A Cop's Life

 
 

Grubb (right) and partner on patrol circa, 1954.
Grubb (right) & partner on patrol circa, 1954.

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A Little Background On “A Cop’s Life”

Of all the members of the large colorful Irish family I’m fortunate to be part of, my Uncle Tom is perhaps the most colorful of all. For years he’s regaled us all with tales of his three decades as a police officer on the mean streets of Philadelphia. And for years I’ve pleaded with him to let me put it all down in a book. Finally, to my immense surprise, he agreed. The book is composed of tapes he dictated over a period of two months. They were transcribed and then molded into the shape of an actual book by my wife, and best editor, Kathryn. Then I had a go at it.

What follows are two sample chapters from the book. Oh, yeah. The person my uncle is talking to in the tapes is a guy called “Lucky.” That’s my childhood nickname.


 
 


CHAPTER TWO - Training

O.K., Luck, like all stories start, I was accepted to the Police Academy for training. Now at the time I went into the business, there were various amounts of training time, depending on how badly officers were needed out on the street.

My experience at the Police Academy was very short. I had exactly eight — no, ten days training. That was two weeks — ten days — and that time was supposed to prepare me to go out and handle the general public.

I’ll just tell you a few of the things we were taught in those ten days. We were taught how to fill out a traffic violation ticket. We were taught a few of the traffic laws.


 

 

We were taught how to fill out papers for the Widow’s Pension Fund. That was a big thing then, y’know. You get knocked off, you wanta have your pension go to your survivor — your wife or mother, whomever.

And then, of course, we were brought down to the pistol range. This was a joke. We were issued the oldest weapon I’ve ever seen in my life.

It was called an Iver Johnson breakdown. This is the type of gun that you broke in half. The bullets that were inserted looked like they came from the Civil War.

We were allowed to point them down the range and actually fire five shells that were given to us. Most of them did not fire. The ones that did fire, the projectile just about rolled out of the barrel of the gun.

I guess we were fortunate that they didn’t blow up on us. This was the extent of our pistol training on


 

 

the range.

Then we were issued gray uniforms. By uniforms, I mean gray working pants, the khaki type, and a matching shirt. We were also issued our badge, and that was the kicker.

We had this badge on these working clothes, and we didn’t even have a hat, y’know, that would identify you as a police officer. You wore a jacket of your choice. They requested that it be somewhere in the blue or black color area. This was a joke in itself.

Then we were assigned to various districts. It was only two weeks before Christmas. That’s why we were needed outside on the streets so quickly.

I was assigned to a Center City district, along with two other rookies — Jerry Rivers and Eddie.


 

 

We came into this district and looked around and you could just see, like in church, they had the pulpit where the house sergeant would stand and conduct roll call.

And we even went there a couple of days early so we could check and see what was going on, because nobody knew anything about it. We barely knew where the district was.

Well, right away we bumped into this old, nasty house sergeant.

Now, a house sergeant isn’t like a street sergeant. A street sergeant goes out in the patrol car, kinda looks after the men in the street, where a house sergeant always remains in the house —  the house meaning the district or the station house.

He handles the arrest book and nobody touches it or writes in it but him. You just tell him what you want and he’ll put it in there.


 

 


Well, we reported to this old house sergeant, Francis was his name, McFall. He was a grumpy old son-of-a-gun. And us being rookies, he let us know where we stood.

So, we got to talk to a street sergeant and we were assigned to a squad. I was assigned to Two Squad, I believe. There were seven squads in those days, and you always worked with a different squad during the week.

I was told by the sergeant that I was to report for duty for the “last out shift.” Now “last out,” I didn’t know what the hell that meant. Last out of the station house, last out of — what does it mean?

He said, “well, red ass,” he said, “that means you report in here at twelve o’clock or before. Last out is twelve at night till eight in the morning.”


 

 

I learned real quick what “last out” was.

CHAPTER THREE - First Day

Well, I did report to the district as I was instructed. I came in my gray work clothes, which was my “uniform” and my Navy peacoat, and I just sat there.

The other guys went into different squads, so I sat there by myself, not knowing what to expect. I was supposed to be there at midnight, but I got in there like, eleven thirty. I wasn’t gonna be late on my first night.

No need to say that I watched the men coming in and they were all different shapes and forms. None of them looked happy, they were all bitchin’ or gripin’, y’know, workin’ last out. Some looked like they were half loaded, but then you never could tell with some of them.


 
 
I neglected to say that this night was a rainy, slushy, snowy night and it was really a bitch. Freezin’ with the goddam clothes we hadda wear.

But anyway, in the district I got introduced as the new man in the squad. Well, that means, y’know, you’re the ass, you get all the dirty jobs — anything that comes up, you’ll get it, and I went through roll call.

