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Recruits get a reality check, thanks to a “novel” idea

By Chuck Remsberg
Senior PoliceOne Correspondent
Sponsored by Blauer

Two academies in Wisconsin are believed to be the first in the nation that will require all recruits to read an insightful new cop novel before they begin their training.

The book, The Calling: The Making of a Veteran Cop, is intended as a reality check for would-be officers who’ve grown up with Hollywood’s skewed images of police work.

“Many of these young people have never been in a fight,” says author Dan Marcou, who recently retired after 33 years behind the badge. “Many have never handled a firearm before in their life. Many have not even been called a bad name in anger, and most have never witnessed a violent act or seen the aftermath of violent acts.

“Yet interviewers at entry level hear candidates state sincerely that they want to be a CSI…a SWAT operator…a detective…a sniper or some other job depicted on their favorite TV series or movie when they hire on to a department. They have no idea that they can’t waltz right into these dream positions. They definitely do not picture themselves patrolling on graveyard for years before they even get enough seniority for another shift.

“Hollywood cannot seem to paint an accurate picture of police work. They cannot get it even close, much less right. As a trainer, how do you counter those vivid, compelling distortions and get new recruits mentally prepared for the street, when they have no idea what the street actually will be like? How do you get them to make the necessary commitment to DT and firearms training when they don’t have a clue about what they’re going to get into?”

That’s where Marcou’s 216-page book, which follows a fictionalized “naïve but motivated” young officer with a 5%-er mind-set through his first five years on the job, comes in.

Starting with its next academy class, Western Technical College in La Crosse, Wis., will include a copy of The Calling in a welcome packet sent to each new recruit, with instructions to read it before starting the state’s mandated 520 hours of training, according to Pat Fisher, associate dean of public safety and a former highway patrol officer, municipal cop, and sheriff’s deputy in Florida.

“Some people simply are not made for the law enforcement profession,” Fisher says. “This book can be a way to test whether they really want what they’re likely to be getting into. If police work isn’t what they thought it would be, it’s not fair to the individual or to the taxpayers supporting the college for them to move forward. We can save time and money by moving somebody else into their slot who does have the interest and commitment.”

Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wis., also intends to use the book as a preparatory device for its three-a-year academies, beginning in 2008, says director Dan Feucht, a former LEO. He plans for it to become an important component of the College’s CJ academic track, as well.

“We have to deal with so many misconceptions about police work,” he explains. “Among other things, I can see having students read this great book and then compare the incidents it realistically presents with what they see in police shows on TV. This would lead to some very lively discussions.”

He also anticipates using the book as a springboard for tactical discussions, with students analyzing the pros and cons of how Marcou’s officers/characters approach situations and strategizing on how their responses might have been improved.

Dan Marcou, who retired as a lieutenant on La Crosse (Wis.) PD (roughly 90 sworn) about a year ago, may be remembered by PoliceOne members for the key role he played in resolving a deadly active-shooter incident at a Milwaukee-area motel, for which he was honored by the Association of SWAT Personnel-Wisconsin in 2004. [ Read about the incident]

With a multitude of other recognitions for exceptional performance, he’s certified as an instructor in nearly 20 LE skill areas, from patrol procedures to advanced DT, and is the founder of Kei Satsu Jitsu (the Police Way of Combat), based on his extensive experience in the martial arts.

“During a cold winter a few years ago, I had a new computer, and I sat down and started writing The Calling in my spare time,” he recalls. The book, set in a Midwestern community of about 50,000 population (much like La Crosse), was published last July [7/07].

Marcou calls it a novel, although more accurately it’s a series of well-crafted vignettes involving a wide variety of suspects and a few continuing police characters, rather than a highly plotted story. “With a couple of exceptions, all the things that happen in the book happened to me in my career,” Marcou says. But he describes his renderings as “realistic fiction” because he has played with chronology, names, locales, and some other minor details and has blended certain events into composites. So they are not necessarily true to the letter but all are remarkably truthful in substance and tone.

