As a Canadian youngster working toward a career in law enforcement, I knew that the closest I’d get to being on big American police department would be watching one on TV. Natural, I fell in love with some of the cop shows set in big cities like New York and Los Angeles
But my favorite cop show was — and still is — NYPD Blue. I loved the characters, especially the flawed anti-hero, Andy Sipowicz. There are a lot of things Sipowicz did on TV that just don’t work in the real world. But on one episode, that fictional character passed along some valuable lessons — the four things you need to know to be a beat cop — which I’d like to pass along here. Those things are:
1.) The people
2.) The places
3.) The things they do
4.) The times they do them
A Good TV “War Story”
NYPD Blue offers some solid advice and some that doesn’t work so well in practice — I think most can agree that those four points are solid advice for any LEO. Those of us who are instructors know that a good “war story” can be an effective way to drive home an important point.
Andy Sipowicz’s “four things you need to know to be a beat cop” is a good war story.
In the episode entitled “We waz robbed,” Andy taught his formerly estranged son about being a cop. Junior received his lessons over a lunch of sandwiches eaten in a car, stakeout style, and the conversation went thusly:
Andy: OK. You’re eatin’ your sandwich, you’ve got company, the weather’s fine, it’s the perfect time to tune out the job.
Andy Junior: Yeah.
Andy: But you don’t want to tune it out, ‘cause there’s too much you’ve got to learn. Here’s a story about being a uniformed cop. Years ago, it’s midnight, me and my partner [are] a couple of blocks from the precinct house, when I see two big Cadillacs turn into an alley. Cadillacs, I’m thinkin’ maybe they’re mob guys. So we get out, go into the alley, see what’s goin’ on. Well the Cadillacs are gone, but I keep on walkin’ and pretty soon I see two guys come out of a back door, and one of them’s got a machine gun. So I yell to my partner, “Hey, we got a guy back here with a machine gun!” I didn’t know he could move so fast. He runs behind a telephone pole, and I’m standing in the door with my gun pointed at the guy with the machine gun.
Junior: What’s goin’ on with that?
Andy: The building was a toy factory that made toy machine guns, and one of the guys was takin’ one home to his kid. I don’t think he knew how close I come to me shootin’ him.
Junior: But you didn’t.
Andy: I could’ve, and it would’ve been off not being prepared. This was my beat, and I should’ve known about the toy factory and what kinda toys they made, and knowing that, I shoulda figured, it’s midnight, graveyard shift is just getting off. I didn’t put it all together. So I came this close to shooting that man. People, places, the things they do, the times they do them. Say that.
Junior: People, places, the things they do, the times they do them.
Andy: A beat cop knows those four things, he’s ready to do his job... You’ll be OK.
From NYPD Blue to the Canadian Prairie
Even though it was just a TV show — as entertaining as it was, that’s all NYPD Blue was — I remembered the advice and the story. And it’s served me well over the years, first in private security and investigations while I studied to be a cop, and in my law enforcement career.
Because those four points have stuck in my brain, I’ve been able to intervene in drug deals, thefts, attempted assaults, and many other criminal acts while they were in their early stages, not after the incident took place.
In my opinion, those four points are as good for detecting and interdicting terror attacks as they are for detecting and interdicting crime.
I’ve attended the ILEETA conference for the last three years, and this year, one of the sessions I attended was Counterterrorism for Patrol Officers (Instructor), presented by Kevin Gors of Seal-Mar and John Wiseman, co-author of the popular Rogue Warrior novels.
Gors said that because of our knowledge of our patrol areas, police officers can prevent not just terror attacks, but also criminal events (which terror acts also are).
That’s when I heard the voice of that gruff, jaded, old detective say, “People, places, the things they do, and the times they do them.”
Fine advice for any cop — whether a fictional NYPD Detective or a traffic cop out on the Canadian prairie.