First day, last day: From under-trained rookie to highly trained veteran

On the first traffic stop I made alone it never crossed my mind that ‘Malarkey’ probably wasn’t the driver’s name


If you would like to write about your “first day, last day” as a police officer, email editor@police1.com.

When I was asked to tell the story about my first shift alone and my last shift on the street, I agreed. My career overall is a bit of a blur, but I remember well the circumstances around each of the felony arrests made on my first and last shifts. I must admit that, whenever I tell the story of this early felony arrest, I wish I were making it up. But it is true.

My first shift alone

Looking back at my 20-year-old self, I remember how excited I was to head out on patrol on my own for the first time. I was hungry to transition from rookie to veteran status by putting together a string of self-initiated felony arrests that would prove to all I was ready for the change.

During that first shift on my own, I saw a driver run through a stop sign when pulling onto a state highway. I hit my lights, radioed in the location of the stop and cautiously approached the driver. He was in his 20s and had hair down to his shoulders, but I was put at ease by the Brad Pitt smile on his face. When I asked for his license, he apologized and said he had left his wallet in his other pants.

He said he was “Michael Q. Malarkey,” and I ran a check on his status. Dispatch responded, “He’s not on file.”

It never crossed my mind that “Malarkey,” the Irish term for BS probably wasn’t the driver’s name. “Not on file” did not set off any alarms either.

I asked the driver if he knew why he was “not on file.”

Still smiling, “Malarkey” declared that there had been a typo on his driving record that listed the wrong date of birth and he had not yet corrected it. Then, still smiling like the Pitt-ster, he offered, “I can straighten this out in no time. Just follow me home.”

This sounded reasonable so I returned to my squad and called into the dispatcher, telling him, “I’m going to follow Mr. Malarkey home and he is going to show me his license.”

The gruff old law dog behind the mic answered, probably with full knowledge of what was about to transpire, “10-4. Nice night for a drive. 255.”

As I began to follow, “Malarkey’s” taillights immediately and quickly began getting smaller. I hit my lights and siren and called in the pursuit. The pursuit took me from a state highway to a county road, after which the driver turned hard onto a logging road and careened up a wooded hillside.

After about a quarter-mile, he ditched the car and fled on foot. I left my squad car and chased him across a meadow and a plowed field. I was right behind him as he entered a farmhouse and locked the door. After I called other units to the scene, there was a bit of a stand-off, but I and another officer tackled him as he fled the house.

“Malarkey” was actually a wanted felon named “Smith.”

The incident was later goodheartedly debriefed at my very first “choir practice.” This cop’s faux pas seemed to endear me to this jovial band of experienced officers at that choir practice. I have since surmised it was partially because I was able to laugh at myself and partially because Charlie, the senior veteran of these veterans, dubbed me “Chester” (after Green Bay Packer placekicker Chester Marcol) and declared he liked the way “Chester” kept after that guy “like a dog after a bone.”

Looking back at it all, this is what I learned about surviving police work from the first to the last shift: Enthusiasm gets you to it, but training and experience get you through it. (Image/Chris O'Brien)
Looking back at it all, this is what I learned about surviving police work from the first to the last shift: Enthusiasm gets you to it, but training and experience get you through it. (Image/Chris O'Brien)

The Career

I never forgot what it was like to learn the hard way and decided I would become a trainer and prepare young officers for criminals like “Michael Malarkey” before these young officers met them. This was not the only reason I liked being a field training officer. While conducting field training:

  1. The trainee’s enthusiasm would recharge my battery.
  2. I loved the “Starry, Starry Night” look rookies would get in their eyes at the end of training when I would throw them the keys and tell them they were on their own.

My Last Shift

Thirty-three years after my first night, I found myself driving off the ramp for my final shift with my last field trainee, Casey. I was planning on locating one last wanted felony fugitive that my investigation revealed might be holed up at a particular address.

As we arrived in the area, I showed Casey how to park and approach unseen. I showed him how to position himself safely beside the door. I taught him my secret “I’m-not-a-cop knock.”

As usual the “I’m-not-a-cop knock” worked like a charm and there in the doorway stood one last wanted felon, frozen by the sight of “COPS!” I noticed his hands were empty, but the table just to his right in “plain view” was cluttered with illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia.

In a calm but direct tone, I said in one breath, “Police! You’re under arrest! Turn around! Put your hands behind your back! Do it now!!” The suddenness of it all startled the suspect into compliance. I speed-cuffed him, searched him and swept the apartment.

My last felony suspect was booked, the evidence was tested, weighed, packaged and logged into evidence. I turned my trainee over to another field training officer to finish the shift, after which I called out of service one last time and turned in my equipment.

The contrast between these arrests is quite remarkable. One was made by an enthusiastic, but under-trained rookie, who was lucky to survive. The other was made by a still enthusiastic but highly trained veteran, who was determined to survive.

Looking back at it all, this is what I learned about surviving police work from the first to the last shift: Enthusiasm gets you to it, but training and experience get you through it.

If you would like to write about your “first day, last day” as a police officer, email editor@police1.com.

NEXT: The moment police officers became my heroes

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