The protagonist is “Dan McCarthy,” who starts out “new to police work and not used to being lied to with a smile” and gradually learns “to see beyond the façade of the street” with cop’s eyes. Night by night, he becomes “a criminal’s worst nightmare—a highly motivated cop who loves to catch bad guys.”

Along the way, he’s exposed to burglaries, domestics, vehicle stops, drunks, drug busts, pursuits, unruly mobs, a shooting, Terry stops, ethical challenges, a water rescue, courtroom frustrations, and much more—plus, the sometimes numbing tedium of real policing. He learns how it feels to start a shift by cutting down a teenage suicide and ending it in a fight with a grandmother who’s wielding a butcher knife.

“Law enforcement exposes people to a lot of things real quickly,” says Fisher. “If you’re not ready for it, it can be a tremendous shock.”

Feucht likes that the book not only “will prepare new officers for the street” through its realistic depictions of calls but that it also showcases “all types of police officers” that a rookie will be exposed to. These include a hardened veteran who has succumbed to cynicism, a sergeant who’s “a consummate professional” and a natural leader, a captain who makes good decisions and one who does not “because he does not recognize his limitations,” a seasoned officer who is “dealt difficult cards that he plays courageously,” an “ever-ready backup officer no one wants to hit the street without” and a R.O.D. (Retired on Duty) whose actions could get you killed.

In addition to The Calling’s strong inoculation factor, Marcou intends for the book to convey three critical subliminal messages:

1. Although in real law enforcement, unlike the entertainment version, not every call is a hot call, policing still can be highly satisfying. “The career of every LEO is colorful and potentially a book,” Marcou says. “As a cop, you can’t help but have interesting and dramatic things happen to you.

“When you step into a uniform, it’s not an easy path. Your rewards may come in unusual ways. Often it’s just the smile of a crying child at a domestic or a victim telling you, ‘I don’t know how I would have made it through the night if you weren’t here.’ There are so many moments across a police career that have rich personal value.”

2. Among the misperceptions recruits (and most civilians) hold is that “the only places anything happens are in big cities.” The reality is that “everything happens everywhere,” Marcou says. “It’s just a matter of frequency. And when ‘it’ does happen, the local police will be called to handle it, whether it’s a precinct or a lone village officer waiting to take the call.

“Wherever you work, sometime you’re going to have the scariest three minutes of your career. Maybe it’ll be at the end of a foot pursuit when you’re in an alley all by yourself, just you and the bad guy, with your radio knocked out of your hand and a Taser that doesn’t work. Whether you come out of that alley or not is going to be all you.

“You need to be ready, and that means you need to know in advance how to survive physically, legally, and emotionally across the full spectrum of criminal possibilities. If you don’t believe this, you won’t have the proper training attitude.”

3. The dangerous risk of cop cynicism needs to be identified for recruits before their first day of police work. “The cynical path is easy to take in law enforcement,” Marcou observes. “Policing is the easiest job to love, but there are cynical cops on every department trying constantly to teach you to hate it.

“The path of cynicism looms in front of every young officer. It’s not a healthy path for a lot of reasons. It’s a path to misery, really. The minute you buy into it, you immediately become less effective and less happy.

“Staying positive is a discipline, in law enforcement just as in the martial arts. You have to aggressively practice that discipline every day, or you will slip.”

As something of a test run, Marcou presented copies of The Calling to recruits at Western Tech last summer. Andy Tolvstad, 22, who now has applications out to several agencies, says he “couldn’t put the book down. It told me that you have to be ready for everything, that you’re not going to get the same calls every night, and that you have to be able to think on your feet.”

Perhaps most important, Marcou’s writing gave him a feel for “how noble the job is. It’s truly a brotherhood, and I hope someday to get in there.”

NOTE: Copies of The Calling can be special ordered through Barnes & Noble stores (the identifying ISBN number is 978-0-615-15943-0). Or contact Dan Marcou directly at P.O. Box 195, Holmen, WI 54636. His email is marcoudj@charter.net. If desired, Marcou will autograph copies with “a special note to a warrior.” The book sells for $20 plus $5 shipping and handling.

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