Well, I didn’t have a gun. Only that Iver Johnson I told you about, because we didn’t have time to really get pistols, which you bought yourself, by the way. So I kept the Iver in my pocket, because I didn’t have a holster.

When I took that out — the duty sergeant who was conducting the roll call walks up and down the aisles of men, be there fourteen men to a squad or what, and he inspects their uniform and their


 
  revolver, and so forth.

And when he came to me and he looked at that thing that I was holdin’ in my hand, he told me, he says, “Boy, don’t try to shoot.

“If you’ve got to, hit ‘em with it. Use it as a club. Don’t try to shoot it.”

And everybody had a big laugh out of that. And I just put it back in my pocket — I mean, it was only about six inches long; the barrel.

After roll call, the sergeant, who was a pretty nice guy, really, he told me, he said, “Hey, kid, you’re up here,” he said, “you’re gonna work with Tim.”

Well, Tim I didn’t know. That was Dewey, that’s his last name, Dewey. I looked at him, he’s about six


 
  foot five, maybe two fifty, wearing one of the long overcoats down to his ankles, and I thought, “Oh,” you know, “this looks like a real big cop to me.”

He says, “You’ll be assigned to him for this tour of duty.”

O.K., that was it. We had an assignment, a certain car, and we left the roll room.

Well, we went out and got into a patrol car, oh, I think they were Chevy’s at that time, ‘53 Chevy’s or something of that nature. And we got a sector to patrol. I forget right now what it was, C Sector, we’ll say.

Sectors are bordered by streets. You work so far into the sector and you don’t leave it, you don’t go into another guy’s sector. You remain in your own.

We left the station house, must’ve been, oh, 12:00, and we hit the bricks, y’know, we relieved the guys that’s comin’ in to check off.

Usually there’s a little joviality between the guys comin’ in and the guys goin’ off, like, “Did’ja get enough sleep for tonight?” or “Whattya gonna do tonight, ya gonna stay awake?”

And you gotta exchange the little quips with the men, but I had nobody to exchange anything with ‘cause nobody even knew me, and I didn’t know them.

We went out to our assigned sector. It must have been 12:15, we get a call. Disturbance In A Restaurant.

Well, this is all new to me. I was riding as the recorder in the patrol car. You’ve got the operator and you’ve got the guy sitting on the other side of the seat with the clipboard and the forms. He’s the recorder. He writes down all radio messages.

So we get this assignment and naturally, Dewey knows where this 19th and Nectarine is located. Matter of fact, it was only a few blocks from the district.

So we go up there, and we walk into this place, and it’s more or less a luncheonette type of situation, with a long service counter, some tables against the wall. Like, these tables for two people, and it’s a very narrow place. It couldn’t have been any wider than eight feet. But long. Had to be like forty, fifty feet long.

Naturally, I’m the young man, I’m walking behind the experienced officer. And we go in, and here’s this guy standing at the end of the counter and I didn’t know it at first, but he’s standin’ there with a gun in his hand.

I can’t see anything. I can’t see around Dewey ‘cause he’s so goddam big in front of me.

And we get to the end of the counter and it spread out then a little bit, the tables weren’t there, and then I saw this guy lyin’ on the floor.

Dewey goes over to him and what I really saw mostly was this pool of blood. It was huge.

And his head was in the pool of blood. And Dewey spoke to this guy behind the counter and it didn’t seem to be nothin’ serious, y’know, just talked to him.

Then he goes over to this man lyin’ on the floor. And he takes his foot and he kind of rolls this guy’s head so he could get a look at the face. ‘Cause the guy was more or less down on the floor, face down.

And he looks at him, and to tell you the truth, I got a glimpse of him, I thought it was a black man. He had very short hair and he looked black to me. Not knowing any better, I kept my mouth shut, the senior officer’s gonna handle this matter.

Well, Dewey takes a look at the guy, gives a couple of grunts, turns around to the man standing behind the counter, wants to know what happened.

He said, “Gimme something to write on.”

They got a paper bag, I’ll never forget this, a brown paper bag, and he wrote down the guy’s name, and he didn’t write nothin’ down about the corpse lying on the floor.

And he asked the guy what happened and the guy said, “He walked in here,” he says, “I saw him with a gun and I shot him.”

That was about it.

So I just looked at him, keepin’ my mouth shut.

He said, “O.K.,” he said, “Gimme the phone”, he says, “No, better I’ll go out and call from the police radio. Get me a supervisor.”

That is what he calls the sergeant.

And shortly thereafter the sergeant arrives. We didn’t do nothin’, stayed in the place. Matter of fact, Dewey had a cup of coffee while he was in there.

The man’s dead, lyin’ on the floor, blood’s running all over.

Well, lo and behold, the sergeant came. Then the detectives were notified, and so forth. By then they told us, y’know, “You can leave.”

We were there, like, forty-five minutes. I knew nothing more when the forty-five minutes was over than I did when I walked in. It’s just — a guy got shot, that’s it.

