Lessons and paper clips, what could be better?

Dave Gragg

Sometime last year, I got a call from Sgt. Andy Baldridge at the New Mexico State Police. Seems he was trying to start up a Citizens Police Academy and he wanted to know if I would be interested in being in the first class.
Obviously it wouldn’t be the full training police receive, but it would be an abbreviated form, just to give us an idea of what officers do and why.
Sounded pretty interesting, but I put the paperwork on my desk and forgot about it. By the time I remembered it, the class had been postponed because of a budget crunch in Santa Fe.
Then Andy came back at the beginning of this year, wanting to know if I was still interested. Of course I was, I told him, then promptly forgot about the paperwork again.
The night of the first class, he called to make sure I planned on being there. I had missed the deadline, but he’d held a spot for me anyway.
So, for the next 10 or so weeks, I and nine classmates learned everything from the history of community policing to the use of force to the role of the New Mexico Livestock Board and State Parks.
Some of my classmates even got the chance to go to the firing range to shoot big guns and watch things get blown up. I didn’t get to go, since I was otherwise engaged. (Although I guess I really wasn’t really engaged anymore, since it was the weekend I got married.)
I wasn’t sure what to expect (from the classes, not the marriage. But I don’t think anyone really knows what to expect from marriage, either).
One of the things that first struck me were the similarities between cops and reporters. Cops like to carry guns and drive fast. Reporters don’t carry guns very often, but we do like to drive fast. Just ask the officer who gave me a ticket back in November.
Actually, neither profession draws people in with the lure of big bucks. Each case is different, but I like to think helping people is at least part of the attraction.
There’s also trying to be inside and outside the community at the same time. On one hand, we have to keep ourselves isolated so that personal relationships don’t cloud our judgment as we do our jobs. On the other hand, it’s hard to trust people who don’t seem to care about the public they’re protecting or the community they’re covering.
There are some pretty big differences, too. I don’t generally have to worry about someone shooting me while I take a look in the back of his pickup. I also don’t have to worry that a wife will suddenly realize that she loves the man who’s just beat the holy living snot out of her and that the cop who came to rescue her is really the enemy.
While I realized most of these things on some level in the back of my mind, the academy brought that knowledge to the forefront.
That in itself would have made the classes worth it. The insights into what goes on in police work were an added bonus.
But I also got some really cool parting gifts at graduation Tuesday. A diploma, a small NMSP badge, NMSP pin, NMSP key rings and a paper clip dispenser.
A paper clip dispenser?
A paper clip dispenser. Complete with a few paper clips. It didn’t even have the NMSP logo on it.
I must have slept through the class that explained that one.