The Real Police is proof that the
similarities among police officers and
their departments far outweigh their
differences. David Ziskin and I began
our police careers around the same time;
however, we were three thousand miles
apart, and we never met. It's difficult to
keep this review brief, because The Real
Police is deserving of extensive praise.
David Ziskin is an exceptionally good
writer...a circumstance which places this
book firmly in the "page turner" category.
As you read The Real Police, you'll lose
track of the fact it's a work of
non-fiction. David's use of character
profiles, and the conversational tone
gives it the feel of a novel. But...make no
mistake, there's nothing fictional about
The Real Police, and the title is most
~ Barry M. Baker
Forest Theatre on Garrison Boulevard
had a deal for kids on Saturday
mornings. For the princely sum of 25
cents you could see a double-feature
horror movie show, complete with
cartoons, newsreels, coming attractions,
and a couple of serials. You could get a
box of candy for a nickel.
Times were pretty good for my family
then, and my mother would often give
me thirty cents or even thirty-five cents
for this purpose on Saturday. To attend
this day-long festival of 1950’s movie
schlock with a friend was a great treat. It
was a simpler time. If you could forget
the Cold War (as I could), the post-war
period was a peaceful, prosperous time.
Then, as now, fun was at the top of my
The horror movies ran to a pattern. A
boy and girl were on a picnic in the
country when the aliens or giant spiders
or radioactive crustaceans or whatever
menace appeared. They ran into town
and told the sheriff, but he wouldn’t
believe them or go with them to see the
monster. Neither would their parents or
various other adults, and the monsters
were unimpeded and undiscovered by the
community for quite a while.
I used to think that when I grew up and
became the sheriff, I would always look
for the monster. After all, parents,
grocers, truck drivers, and whomever
else were not law officers. The sheriff
should respond differently. Besides, in
the movie, it was always a small town out
in the desert. Did the sheriff have more
urgent business? An invasion of the
planet would almost certainly be
considered a “priority one call” in the
jargon of today’s computer-hindered
Well, I never became the sheriff, but I
was a street cop for many years, and I
will now tell young readers a universal
truth about police work that you
probably won’t learn elsewhere – certainly
not in formal training or from an
administrator in police work. Real
policemen work the street. You can take
it to the bank. The street, simply put, is
the soul of police work. Everything else is
a hiding place or a support function.
Now, you doubt me. Thirty years from
now, you will know I’m right.
You can tell how advanced a society is by
the way its police behave. Street cops
get there first and make all of the
important decisions in police work.
Everybody else is in the background,
despite what you see on television. The
first cop on the scene represents our
civilization and our system of laws. He or
she is a living symbol of the Bill of Rights
and of society’s attitudes regarding both
law breakers and the vulnerable.
I answered hundreds, probably
thousands, of calls from people reporting
strange things, like little people from
Venus in the basement of the house. I
always looked for the monster. I never
actually found the monster, but I always
looked before I asked the complainant if
they had run out of their medication.
Delusional people, apart from the
pathology of their illness, are not illogical.
Nor are they insensitive to the way they
are regarded and spoken to by others.
They may look bizarre and they may say
and do things that we would not, but at
some level which they may not express,
they are keenly aware of how they are
treated. Listen to them for a few
minutes, and look for the monster. Then,
and only then, ask about their medication
and the status of their psychiatric care
and so on.
This principle works in other situations
too. One night I responded alone to a
domestic disturbance. This is not a good
idea, but there were no backup units
available and a citizen had called for help.
If you needed help, would you rather see
one cop, or no cops? These are street
decisions made by real policemen on the
street, not by a committee of people who
don’t want to do police work themselves.
The disturbance involved a married
couple, but there was no assault. They
were both alcoholics and both pretty sad
cases. I stood in the kitchen and listened
to each of them in turn. Tactical note –
The standard method on domestic
disturbances is to separate the principals,
but you cannot do this without a backup
unit. Also, the kitchen is a bad place to
work a domestic – too many knives and
heavy pots and pans and other hazards,
like maybe boiling liquids. But everything
important gets discussed in the kitchen,
in dysfunctional families as well as normal
families. Sometimes you have to play it
where it lays.
The couple were not really drunk, but
they had been arguing about their
situation and had called police because
the police are the default social service
agency for broken people. The woman
spoke first, outlining their troubles
together. Then the man began to speak.
I didn’t know what to say. I was not a
marriage counselor, or an alcohol
counselor, or a mental health
professional, or anything else but a
street cop. I was appalled at the sad
wreckage of their lives and couldn’t even
think of anything non-committal to say,
so I just listened and made a
sympathetic noise once in awhile.
The guy was pretty articulate, so I let him
continue. I was looking for the monster,
you see. Only, this guy’s monster was
not in the basement. It was in his head.
After maybe ten minutes, he began to
cry. He shook my hand and thanked me
for coming and for helping him. How, I
wondered to myself, had I helped him?
In a little while, both of them said they
felt better and that they thought they
would be OK. They thanked me again and
again for coming. I cleared the matter
with police radio and took the next call.
Some nights, the city’s agony is
You know what? I saw the guy again,
maybe a year later. He was in a group of
drunks arguing in the parking lot of a
tavern. I was the second unit in on the
call. As soon as he saw me, he told the
other drunks to shut up. He pointed to
me and said “This man came to my house
and helped me when I was in trouble. I
won’t argue with him.” And with that, the
disturbance was over. Every encounter
you have is an investment. Treat it that
Want to know how to be a good cop?
Start with the following statements.
Write them down on a card and carry
them with you. Read them periodically. In
thirty years, you will thank me.
1. Never forget that real policemen work
2. Listen more than you talk.
3. Look for the monster.
David Ziskin is a retired
police officer. He lives
in Seattle and pursues
business interests and
does consulting work
for selected clients.
The Real Police is his
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|Copyright © 2021 Barry M. Baker
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An Insider's Guide to a Career
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