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From One End of Law Enforcement to the Other: Becoming a Police Officer

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 14, 2022 3:05 am

From One End of Law Enforcement to the Other: Becoming a Police Officer

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 14, 2022 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Jeff Shaw shares his story of being lost in his career path, becoming a police officer, and the years of emotions that come along with it. 

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And we're back with Our American Stories. Up next, we're hearing from a listener and the author of Who I Am, The Man Behind the Badge. Jeff Shaw was a police officer in South Florida for 24 years, and he's here to share some stories about his time in the line of duty and all that comes with it.

Here's Jeff. I went to Opelaka Airport, and I stepped inside a Cessna 150 with the instructor, and that was my first flight ever in an airplane. And I was flying it. I eventually got my license, my private pilot license, in July of 1972, and I thought, OK, I'm on my way. I'm going to be a pilot. And about that same time, Vietnam was winding down, and thousands and thousands of pilots and mechanics were all coming back from the war and looking for jobs with the airlines. So I pretty much didn't have a chance at that.

You know, me with my 50 hours of flight time in a little Cessna, I was competing with these pilots with thousands of hours in complex jets. So I had to look elsewhere. And one night while I was at Ranch House cooking, I was sitting at the counter. I remember it was a slow night, and I was sitting with a friend of mine. He was a highly police sergeant, and I think I must have mentioned my unhappiness with my career. And he said, Jeff, you should go down to City Hall and put an application in to be a police officer.

He said, they're giving a test sometime in the summer. So I remember thinking, being in law enforcement was probably the last thing I had thought of doing. Usually I was like in the wrong end of law enforcement. I was one of those kids, you know, you look in the rear view mirror and see a police officer behind you.

You start panicking. It was mid-1970, and I had hair like Bon Jovi. I had never thought of being a cop. But I thought about it, and one day I went down to City Hall and I walked into the personnel department, and I remember asking the lady behind the desk for an application. And she looked me right in the eye and she said, son, you can come back for an application when you get a haircut. And I knew she was serious, so I walked out. I was pretty upset. I remember driving home thinking, okay, I got to find something else.

You know, I don't want to work here. But over the next day or two, I found myself in a barbershop getting a regular haircut. I went back to City Hall, walked into that same office. It was a different woman this time, and she gave me an application. I filled it out. And a week or two later, I got a letter from the city saying that my application had been accepted and I would be notified when the test was being given. And eventually I did get that notification, so I bought a study guide for law enforcement to be a police officer. And I studied that for probably the month between receiving that letter and the actual test. And I thought I was pretty prepared until I pulled into the parking lot. The parking lot was packed and I walked in the door and I saw two to three hundred other applicants milling around getting ready to take the test.

So, you know, I didn't really do well in school, so I thought this is not going to be easy. But I sat down. They gave me my number two pencil. They gave me a thick packet, which was the test. And they said, all right, everybody start.

I think we had a three hour maximum. And so I started filling out all those little bubbles. And I remember it was each question had five answers, you know, and the last two were all of the above or none of the above.

So you couldn't really guess too well. And about an hour and 20 minutes later, I think it was I was finished and nobody had stood up to give their test results. And so I thought, oh, man, I must rush through this.

I've blown it. So I spent another half hour just going through the test again, looking at my answers. And by that time, other people were getting up to and I handed my test in and I drove home. I wasn't real optimistic.

You know, I was trying to think positive, but I didn't have the greatest success taking tests in high school. But within the first month, maybe two weeks, I got a letter saying that congratulations. I had come out number 71 on the list. Didn't tell me how many other people were behind me, but I was number 71.

What I didn't know was how long it would take to get to number 71. And a year went by and I think I was working at Ranch House that entire year. And I had almost given up hope when I got a letter saying, congratulations, you've been hired as a probationary police trainee. And I was to report to City Hall the following week. I went through a process that entire week of signing papers, going to different offices. I had to go to the city's doctor and have a physical.

I was a little worried about that because I was six foot tall and I weighed one hundred thirty five pounds. I thought I would be too skinny, but I passed that. I had to pick up my uniforms from a police supply products place. I had to get my gun. I had to buy my own handcuffs. The city supplied my leather belt, the shoes and just about everything else. So that weekend I put it all on. I put the light blue shirt on, put the pants on.

I stood in front of the mayor and just looked at myself. I had worn a Boy Scout uniform years before. So it wasn't a far stretch from wearing that Boy Scout uniform, but it meant a whole lot more responsibility. There were so many different classes. We had so many different instructors. Almost every day, though, we had a class of defensive tactics. We had driver training.

We had weeks of constitutional law, state law, traffic laws. We had people coming in giving classes on domestic violence, everything that we were supposed to learn in twenty six weeks. So I was about three weeks into the academy when my training adviser was right in front of me. I was Sergeant Yee.

