Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday Morning Stories With Mookie - Episode 40

The Time Mookie Tried Out For The Colorado Springs Police Department

Right after I graduated from college, I moved to Colorado Springs to live with my then-fiancĂ©/now-wife "Megan(*)".  At the time I was working for Wal-Mart in Cedar Falls, and they allowed me to “transfer” to another store in the Colorado Springs area so that I had a job when I got there.  I hoped it would be temporary and that I would be able to find a job in my preferred “field” of study, or….you know…something else that paid me some fat coin.  It became apparent very quickly that the latter was not going to happen to the newbie college grad from Iowa.

I had a two-year A.A. degree in Law Enforcement, and a four-year B.A. degree in Criminology, so I was looking for something (anything) in the law enforcement field.  Right from the start, it was obvious that it was going to be slim pickings.  The biggest thing going against me was that most police departments in the area suburbs required a candidate to be “P.O.S.T.” certified before they could even apply.  It was more or less police academy training that YOU paid for, and still did not guarantee that you would be hired as a police officer.  I thought this was bullshit.  In Iowa (at the time) most police departments hired you, and SENT you to the police academy on their dime.  So my law enforcement job searches were usually short due to the P.O.S.T. pre-requisite.  Then one day I saw an ad in the local paper that gave me a glimmer of hope in the pile of rejections I had already accumulated.

The Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) advertised that they were hiring, and were having an “open house” in the coming weekend.  It said that possible candidates could come and ask questions, and pick up application materials.  Boo yah.

So I drove down to this thing, and picked up all the handouts they had, and asked the questions I needed to ask.  The best part was that a candidate did NOT have to be P.O.S.T. certified to be a CSPD officer.  I was standing in a group of guys, and one of them asked the police officer in charge of the open house about the P.O.S.T. certification.  The officer said that the P.O.S.T. training was not necessary, and that a candidate would go through the CSPD’s own police academy upon employment.  The face of the guy that asked the question (in addition to others in the group) went BLANK, and they all had a look of “You mean I spent hundreds of dollars for no reason??”  I had to smile at that.

So I went home, filled out my application, put together all the required information (transcripts, ID, etc), and mailed that bad boy in.  A few weeks later, I got a packet from the CSPD containing the details of the testing process, and what I should expect going forward.  The first step in the hiring process was a “written” exam.  I had just gotten out of college so I was not worried about this.  The information stated that the test would be given on a specific date and time at a local hotel conference room in a few weeks.  It also said that I would be notified after the written test if I was chosen to continue on in the process.

Most of the people I worked with at Wal-Mart knew I was trying out for the CSPD, and basically were telling me I had “no chance” of getting in on my first try.  Some alleged “in-the-know” people said they knew people who had tried out 2 or 3 times and never even got close because it was so hard.  Needless to say this fired me up.  I was going to show these f-ers how to do things.

After a few weeks, the day finally arrived and I headed out for the hotel where this test would be held.  As I took the exit off of the interstate, I got excited because I could see the hotel just up the street.  But then, do you know what else I saw?  Cars.  Lots of cars.  Then do you know what I saw?  People.  Tons and tons of people lined up around the hotel waiting to get in.  GDMFSOB.  It became apparent that ALL of these people were here to take the test, and trying out for the CSPD.  I could not believe it.  My first inclination was to say “screw it” and drive right on by, but I knew I would hate myself if I did such a thing.  So I found a parking spot and got into the never-ending line going into the conference hall.

Once I got inside, I had to check-in with my confirmation letter and drivers license.  Then they gave me a testing packet, and told me where to sit in the conference room.  The room was filled with rows and rows of tables, and each test-taker was placed in every other chair.  The “proctor” for the exam addressed everyone and said there was approximately 1,000 people there taking the exam today, and that they were hiring for TEN police officer positions.  So, if you know your math…that is ONE PERCENT of the people here today were going to be chosen to be police officers.  The odds were not looking too good from the get-go, but knew I could do it.  They started the timer and everyone opened their tests and started.

