This article first appeared in the November 1988 issue of POLICE Magazine
You arrive at the station feeling a little less than real–no one is altogether alive at a time when everyone else is going to bed. Depending on the part of the country you’re in, it’s called midwatch, first watch, last out, night shift, nightwork, dog watch, graveyard, or simply, “the yard.”
You have enough seniority to get on one of the other shifts, but you stay here anyway. There is less traffic, fewer brass, and a greater share of hot calls that keep you interested.
You also get to go to court in (what is for you) the middle of the night, almost never get more than four consecutive hours of sleep, and live in a perpetual Twilight Zone that only experienced nocturnals can understand. You are pale from seeing the sun for only an hour or so before going home, droopy-eyed from fatigue, and malnourished from trying to subsist on a steady diet of coffee and breakfast food.
Opening your locker, you begin to assemble the array of clothing and tools of the trade that it contains:
- Polypropylene thermal underwear–tops and bottoms
- Wraparound Kevlar body armor
- .38 Special five-shot revolver and holster, sewn into the body armor under your left armpit
- Turtleneck shirt
- Wool uniform trousers and shirt with shoulder patches
- Weapons qualification badge
- Notebook, three pens, traffic template, Miranda warning, implied consent and field interview cards in your shirt pockets
- High-top work shoes with steel-toe inserts
- Black leather trouser belt
- Black leather Sam Browne belt with holster, key ring and keys, two handcuff cases and handcuffs (one standard size, one extra-large hinged Peerless), portable radio case, flashlight holder, baton ring, and two magazine pouches.
- Four belt keepers
- .45 ACP double-action pistol, with rubber grips and three magazines, each loaded with eight Silvertip hollow-point rounds, plus one more in the chamber of the gun
- Uniform cap and cap badge
- Straight wooden baton (the chief thinks that sidehandle batons look offensive)
- Halogen-bulb rechargeable flashlight with aluminum case
- Winter uniform parka with shoulder patches
Only astronauts and deep-sea divers take longer to get ready for work. By the time you finish dressing, you weigh 27 pounds more than when you started. The building is overheated to keep the day shift secretaries content, and you begin to sweat underneath all of the clothing and equipment. When you go outside into the Arctic air, the moisture chills you.
You remove the seven-point insignia of office from your wallet and thread its pin through the badge holder tab on your parka. You lock the pin into place and note the numerals on the bottom that change you from a private citizen to a soldier of the law. People never seem interested in your name, they only rasp “What’s your badge number?” when you do them some real or imagined wrong.
You get a cup of coffee from the vending machine and are thankful that you aren’t completely awake, because then you would be able to taste it. By the time you get to the bottom of the cup you wonder why you pay a quarter for the privilege of drinking something that would gag a hungry dog. Still, the coffee is warm, its caffeine stimulating, and you have grown accustomed to using it as a surrogate for sleep.
You walk into the briefing room and sit among other dressed as you are. Some are close friends, most are merely acquaintances, and there are a few that you dislike intensely. But, no matter how you feel about them personally, you would crawl a mile over broken glass, if necessary, to get to them if they needed help. Such is the Blue Creed.
The sergeant drones out the night’s assignments and items of special interest. You ignore the bulletin from the Podunk Police Department, half a continent away, describing their first vehicle theft in three years, and try to note the ones that are headed “officer safety information.” Briefing closes with a cheery note from the FBI about some poor bastard that got blown up last week while doing exactly what you will be doing for the next ten hours. You remember that those bulletins seem to come far too often. You pick up a portable radio and shotgun from the armory, gather up your notebooks and report forms, and go outside to check out a car.
The car is filthy, and the floor is cluttered with candy wrappers, soda bottles and coffee cups left from its previous occupant, who eats approximately every fifteen minutes. You wearily dredge out the debris, check between the seat cushions for knives, narcotics, and dead pygmies, and lock the loaded shotgun into the dashboard rack. You automatically drive toward the gas pumps because cops that don’t clean out their cars don’t fill them with gas, either.
Picking up the radio microphone, you log on and hear the only friendly voice that you are likely to encounter all night. End of watch, and sleep, are a hundred slow miles and too many reports away. You put the car in gear and drive off to seek the perils of the night. There are calls to answer.