Thursday, July 26, 2001

Who and why?

Questions for cops at job fair

        Who would want to be a police officer these days? And why?

        You can get hurt.

        You can get crummy hours.

        You can get dissed.

        Yet, business was brisk Wednesday at the American Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Career Expo at the Sabin Center. Trooper Gabriel Rodriguez, a youthful New Jersey State Police officer, doesn't understand the question at first.

        “Why?” he says, squinting at me. “Hey, I feel sorry for people who are not doing what I do. Good salary. Pension. Plus, it's got adventure.”

        Isn't some of that adventure at times a little more than you bargained for? By now, I believe he is thinking I'm not too bright. But he is hoping I may be educable. Besides, there's a lull. Potential recruits are either at one of the other 37 booths or having a prune danish at the breakfast bar.

The tower runners
        He takes a deep breath and tries to explain.

        “We're tower runners.”

        It's my turn to squint.

        “Like that guy in Texas. The one who ran to the tower and killed the sniper. He was someone who runs toward the fear. Not away from it. Tower runners,” he says again, hitching his shoulders a little.

        Trooper Rodriguez is speaking of the day in 1966 when Eagle Scout Charles Whitman began firing a hunting rifle with merciless precision, killing 14 people and wounding 31 others before he was shot and killed himself. The man who fired the shotgun blast ending the 96 minutes of carnage was Austin Police Officer Houston McCoy, then 26.

        “Just ask some of the other people here,” the trooper said. “That's what we do. We're leaders, the go-to guys.”

        And gals, of course.

Armed with information
        Officer Carmen Young was in charge of the exhibit for Cincinnati Police Division. An officer for more than 15 years, she says, “Maybe it sounds kind of corny but I am a police officer because I sincerely want to make a difference.”

        You mean catch the bad guys, keep the criminals off the street?

        She is patient.

        “I mean trying to listen to people, figure out why they're in trouble,” she says. “You have to get out of the car, get to know people. Maybe you can tell them about a GED program or a place where their kids would be safe while they go back to school.”

        She says being armed with information about social programs is at least as important for police officers as being armed with a gun.

        Er, speaking of guns, have you had many questions from potential recruits about the trouble here?

        “Only from the media.”

        Point taken.

        “We all have the same problems,” Dayton Police Sgt. R.L. Gay says. “You folks in Cincinnati just have it at this moment.”

        Later in the day, I looked around for the New Jersey trooper. The tower runner. But I missed him. I wanted to tell him I found some information about the man who climbed up on the tower to stop Charles Whitman in Texas. Houston McCoy, now a retired hang gliding instructor, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result of the mass shootings, he says he suffers from flashbacks, nightmares, isolation and survivors' guilt.

        The city was ordered to pay the hero of the Texas massacre $2,160, based on his 1966 salary of $130 a week.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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