I remember I had skated through all the inspections. His nose is probably four inches away from mine and he's looking right at my eyes, but I don't look at his eyes and I could feel his hands touching my belt buckle. And he said, Cadet Shaw, you have a fingerprint on your belt buckle. What do you think of that?

And I'm thinking to myself, there's no way there was a fingerprint on my belt buckle. You just put that there. But of course, I say, I'm sorry, sir. And he backs up and he says, give me 10 push ups. So I did my duty. I got down.

I gave my 10 push ups and I'm I was probably good for another month or two. Then we started learning to march. You know, it was right face, forward march, about face, left face, you know, class halt. And we looked terrible the first several weeks, but I could tell there was a great amount of peer pressure between the classes to look good.

You could really tell the senior classes looked really sharp. But I always wondered, why do police officers have to march? You know, all my life had seen police officers out on the street or in stations or on TV and on the news. And you never see it marching. You never see him in formations. It just doesn't happen.

So why was so much importance put into us looking sharp in those units marching? And you've been listening to Jeff Shaw tell his story about becoming a law enforcement officer. And by the way, his story is everyone's story who's in law enforcement in this great country. Our neighbors story, our friends, our family members, because that's whose staffs are eight hundred thousand plus state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.

It's us. We, the people, a civilian law enforcement agency, a civilian military, too. What a beautiful idea. What a beautiful story. When we come back, what happens next in Jeff Shaw's transition from sort of rocker, hippie restaurant worker to wearing a badge and all the responsibilities that carry with it? More of Jeff Shaw's story here on our American story. And we return to our American stories and to Jeff Shaw's story telling us about his time in the police academy. Here he is to tell us about some of the first calls he responded to and how they affected him. So right after graduation, the very next assignment is riding with a field training officer.

It's part of your normal training. It's usually three months, but I only got two months because there was a big criminal trial that was coming to an end. It was the McDuffie case. And all the departments on South Florida were on edge because we were expecting civil unrest. And during this time in 1980, the Colombian Cowboys were very active in South Florida.

A lot of homicides related to the drug trafficking. So our department canceled my last month of my writing assignment and put me out on my own. So I remember that first night I was transferred to midnights.

I had no seniority and the only openings were available on midnight. So that's where the rookies went. So they gave me my car key and I walked out, found my car. And I remember getting in the car and I'm in a patrol car and I'm going out on the street. And I have nobody to ask questions to, nobody to guide me, nobody to tell me to stop, don't go down there. I'm on my own. So I'm driving around.

It's very quiet. I'm waiting for that first call to go out. You know, anticipation. I kept playing with a radio knob, you know, wondering if maybe I accidentally turned my volume down too low and I can't hear and they've been calling me and I'm not answering.

And every time, of course, my volume was fine. So I'm driving around and all of a sudden the alert tone comes on. So I'm thinking, oh, finally something's going to happen.

I'm going to be able to do something. And then, of course, she says my number, whatever this is, it's going to be my call. And I'm like, oh my God, I asked her too much here. Then she says the signal is a 330 and in our code, a 330 is an emergency shooting, which means either it's in progress or somebody has definitely been shot. My very first call is going to be a shooting. And she gives the address of the Sayonara Bar and I am looking at the Sayonara Bar through my windshield. That's how close I was.

The drug cartels are known to have it this place. So I'm already going pretty fast. I didn't even have time to put my blue lights on. And I'm in the parking lot. People are pouring out of the bar and I'm standing with my door open.

I'm trying to use the door as a shield. And I remember that split second of wondering if I would hear the bullet before it hit me. And fear leaves you when that adrenaline rush hits you. My training just took over.

So I can hear my backup is getting closer now. I can hear a siren and through the corner of my eye, like my peripheral vision, I can see somebody lying down inside the bar. The lights are on. The door is open. I can see him lying in there. He's not moving. I keep my gun on all of them.

I'm trying to watch them. I'm trying to watch the door itself. And I start edging my way over to the door.

One of the people in the crowd finally spoke English and told me that the subjects had fled. So I go inside the bar and I look at the first guy, the one I saw down. And I know that he's dead and there's nothing I can do to him. But there's another guy next to him.

And this guy looks better. And now my backup's in the bar. He's looking around also. So I kneel down next to the second guy. And although he's not moving, his eyes are looking at me. They're tracking me. So I said to him, I've got you. You're going to be OK. So as I'm talking to him and I put my hand on his throat, I can feel his pulse.

It's not real strong. And I see his pupils dilate and he stops breathing. Seconds later, the pulse stops. I'm saying, God, this guy just died on me.

But I stood back up. By now, there are dozens of police cars outside, two or three different fire rescue trucks. The supervisors are starting to arrive. News trucks are arriving with their little camera things. And the parking lot of this strip mall is just full sea of blue lights, all flashing, red lights flashing. And it's my call. And I'm like, I'm not I'm not ready for this.

