Mike Hendricks

Mike at Night

Mike Hendricks recently retires as social science, criminal justice instructor at McCook Community College.


A lifetime ago

Friday, November 27, 2015

I find myself saying "It seems like that was just yesterday" a lot anymore. I guess I've always said it because things that happen in the past, both good and bad, etch themselves in our memories forever and when we recall them, they're just as intense and specific as they were on the day we experienced them. It just seems like I'm saying it now a lot more than I used to!

I was thinking back to my police officer days in Tulsa, Oklahoma recently and how they seemed like yesterday too. I had left the University of Arkansas after four years and no degree and moved to Tulsa without a clear idea of what I was going to do. My mom and dad had moved there earlier so I moved in with them and worked for my dad. I had only been doing that for a few weeks when my mom asked me if I was interested in being a Tulsa police officer. I was surprised at the question because being in law enforcement was something I had never even considered. These were the late 1960's and law enforcement wasn't held in very high esteem by a lot of young people back then. But it sounded fun and exciting to me so I told my mom that. She was good friends with a woman who was good friends with the Chief of Police and she called her right away. A week later I was getting ready to attend the Tulsa Police Academy.

I was thinking about this the other day because I was comparing in my mind being a police officer then and now. Our perception of things back then was that we had a forward-thinking, state-of-the-art police department and we rated very highly when we were compared to other police departments. But compared to police departments today, we were barely out of the Stone Age.

I drove a squad car that had a wind-down siren which meant that when you turned it on and then off, it took several seconds for the siren to wind down. This wasn't normally an issue but if you ever hit the siren accidentally, which I did a couple of times, it was pretty embarrassing to have people around you gawking at you while the siren was slowly winding down.

Another thing significant from the '60s were bomb threats. There were several hippie and racial groups bent on changing America through violence and bombs were one of their favorite weapons. Back then we had the Students for a Democratic Society, the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, and, of course, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst, the daughter of William Hearts, a newspaper magnate, and then radicalized her to become one of them. One or more of these groups were active in many major cities across the U.S. and Tulsa wasn't spared. I remember going on a bomb call at least once a day most days I was on the job.

The problem was I didn't know anything about bombs and we had no training for it. There were no bomb schools to attend so no one was an expert. Because we had no experts, the district officer was assigned the bomb call. If you patrolled a residential area, this was never a problem because bomb threats weren't called in for homes. But they were called in for businesses and since I worked the downtown area, most structures in my district were businesses. When I would get a bomb call, another officer, also untrained in bomb detection and diffusing, would back me up and we would walk into building totally ignorant of what we were looking for and what we should do if we found it. Thankfully we never found a bomb so I dodged the bullet of being potentially blown up while I was still in my early 20's because my supervisor had me looking for something I was completely unqualified to find and handle.

That's just how we did things back then. It was much more a seat-of-the-pants operation than a highly trained and professional police department. We thought we were the latter because we didn't know any better but we certainly weren't. Whether it was a bomb call, a hostage situation, a riot or a protest, we were required to use our common sense rather than being taught how to handle these different situations that arose practically every day. Thankfully most of us had the common sense required to do the job and go home safely at night.

Or we just had blind luck!

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