'The Calling: The Making of a Veteran Cop' is a must read for recruits

Although The Calling is a fictional novel, it gives readers a sense they are climbing into the squad or walking the beat with the book’s main character, Officer Dan McCarthy


When I speak with my good friend and PoliceOne colleague Dan Marcou, we almost always have “a thing” to discuss, but our conversations will frequently also take unexpected turns down paths we just happen along as we exchange ideas rattling around in our heads. 

That’s precisely what happened a few months ago when the topic of his first book, The Calling: The Making of a Veteran Cop, came up.  During that call back in January, Dan mentioned how there was a common theme seen in reports written by recruits after reading The Calling (it’s been required reading at Fox Valley Technical College in Wisconsin since 2008).  At my urging, he read a couple of things they’d said about it and I was struck by how similar those comments were to my own personal memory of the book. 

I’ve read all three of Dan’s books, and always list them among my favorite reads authored by my columnists, but hadn’t read The Calling in quite a while, so I thought it would be fun to re-read it and do a column on it that would include comments from those students. Consequently, we both left that phone call with an “assignment” to complete.  I would re-read The Calling and Dan would work on getting permission for me to use some comments from those students who loved the book as much as I do.  What follows is the result of that collaboration. 

A Major Disclaimer
Before I go any further, I want to be totally clear on one thing: Dan Marcou is my friend and I naturally wish him success in all things. If he sells a book or two as a result of this column, so much the better, but that is NOT my motivation for writing this.

I write (as you will soon see) that I believe this book to be a must-read for young police recruits, high school kids who want to be cops, or college students in criminal justice programs who need a break from reading theoretical books 500 pages thick. 

I think it offers a window into the profession that a textbook cannot. I think it’s entertaining and educational. I think it reinforces a positive mental attitude and it drives home the imperative to train, and train hard. 

This is my opinion.  To some, it may be worth only what was paid for it. 

But that opinion just so happens to be echoed in the comments of one recruit, Brode Zolowski, who said, “The book was fantastic. The book has influenced my future in law enforcement… I will never be retired on duty and every time I strap on that duty belt, I will go out and perform my job duties with the utmost respect and dignity. I learned from this book that being a police officer is a privilege and one of the most honorable professions in the world.”

Another student, Amanda De Valk, added, “No one wants their fate to lie in the hands of another with negative intent. Action always beats reaction and knowledge allows us to take action.”

A Ride-Along
Although The Calling is a fictional novel, it gives readers a sense they are climbing into the squad or walking the beat with the book’s main character, Officer Dan McCarthy.

The realism of the book comes from the fact that its author lived the life for 33 years. Marcou combined his extensive experience as a street cop and police trainer with his outstanding ability as a writer to pen a novel that tells raw recruits in no uncertain terms that the career they are embarking on is dangerous, but also rewarding. The 216-page novel is a quick read in which McCarthy is slowly but surely transformed from “rookie” to “veteran.”

Because the reader begins to identify with McCarthy, a raw recruit may mentally “go to” their first violent domestic call. While reading, they may interview, pursue and grapple with suspects, if they let their imagination roam the streets of La Claire (Wis.) with McCarthy and his shift mates. In essence, while reading the story, recruits can’t help but engage in their first protracted exercise of when-then thinking. As McCarthy’s ride-along, a recruit can practice in the finest simulator known to man — the positive mind. 

Personally, my favorite character isn’t even the main character.  As I read The Calling, I find myself anticipating another incident in which the great commander, Sergeant David Compton, shows up.  Compton is “a solution looking for a problem” and his character is in stark contrast to Captain Hale, whose leadership abilities are less than spectacular.

The lesson for recruits, of course, is that because law enforcement is paramilitary in structure, you respect the rank even when you do not necessarily respect the person.

When a student puts down The Calling, they’ll be able to define the term “ROD” (retired on duty), because in their imagination they’ve already partnered up with one — a character named Officer Stanley Brockman. 

Explaining the need to have a Brockman character, Marcou said, “The student’s initial reaction is to think that the Brockman character is a cautionary warning that you might have to work with someone like Brockman, but eventually the real warning rises out of the mental abyss that if they are not careful they may become Stanley Brockman.”

McCarthy, with the help of Compton and his Field Training Officer Randy Stammos, becomes a part of a dedicated team of officers that includes Sgt. Compton, Dooley, Gary Carpenter and even the incorrigible Stanley Brockman. The calls they answer and the events they are thrust into are real — derived from the archives of the author's memory, “mixed, shaken, and blended a bit to protect the innocent,” Marcou chuckled. 

A Completed Trilogy
Marcou said, “I was asked so often ‘what happens next for McCarthy?’ I decided to write SWAT Blue Knights in Black Armor as well as the last in the trilogy, Nobody’s Heroes. It gives the readers a sense of completion and I am told they are a good read.

Marcou said further that the follow-up novels continue the theme that “you have to survive this career physically legally and emotionally and this is not easy, but it is doable with a little help from your beat partners. Serteant Compton would tell you there is another theme of the books, which is, ‘Police work is a supremely honorable profession if you do it honor.'”

McCarthy, in all three books, engages in the proactive policing that is indicative of the 5%er. During his contacts, he treats people with dignity and respect, not only because it is in his nature, but also because there are sound tactical reasons for doing this.  He physically trains hard realizing any moment on the street can launch you into the next or last fight for your life and victory goes to the prepared.

One recruit named Chris Steekstra heard this message loud and clear and declared, “In many cases, a calm demeanor and quiet authority win over yelling and shows of force. However, every officer should at all times be prepared for and expecting the worst humanity has to offer.”

A Positive Message
For recruits who have been inundated throughout their college careers with statistics in law enforcement relating to alcoholism, divorce and suicide, they are suddenly hopeful that a cop’s life can be a happy life. McCarthy, who loves his career and his family, achieves a healthy balance between the two.

Marcou hopes — and so do I — that every student who aspires to be a police officer will be required to read his book. But it is not about the money.

“I firmly believe the lessons of the story start the critically-thinking recruit on a path of preparation to physically, legally and emotionally survive their career,” Marcou told me. ”Writing the book was part of my lifelong effort to keep officers' names from being etched into walls.”

When I asked him why he wrote the book, he mentioned that beginning in 1977, his part time job has been to train recruits, and that experience had a lot to do with creating the book.

“Over the years I couldn’t help but notice that many recruits had no idea what their impending career in law enforcement held in store for them,” Marcou explained. “It was difficult for them to train with true intensity without first understanding why. This book helps the student understand clearly why training hard is a matter of survival.”

If you are an academy director, field training supervisor, or criminal justice program director, do your students/recruits a favor. Make them read, The Calling: The Making of a Veteran Cop.  I think they’ll thank you for it.

It’s now available as an eBook on Amazon and can be purchased as “hard copy” from “Lt. Dan’s” website

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 800 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

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