You know, I've handled simple burglary reports. I had to work the rest of the shift, which is another eight hours. But when I was driving home, I was thinking of all those things like kneeling down next to the man, you know, feeling him die right there. My hand was on him as he died. And those other thoughts. Was he a good guy?

Did he have a family? Lots of thoughts like that. And I had very similar thoughts with a lot of my victims, which is probably not a healthy thing. So that was one of my my very first calls mass shooting.

And that entire scene, I can picture it right now. My wife and I were in the process of adopting a girl from Colombia this particular day. They had just finally assigned a girl to us. We had waited two years and we finally got her picture. And it was a cute little Spanish girl, you know, short, dark hair. It was so exciting for us.

We had to leave in like two weeks to go to Colombia and get her. So that night I was trying to catch up on reports. And more often than not, before I could finish a call and write the report, the dispatcher would ask us to clear because she had another important call. So it was started with the alert tone, that long tone.

The call was, again, another shooting, a three thirty. So I'm driving as fast as I can and I'm looking at these townhouses. Then I see the man standing in the front yard and he's waving at me. So I hit the brakes and slide up into his front yard. And as I'm doing so, the dispatcher comes on the air and says to change the call to a suicide.

So I run inside the house as fast as I can. And the first thing I see is a young girl sitting on the couch. Her head is back and she's looking up at the ceiling and laying on the floor next to this girl's feet is a black 38 caliber revolver. I touch her neck.

There's no pulse. So I sat next to her, you know, and got on the radio and told the dispatchers that the girl was our code is 45, which means dead. And I requested a detective to respond. And the father went back outside and I was alone in the kitchen with the mom and she handed me a note.

She didn't say anything. She did speak a little English, but she never really spoke to me. And I read the note. And the first part of the note was, I accepted you as my mother and father.

And that was all I can remember. And I learned later that this was her aunt and uncle and that her parents were actually in Cuba and she had come to the United States and was staying with her aunt and uncle. And I remember thinking how painful that had to be for this woman and this man. And she told me that what had happened was that she had started seeing this boy that she didn't approve of and prohibit her from seeing the boy anymore.

And they had gone out to the store for just a few minutes. And, you know, I just remember looking at this young Spanish girl and somehow that linked to my picture of my daughter. And I remember going home that night and that was like all I could think of. And what storytelling you're hearing from Jeff Shaw, the things that our law enforcement officers have to see and what they have to live with and how in the end they're humans and they start to associate one thing with another.

In this particular case, seeing that Hispanic girl and thinking about his little girl and wondering how these things can happen. And that first night, a 330, an emergency shooting at the Sayonara Bar. Imagine walking into this place on your first call, seeing a dead body holding the hands of another wounded victim, only to have that person die while you're holding their hands. He said, I can still see the scene in that bar now. We can too, Jeff. When we come back, more of Jeff Shaw's story, a life in law enforcement, his book, Who I Am, The Man Behind the Badge. His story continues here on Our American Stories. And we're back with Our American Stories and with Jeff Shaw telling us about his time serving as a police officer and all the emotions and experiences that come with it.

Let's return to Jeff with the rest of his story. I was on, I want to say, 10 years when I finally learned why officers had learned to march. My friend, Emilio, became a motorcycle officer, and that was his dream. And one day, I was off duty, it was my day off, and he was patrolling the zone I normally worked. And they asked him if he could handle a suspicious person call.

And he said, of course. And Emilio followed one of them inside a mall, and the guy was able to pull Emilio's gun and shot him six times. And Emilio died immediately. So that was the first big funeral I went to. There were probably 500 motorcycle officers from as far away as Las Vegas. I can remember the helicopters flying over. I remember standing at attention for probably 45 minutes as that line of motorcycles drove past us following the hearse, seeing the doors opening, the casket coming down.

You know, draped in the American flag, and somebody brings 2,000 officers to attention and to salute the flag. And it was just an amazing sound hearing that. All those officers coming to attention and then saluting. And then Emilio's wife came out.

She came down the steps with her kids, which were little. And I remember all the officers around me sobbing. You could hear them shuttering and just crying while all of them were at perfect attention.

And then everybody kind of marched away. It was it was really cool. Yeah, that was the feeling I felt like, you know, we were part of something and there was a lot of pride in trying to get it just right. You know, it felt like we were showing the grace that this officer deserved. I think that's one of the things that bonds police officers together. You're part of something. And when one of you bleeds, we all feel it.

I think as a patrol officer and not just me, but most patrol officers in South Florida. We see so much death. It's not unusual to handle one or two deaths a week.