But I did learn one thing. The guy had been shot in the temple and in the neck, and I overheard one of the detectives talking and one of the guys from the police lab that came said that when you’re shot like this, you discolor.

And with this, I learned the guy on the floor was a white man, not a black man. But that didn’t mean nothin’ to me one way or the other.

So out we go, and back on the air, on the radio. See, whenever you get a radio call, Lucky, you know, you pick up the mike to acknowledge the call, repeat the location, then tell ‘em you’re taking the call.

When you get done with the job, you got to get on the radio and put yourself back in service. That was the terminology. Like, you say, “98 Car, back in service,” so they know you’re available for more calls.

So we left that place and we started to tour around our sector. Now mind you, I said the weather really sucked. It was bad. And it was cold and, y’know, it was just a miserable night.

So we’re goin’ into the night, and all of a sudden Dewey pulls up beside this bar. It was closed — it was after hours. He goes to the door, bangs on the door, goes inside.

He’s in there all of maybe ten, fifteen minutes. Then he comes back out to the car and he’s O.K., but I can smell the booze on him.

He rides around, we get around a couple more hours. Then we get another job. Investigate a prowler, I think that’s the way it came out from the radio.

And we went up to Broad and Mellon Street and we get out of the car. Like I said, it was a nasty night.

And I see this fella backed against a wall and he’s leaning forward. And I can’t figure what’s the matter with him, maybe drunk, or what?

But Dewey, the big gentleman, he says, “Hey, red ass, go see what that guy’s doin’.”

So I went up to talk to the man. Well, the guy is up against the wall, flat, so I start talking. It’s a black guy, young man, and he’s tellin’ me, “I’m hurt, I’m hurt.”

I’m lookin’ at him and he doesn’t look hurt to me.

I’m looking at his face, naturally, and I say, “Come on, pal,” I said, “you’d better come back to the car.”

I put a light on him to see if he’s hurt or not, asked him where he’s hurt.

Then he says, “I can’t move.”

I was gettin’ a little upset because I didn’t know what to do. He’s telling me he can’t go and I’m telling him to come to the car.

Well, the guy starts to walk and he leans over and I look. He’s got like a leather jacket on, and down the back of the jacket there’s these two — slash marks, is what they are.

And, man, when he bent over to walk, they just opened up and the blood just flowed out like you wouldn’t believe. Somebody actually got up behind him and slashed him, probably with a razor.

Well, that was it. We hadda carry him to the car and take him down to the hospital. And they start workin’ on him, y’know, just cut the clothes off of him and start sewin’ him up.

And that was more or less my first night on the job.

I didn’t particularly care for this guy Dewey I was with, because during the early night he stopped at a couple of places — the bars — and hit the booze. That was it, he hadda have his booze.

So we went back into the district and as you — check off is what they call it — as you check off duty, you return to the district and you go in, your squad sergeant’s there and you check off to him.

That’s more or less to make sure the guys got back to the district all right. Nobody was missing, or anything.

And the sergeant said to me, “How did’ja make out with your partner? Everything all right?”

Well, I knew enough that you don’t complain. It’s just like the service, you work it out yourself.

So I said, “Oh, sure, Sarge, everything’s great.”

And that was it for the first night on the street.

Then it was the following night I came in and the sergeant said, “Kid,” he said, “I want you to tell me what happened up there at Nectarine Street.”

This was the shooting that we went in on.

I related to the sergeant exactly, y’know, what I did up there.

He said, “Did you know that fellow was a police officer?”

I said, “No, how would I know?”

And here, the guy that was shot was a plainclothes police officer. He worked for the captain or the inspector, and that meant like certain times they would go out in just civilian clothes and do police work.  More or less like undercover guys, if you wanna use that term.

Somehow he got mixed up with this guy in the restaurant and the guy blew him away. But that was all, he just wanted to know if I knew he was a cop. No, I didn’t know.

So that’s the first night on the job. I’m goin’ in where a cop’s murdered, actually, and the other guy got sliced almost in half.

Lucky, that morning I was very disillusioned about the job, and when I got home, or I should say on my way home, I decided that I wouldn’t ever tell your Aunt Cass any of the bad stuff that I saw or what happens on the job.

I knew, soon’s I got in, she’s gonna want to know, “Gee, how was your night?” and “What went on?” and all this.

I decided then that I’d just tell her, “Very quiet night, Cass,” and “We really didn’t do that much but ride around.”

I did that for the thirty years I was in the police department.

The only time I’d tell your Aunt Cass anything is if something funny, comical, occurred that I could elaborate on. She would ask me almost every night, “How was the night?” or “How was the day?”

So that’s what I decided I’d work with, with the comical stuff, but nothing serious.

Unless I came home bleeding, and then she would know.

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Last Revised: January 29, 2011