Two hours later it was over.  It wasn’t THAT hard, and was mostly a lot of common sense.  I know common sense doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, so I figured that would weigh in my favor.  They told us that our scores would be listed at the police academy offices in a week, and we could come by and see how we did.  A week went by and I drove over to the academy, and found the list on a bulletin board in the vestibule.  We had all been assigned an ID number, so you had to know what your number was to figure out which score was yours.  I found mine….94%.  Hell yes.  Based on the other scores listed on the sheet, I did pretty well against everyone else too.  So I figured I’d get a letter in the near future inviting me to the next “phase."

Sure enough, a week or so later I received instructions on the next two phases of testing.  The first was an obstacle course/fitness testing, the second was an interview process they called “oral boards.”  Whoa.

Per the instructions, I showed up at my given time to do the fitness testing over at the police academy.  There were maybe 10-15 of us there to do it, and we all had to wait our turn on the course.  When I got my turn I quickly found out it consisted of running, jumping, climbing stairs, dragging a 170 pound dummy 50 feet, dry firing a pistol 10 times with each hand, and more running.  The entire process was timed – per activity and overall.  I did the best I could and the instructors said I did well when I finished, but I was not able to see how the others before or after me did, so I had no idea how I stacked up. 

A few days later, I arrived at the police station to undergo the “oral boards.”  I had no idea what to expect, as I was completely new to this game.  While I probably looked nice in my shirt and tie, I was a sweaty nervous wreck under it all.  They gave me a sheet of paper that had the instructions for what I was going to do, and it said a panel of officers were going to present to me 5 scenarios and ask questions as to what I would do in those situations.  The instructions had 2 of the questions/scenarios, so we could somewhat prepare what we were going to say and give us an idea of what to expect.  I had 10 minutes to think about these questions before it was my turn.  Finally, they called my name and I entered the room.  There was a table with 5 men sitting behind it looking all official, and in front of the table was one chair.  My first thought was "Oh shit, this is going to suck."

I sat down, and they started by reading about a scenario where I was an off-duty police officer at a football game with a fellow off-duty officer.  The officer got drunk, hit some people, made a huge scene, and then fled before the cops showed up.  “What would you do in this situation?”

Ummm.  Do I do the moral responsible thing here and rat his ass out?  Do I go the “stand by your partner” route to show I look out for my fellow officer?  I chose to rat his ass out, which to me is the right answer because he put others in danger with his actions.  I started talking, and explained what I would do.  I have no idea if what I said made any sense at all, and just hoped I ended at a good place.  The men all scribbled their notes and made NO expression as to whether it was a good answer or not.  They just looked at me and stared holes through me.  MAN.

I honestly do not remember the other questions, but remember they were more of a “how ethical are you” sort of nature.  I know I answered them all, and did so to my best ability.  Finally after what seemed like FOREVER, I was dismissed.  I shook each gentleman’s hand and got out of there.  I left the building, and sat in my car for probably 10 minutes trying to figure out if I did a good job or not.  I had no idea.

A few weeks went by, and I received a letter from the CSPD again.  This one congratulated me on completing the testing for the CSPD, and explained what was next, and who was being called.  It showed I was placed in “Tier 3” out of 5.  Each tier had 20 candidates in it, and it described how they would start hiring out of Tier 1, and if need be would continue through the tiers for the rest of the year if the need was there.  I knew they would probably find their ten hires in the first 20 people, and it would take something big to make it to tier 3.  So while I was bummed that I didn’t get hired, I was proud that I made the top 50-60 out of the 1000 that tried out. For someone as “green” as I was coming out of college, I thought I did pretty good. 

The moral of my story:  I was in the top 60 of 1000 people trying to be a cop.  There were around 900 who didn't even make it through the hiring process.  That either tells me I'm either lucky, or decently smart.  One thing is for certain though, it showed me that is there are a lot of really dumb people trying to be cops.

I should also mention that even today, that experience in front of the “oral board” still ranks in the top 10 of my all-time most uncomfortable situations.  

Number one of course is your Mom and I in the back of a Volkswagen.

(*) - Names changed to protect the guilty/innocent.

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