I was moved this week to take a few snaps at work when I was lucky enough to get a break and go for a walk. The nationwide staffing shortages have struck like everywhere and have to manage the 911 center this year with a less than ideal number of operators. Breaks have become a luxury. The police parking lot:
I was hired July 5th 2004 and my plan at the time was to quit being a charter boat captain and get a proper job long enough to qualify for a mortgage with a regular income. I had no idea I was entering a life changing career that assured me a comfortable old age while at the same time giving me a secure job in a notoriously tough job market in an ever more expensive resort town. How it all worked out is a bit of a mystery to me. Our regular deliveries of bottled drinking water for a hundred employees shown below. Hurricane supplies are a whole different level of organization but managing a police department requires more than driving around in a police car. The level of detail required to keep functioning would boggle your mind.
It is a strange time to work for the police, even as a modest civilian, in the US. Key West has a very modest share of violence and severe crime so much of the police work is dealing with drunks, petty thieves, neighbor complaints, lost tourists, and local characters who may or may not inhabit the same planet as the rest of us. Most of the work is horribly unglamorous, the stuff television never portrays, the report writing, crafting words that will tell the story and stand up in court:
A job will always produce personality conflicts and clashes and resentments and jealousies, yet after 17 years of showing up to do one of the most stressful jobs in the building (by everyone else's account) I still like sitting down at my desk and seeing what 911 will bring that day. Some days I feel like I actually did help, some days go by in a blur of paperwork and irritated callers, pretty much like any office job. Some days you get the gruesome calls you need to forget, or you get to peer into the world of people who are real criminals, societal failures who desperately need to be behind bars. Either a) the stairway to heaven or b) more prosaically the flat roof access ladder.
Most people in Key West come to party and live in the after glow of Bohemian artists and performers in a city with a reputation for being different. I ended up in a virtual straitjacket at the police department which suited me just fine. I liked the structure and the routine, I was tired of drunks and harbor rats slurring their way through life as though they were somehow alternative and cool. I was in my mid 40's and I'd lived the university life in California and my wife who had traded being an attorney for a teacher, had a plan. She did not want to end up a bag lady so after we went sailing around Central America, she made a deal with me to earn a pension. I learned to give CPR over the phone and I even helped a few women give birth as well as reassuring the dying who waited for an ambulance. I trained to use one of these and though I have given first aid in person I’ve never had to use one:
I could never have survived in another city, another dispatch center and I dare say another police department. Key West gave me a chance and through all the struggles and the steep learning curve I got the support to make a go of it. I learned to talk police talk and to give officers the support they needed. I had no idea what I was getting into 17 years ago but I got the guidance I needed to make it out the other end. I wake up some days and realize with some shock I never expected to have one job in one place, certainly not Key West and yet...here it is. Done and dusted.
During my accident and recovery the police department gave the best benefits, medical and emotional. They took care of my wife, officers donated sick leave to supplement the four and a half months of leave I had accumulated so I was off work for six months and never missed a paycheck. I listen to my young colleagues moaning about inconsequential irritations and wonder what they expect from a job. The generator which has roared through all the hurricanes I have sat through during these years is tested from time to time to make sure 911 never sleeps:
This room has been home for a quarter of my life. I am ready to move on and see the world on the journey that was interrupted by my wife's common sense. I am pleased I did it, and grateful to the people who work here for putting up with me, and I shall miss them. But I am ready to take the lessons learned here and carry them with me on the road ahead. From taking complaints from outraged citizens about sleepers in vans I shall do my best not to draw attention to myself and be the cause of those complaints in other towns in other countries. I can't wait to hear a siren in the streets and sigh with relief that it's not my problem. I hope the trainees I see coming in to replace me understand how fortunate they are. I was so lucky to get hired and now it's their turn. The road beckons and I shan't look over my shoulder as my time is done.