By Anthony Morgan, Retired Oakland PD
Anthony wrote this tribute to a fellow cop in 1983. It stands the test of time.–Thonie
A friend of mine passed away a few days ago. His name was Joe-the last name is not important. He was 74 years old. Joe was a cop. He retired about 14 years ago after 33 years’ service with the San Francisco Police Department. If my math is correct he started in 1936. Joe was a cop up to the day he died. He loved the profession and he was immensely proud of the Inspectors badge he carried for a good portion of his career.
Joe fit the role of the detective in the old “B” movies of yesteryear. A man of medium height and ruddy complexion, I can picture him wearing a freshly laundered white shirt, grey suit and tie and the ever-present hat. Donning a knee length overcoat to go out on a case on a foggy San Francisco evening always seemed to complete the plainclothes uniform. His stories of the “old days” conjured up images of Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon”. The cops back then, he said, solved cases by wearing out the soles of their shoes. The old guys got the job done by hard work and a lot of luck. Joe said that the detectives of today have the luxury of computers and new-age technology. God knows what he would think of today’s investigators. But, he would probably say that all cases are still solved by hard work and occasional luck.
After his retirement Joe remained in touch with law enforcement and his fellow co-workers. He became involved with the Veteran Officers Association. Joe worked hard to insure the rights and benefits of the active and retired officers remained intact and free from tampering by the City. He was a battler and one to give up without a fight over an issue he thought important. Occasionally someone would comment that he was wasting his retirement years working so hard. It wasn’t a waste of time for Joe. He enjoyed helping others and it gave him a sense of purpose.
Back in the early 70’s, I told him that I wanted to get into police work. He sat there for a moment and then he told me to go to Oakland. I thought for sure he would steer me toward S.F.P.D. Joe said the police department was having some troubles. It was mired in some pretty heavy and negative politics and stuck in a hiring freeze. He saw a strike on the horizon. He mentioned that the Oakland Police Department had the finest training and had the reputation of being a progressive police agency. Joe felt that it would take the S.F. Police Department years to recover. Armed with his advice, I applied for O.P.D.
After my graduation for the Academy he wrote me a note. It read, “To the new Cop-good luck and best wishes for a great career. Have fun.” It was signed “an old has-been.” I always thought that it must have been pretty dull being a police officer in the “old days.” After all, everything seems to happen so fast today. It wasn’t until I had some time on the job that I began to see some similarity between his years and mine. A number of his war stories were the same as mine, just the names and settings were different. It just seemed that the people were a bit more civilized back then.
Joe would get fully involved in his stories. He would start rubbing his hands and occasionally poke the listener in the shoulder just to emphasize a point. His voice would rise and fall in the old San Francisco Mission dialect-a little Boston Irish taint. The Mission accent would become even more pronounced as he reached the end of his tale. He always tried never to end on a sour note. He added humor and always tried to make a point.
One time I asked him what the high point of his career was. After a pause he replied, “I went 33 years without ever having to use my gun on someone. I was very fortunate.” He wished the same for every cop.
At the funeral service I saw some of his buddies from the job. All of them were about the same age as Joe. Their posture was stooped, their walk a little slow. There is a tinge of sadness in their voices as they recalled the old days. Their ranks are thinning. They all know that the day will soon come that no one will be left to tell their stories of accomplishments and failures. I looked hard into their eyes of these men. I could tell they were cops. Or, as Joe would say “They ARE cops.” He felt the saying “once a cop, always a cop” was true.
Joe had a lot of respect for the title “COP.” He always greeted me with “Howya doin’, cop?” He felt that cops were something special. He loved the word “cop.” He mentioned that being a cop meant being strong and having integrity. He expected cops to fail occasionally but what made them different was their ability to get back up and face the troubles head-on. Being a cop in his day was something to be proud of. In thinking about it, being a cop today still is something to be proud of.
Joe, to you I say thanks for everything, for being a mentor, and…so long, COP.