Several years ago I went through the New York City Police Academy to write a book called The Making of a Cop. Having long been curious about how ordinary civilians metamorphosed into polished police officers, I requested and obtained official permission from the New York Police Department to chronicle the arduous training process. I followed that book with The Making of a Detective, in which I shadowed a rookie detective learning how to solve crimes in the 75th precinct in East New York, Brooklyn.
In both settings – at the academy and at the precinct – I had the extraordinary opportunity to observe the actual inner workings of law enforcement training. Needless to say it was all quite fascinating, and when I finished I came away with a deep appreciation for the difficult job police officers have in maintaining law and order on the streets.
The police academy training ran for six months and recruits took courses in law, police science, and social science in addition to the gym classes and firearms training.
New York’s various ethnic groups were covered in social science; here, the recruits learned about the city’s Jewish community – the manual, for instance, discussed history, denominations, the Sabbath and festivals, etc.
Looking back on the training, however, it wasn’t from the ethnic classes that I derived practical information that could be of help to Jews but rather from other areas of the academy’s training.
While police officers face dangers every day on the job, Jews also face danger in their daily lives; indeed, anti-Semitism in recent times has become so rampant and malicious that perhaps it is at a higher level than at any time since the Holocaust. It is thus incumbent upon Jews, particularly those whose appearance manifestly evinces their religion, to take every precaution possible to ensure their safety.
Some of the common-sense lessons I learned at the academy can help us be more vigilant in our daily lives.
I learned to hone my observation skills. I began to pay attention to details I ordinarily wouldn’t have – facial features, hair, body marks, height, weight, race, clothing, bulges under clothing, suspicious behavior, things that seemed incongruous in a given environment.
On the first day of a police science class, where exercises and methods to improve powers of observation would be covered, the new recruits were given a slip of paper on their way out with homework instructions: write a detailed description of the person who sat to your right or left (little had anyone thought to pay attention to classmates on that first day).
A lieutenant-instructor at the academy told me that when he used to work undercover posing as a tourist shopping with bags, he would monitor stalkers behind him via their reflections in store windows (backup was nearby to arrest the stalkers if they tried to rob him). Like police officers who pay attention to minute details of people, places, and things and try to be aware of everything around them, we Jews might likewise do the same, and report anything suspicious.
I learned never to let my guard down. At the academy they tell you complacency is the enemy of the police officer. You have to be alert and observant at all times because the moment you relax is when you jeopardize your safety and possibly the safety of others. Jews shouldn’t let their guard down just because they’re in comfortable settings. In fact, we know, all too sadly, that Jew-haters like to carry out their malevolence in Jewish venues. Anti-Semitic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere, and when you least expect it.