questions (psyc eval) we had to answer about 850 phrases with True or False. Some of the more extreme ones include ones like "I have had sex with a dead person or animal" or "I enjoy hurting people".

The physical test was pretty straightforward, but not having a hearing test in a while, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had to lift, push, and pull various weights (50-160 lbs), do a listening test in a sound proof booth, a vision test, drug tests (blood and urine), and two stress tests on a treadmill.

The polygraph goes into more depth, asking details on every single time you ever did anything that could possibly be construed as "wrong". I think part of the procedure is to see how you react under stress because they left me alone in a Easter Bloc looking interrogation room for an hour ("I'll be right back", the guy said), right next to a mirrored window thing. Then they came in and started in on my list of things I did wrong. I felt like a piece of garbage when I left, and it literally took me another day before I started feeling normal again.

I met two of the three other candidates and talked with them at length, all at various overlapping appointments. We all seemed to agree with how each section made us feel - the poly was the worst, the background deceivingly nice, the psyc eval a bit strenuous, the physical relatively straightforward.

The third I didn't really meet but he seemed to have a lot of inside knowledge, and he seemed to have been grooming for such a position for the last 7 or 8 years. I thought one of the two other candidates also seemed ideal for the job, someone a chief would want on the force, based on what he had been doing for the last 7-8 years.

The whole time after the "final four" selection no one tells you how you're doing, it's just go from one place to another and hope that your past is okay. You either get picked or you don't. No way of knowing until they let you know. Like waiting to hear back from a college, apparently thick manila packets and phone calls are good. Little white envelopes are bad.

I got a little white envelope.

I didn't realize how much of myself I'd put into the process until I got that letter. Another crushing defeat, all that soul baring, and for what? For nothing. The next day I did what I do when I'm stressed and don't know what else to do - I went for a ride.

I had a great ride, not spectacular in speed or fitness or anything, just a really enjoyable ride. I thought about all the things that I looked forward to as a LEO, even duties that don't seem too appealing - standing at a corner of a bike race, for example, and directing traffic. Or walking or riding or driving a beat. Or even filling out paperwork, clearly and concisely. I have no problem being the domestique on a team, nor doing grunt work for a police department. But it didn't matter. None of that would happen for me in this one town.

Significantly, though, I made a decision out there, pedaling my bike. I decided I didn't want to be a LEO. I thought that even if I'd been accepted, I made it through the academy, every time I looked outside and saw someone cycling, I'd feel like my job was getting in the way of life.

I decided then and there that I'd try and make a life out of cycling. Not retail, at least in the traditional sense, I'd tried that and couldn't do it. Something in racing though, locally perhaps, or a larger scale if possible. Although as a LEO I could make a difference where I lived, as a cycling type person I could make a difference in a much broader area, albeit perhaps a slightly smaller population.

I had to withdraw from my LEO processes based on this decision. I already took a second written exam and signed up for a third one.

I didn't hand in the first required papers for the second town and disqualified myself from the pool of candidates, but in the process they told me I passed the written with flying colors.

I thought I might take the third exam because I already paid for it, but then I got a call for help from some folks that help with the Philly race. I gladly accepted but then they sent me the kicker - I'd be required to be in Philly Saturday afternoon for a 2:30 PM meeting.

The third exam was scheduled for 2:30 PM that same day, in Connecticut.

I thought about it for a bit because this was commitment time. It was the time to pull through or sit up, so to speak. I made my decision. I was sitting up in the LEO process.

I let the third exam people know that I would not be attending the exam and I would forfeit my exam fee, disqualifying me from that town. And I let the Philly folks know I'd be there for the 2:30 PM meeting.

I still look in amazement at any younger (because these tough standards came into place only recently) police officer I see. They passed the gamut of tests and checks that I couldn't pass, and they're out there, all hours of the day, busting their behinds, doing a lot of boring chore type work, looking out for everyone out there. They're willing to put their lives on the line for you and me. They are bright, they can memorize quickly and accurately, they're extremely observant, they have good judgment skills, and they have pretty much spotless backgrounds.

I know you read about the bad ones when they get caught doing some weird stuff, but the good ones, you don't read about them. And although you might joke about the one or two that stood out in your minds because they weren't being normal socially, it might be because they weren't trying to act in a normal social situation. For example, if someone asked you what the last car was that passed you on the road, what the driver looked like, could you answer the question? Did they have a watch on? Sunglasses? Hat? Earrings? If you're busy observing the person in front of you, you may seem, well, a bit odd socially. But if that person was perhaps in one of hundreds of wanted posters the cop has seen over the past year or two, he might be acting oddly for good reason.

For me I'll leave the LE to the LEOs. Personally I want to do bikes.


Brian said...

You made a huge life decision sound somewhat simple. Yet, as we all know, it's never easy. Glad you've found your calling - it's good news for those of us who enjoy being on two wheels. See you at the races!

Il Bruce said...

THere was a lawsuit in LaProv a number of years agoe where a fellow sued the PPD for not hiring him. Evidently he was too qualified and tested too bright on a number of tests.

It was implied that they didn't want him because they thought he would be too independent and not controlable.

Measure youself against the average local PD. It is a specialized set of skills and abilities.

I could never do it.

I give you a lot of credit for trying and trying for the right reasons.