And if you think of like I did 24 years, 52 weeks a year, that's a lot of death. You know, they're never pleasant. It's not like that person in the casket at the funeral home. And usually the family is there. They're grieving. They're crying. Somehow they all look at you for an answer, like you're going to somehow cure them of this grief or you're going to bring their loved one back. So you have to deal with that and you take all that home with you.

I retired in 2003 and it was much worse for me. The first few years after I retired, all these memories, I would sit in the chair by myself and I would start reliving them. And, you know, I would get very quiet. My wife could tell what was happening.

And I think she would make attempts at getting me out of it. But, you know, a lot of times there was no way to get out of it. You know, you just have to work through it. But somebody had mentioned that, you know, maybe writing these things down will be cathartic for you. Maybe help you get over them, put them on paper.

You can like file them away mentally and physically. First people to read some of the stories said, Jeff, this sounds like a police report. You've got to humanize it.

Some personal opinions, some emotions. So I had to learn how to do that. I started speaking with other authors, going to writing events, joining writing clubs. You know, it took me probably 12 years to finish where I thought it was finished enough to try and publish. And I worked with an editor to, you know, get it nice and neat.

Then I had it published and that was in 2020. It's sold really well. I've got so many positive reviews from not just police officers, but families of police officers. You know, women saying, now I know what my husband comes home with in his head. You know, he comes home very quiet and I've always wondered why. And now I know and I've gotten a lot of them like that. Like, thank you so much. My father was a police officer.

I always wondered why he was so quiet. And I got so many positive things out of that that I think that helps me deal with my own anxieties. You know, like like it was worth it. Bringing up all those old memories I thought was going to destroy me.

But writing them down and then hearing all those positive responses made it all worthwhile. And now I feel like I'm a better person for it. Because all this time you just feel like you're immune, like you're superhuman. You wear a bulletproof vest. You have a badge and you think that you're invulnerable.

And then you find out you're not. My daughter, I think she called us helicopter parents or something like that. And I think, you know, I probably was. I wanted to tell her that I've seen things that she hasn't. And that I was trying to protect her from those things. And that was one of the primary motivators in me writing my memoir was kind of an apology to my kids for being that strict parent. When their friend's father said, yes, you can spend the night over there.

And I said, no, maybe they would understand. When I told my daughter that I don't really trust this guy, I wish you wouldn't see him. I wanted her to see why I didn't trust him, to see some of the people I've dealt with. And to understand what what's out there. And an apology for my friends, because I know I'm different than some of the friends that I've made since I've retired. You know, I want to be a better husband.

And so that book really it started out as one thing and led to another. So many people just drive down the highway and see an officer on the side and think. Damn, he's look, he's running radar. He's probably going to give me a ticket. Or they do get pulled over and they're upset with the officer because they are getting a ticket.

And I just wanted to see. You don't know where that officer just came from. Did he just come from a suicide? And he's trying to get over that. Maybe he might not be the most pleasant person at the moment, or he's just come from a traffic fatality caused by somebody doing 90 miles an hour on the turnpike. And he's had to pick up dead bodies and maybe he had to do a death notification. And he doesn't want to see that anymore. So he is writing you a ticket for speeding. Maybe that's why he's doing it.

Not because he feels like he wants to punish you. You know, and to be honest, you know, when I was working the road, I hated writing tickets. You know, going to court, you know, I worked midnights and I'd have to be in court at 8 a.m. for somebody contesting a speeding ticket.

So so I never really enjoyed writing tickets, but I wrote them when I thought it was going to do somebody some good. It might slow this guy down. It might save somebody's life. You know, you see the police car parked in a Dunkin Donuts and you think, oh, that lazy officer, you know, my tax money is going to waste. That lazy officer's in there having coffee and relaxing. Well, you don't know where he's just been or maybe he was forced to work a double shift and he's having trouble staying awake. Or maybe he couldn't sleep the night before because of nightmares and he's having that coffee to try and stay awake.

Or maybe he's trying to catch up on those reports and he's not having coffee at all. You know, give that officer a break. Next time you see that officer in the donut shop, instead of thinking ill against him, you know, think of the positive good that he's done. The things that he's kept you from seeing. And a terrific job on the production by Madison Derricotte and a special thanks to Jeff Shaw for sharing with us, all of us, the story of his experience as an officer and in the end the experience of so many others. And 800,000 or so plus serve in the line of duty and in the line of danger. And they do it willingly and they do it knowingly for us so that we don't have to see those things as he just said. And what a story he told about his friend Emilio.

We're crying in the studio listening to it. And then, of course, him just getting to writing the book and how it ultimately freed him from a lot of the demons, a lot of the memories. And by the way, you can pick up who I am, the man behind the badge, by going to Amazon.com or any place you buy your book. The story of Jeff Shaw, a great listener story and a beautiful police officer story here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 19:51:28 / 2023-02-17 20:02:25 / 11

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