Graveyard Shift—those long and often mind-numbing hours between midnight and the time your relief signs on to take over your beat. It’s boring. It’s exciting. It’s sleep-depriving. It’s eye-opening. It’s getting dressed while your significant other is undressing, putting on pajamas, and crawling between the sheets for a good night’s sleep. The kids, of course, are already in the midst of sweet-dreaming. The family dog is curled up on your side of the bed, snoring.
Speaking of getting dressed … it’s a daily ritual for cops, of course—shower, shave, if appropriate, slip on underwear and t-shirt—rookies will quickly learn that it’s best to put on their socks at this point. You’ll see why in a moment.
Next comes the vest. You’ve left the upper Velcro straps in place to allow you to slip the entire contraption over your head like a 7 lb. sweater. So over the head it goes, followed by pulling the side straps taut and securing them in place. Of course, you never get it right the first time, so you riiiiipp the Velcro loose and do it again and again until the fit is just right.
The shirt is a process all to itself—pinning on the badge and other shiny do-dads in their appropriate places (sort of like decorating a polyester Christmas tree), and inserting a couple of ink pens in the sewn-in pen slot beside the breast pocket. After a quick check to be sure your name tag is not upside down, you slip on the pre-adorned shirt, pulling and twisting to make it lay properly over the vest.
Time for the pants. Out of necessity, you’ve placed them in a spot that doesn’t doesn’t require bending too far, because the semi-stiff, claylike density of the vest has already limited your movements just a bit, which is why it’s best to slip on the socks before strapping the vest in place. Now, tuck the tails of the vest inside the waistband of the pants and slip a dress belt through the loops so your pants won’t fall down. Goodness knows, once you’re fully dressed it requires a huge effort to reach ALL the way to your ankles to pull your pants up again.
Shoes … They’re shiny and squeaky clean because that’s how you roll. Look sharp. Act sharp. Be sharp. One last, quick swipe with a cloth just in case a speck of dust has landed on the toes.
Now comes the duty belt/utility belt, with all it’s bells and whistles already in place.
Securely connect the buckle hooks/clasps/snaps and then loop a few belt keepers around the duty belt and the belt holding up your pants. The last step is IMPORTANT.
Belt keepers hold the gun belt securely at the waist, preventing it from sliding around the waist and down toward the ground. Without them officers would resemble gunslingers of the Wild West, with their sidearms hanging loosely at mid-thigh. Even worse, the duty belt could easily and quickly fall down to your ankles, especially when running/chasing someone through a dark alley. And we already know how the vest makes it difficult it is to reach all the way to the ground.
Two belt keepers positioned between handcuff cases
Okay, you’re dressed. Now it’s time to go to work, and by now everyone in the house is already asleep. So you tip-toe to the back door, with leather squeaking, keys jingling, and Velcro crackling all the way.
Outside, the neighborhood is graveyard still. An owl hoots, crickets chirp, and a train whistle sounds off in the distance. The only light on in the entire neighborhood is across the street—a bedroom window where you know the widow Jones is peeking outside. Tomorrow morning she’ll be there again so she can report to the rest of the neighborhood what time you went to work and what time you returned home. After all, they pay your salary, and Mrs. Jones is not shy about reminding you of the fact that they do.
Time to get into your take-home car. You unlock the door, open it quietly, and then gently slide into the seat. I say gently, because if there’s even a tiny bit of love handle at your waist, that soft, doughy flesh will be severely pinched between the bottom edge of the Kevlar vest and the top edge of the duty belt—a real eye-opening, tear-inducing way to start the shift.
Thirty minutes later, at your first call of the night, you find yourself rolling around in the smelliest mud you’ve ever encountered, trying to handcuff two burglars who’d decided to lead you on a foot chase through the fairgrounds where, by the way, you realized the circus is in town and that what you’re rolling around in is not mud. Instead, it’s what elephants, horses, and other animals left behind while waiting for their time under the big top.
And so it goes…night after night after night.
Look sharp. Act sharp. Be sharp.
- Top photo – Writers’ Police Academy nighttime traffic stops