"You know I see you guys out here, you’re being good little company men, aren’t you? Are you doing the Lord’s work? And you’re making a difference, as you call it. It’s all fun and games to you, you get to run and jump and fight and shoot. One day, mark my words, one day the LAPD is going to bend you over your black and white, and they are going to fuck you up the ass. They are going to fuck you so long and so hard, you’re going to want to eat your gun just to make it stop. And if you don’t eat your gun and the fucking somehow magically stops, they’re going to give you freeway therapy. You’re going to end up doing West End Valley day watch. Spending two hours every day on the fucking freeway just thinking about the fucking that they gave you. Bad guys attack from up front. The department comes in from the rear. Watch your six."
- Police Officer Van Hauser, END OF WATCH.
Back when I was still a baby rookie, about three months after a lunch conversation about dead babies, I had an opportunity to “float” with a senior officer named Tommy for a few days. “Floating” was the first time in several months I was left unsupervised with someone not from the Academy or Field Training staff. “Tommy” was an older officer with over 10 years as a cop. Tommy did not bullshit me or tow the company line. Tommy was known for being fair to everyone he met and never getting too excited. He had a personality both citizens and officers liked. He was also a big guy known for being extremely capable of handling his business if the situation turned physical, a situation he generally avoided using his level head and sense of humor.
Tommy knew his beat and the ones around his blindfolded. He didn’t dodge calls and he took accountability for his section of the city. He knew all of the store clerks and they knew him. He knew who did and didn’t belong, he knew where the dope spots were, and he knew where crooks dumped stolen cars. I immediately liked him and saw him as someone that every rookie should want to be like.
On the second day I had to ask him why he was not a Field Trainer, or on the station’s Tactical Team, or something like Narcotics?
He let out a sigh and told me his story.
His story is his story and not for me to disclose, but the long and short of it is that he got The Shit Stick.
Getting The Shit Stick, or “The Green Weenie” as military folks call it, occurs when one is unjustly or overly punished relative to an infraction. Usually, the Shit Stick occurs when someone in a position of power or influence has an axe to grind and or has taken something personally. Do not be confused, The Shit Stick is not the same as getting punished for screwing up. Cops are not robots; cops are people. People make mistakes. I don’t know anyone that has a problem with accepting a punishment that is fair relative to the infraction.
Getting the Shit Stick happens to just about everyone. It seems to occur more commonly to those on the streets or those working cases, as opposed to administrative folks. In fact, though I have no hard data to back this up, it seems that the Shit Stick often originates from those who spent little time working in the streets or working cases and as soon as possible jumped into administrative type jobs. As with any organization, you’re going to have some crappy supervisors, you’re going to have people in positions of power that they have no business being in. There are going to be people with inflated egos and those with an axe to grind. That is life. That is life as a cop for sure. You’re also going to have amazing leaders. You’re going to have people that inspire you to hone your craft and to be a true professional law enforcement officer. You’re going to serve with those who’ve taken a big bite of that same Shit Stick and handled it with grace and humility.
So what do you do when you get passed The Shit Stick? The best advice I can give is take that thing, take a big ol’ bite, and hand it off the next poor dumb bastard in line. The stick gets passed around and everyone gets their turn with it. You are not that special and you are not the first person to get screwed over and you won’t be the last.
But the Stick can take the fight out of an officer faster than a punch to the throat. I’ve seen it ruin as many promising careers as fast as dating strippers. It’s how “workers” become “broke dicks.” Anyone who has put in work in this job for a decent amount of time has been handed the stick, often more than once. It comes in various sizes and there’s a shape and size for every occasion.
In a classic example of the Shit Stick, a good officer I know, “Mac” did something that hundreds of other officers have done and continue to do on a fairly regular basis. It is, however, technically against policy and the wrong person got wind of it. Instead of the deserved “Hey man, cut that out!”, Mac got The Shit Stick.
Mac was removed from his specialized unit and deposited in one of the shittiest details available. On the surface, he was simply removed from a choice assignment. Being removed from a specialized unit is a black mark on his career but certainly not the end of it. However, with that removal came a schedule change do he was no longer permitted to work extra employment jobs. While being removed from a good assignment sucks, it does not throw your whole world into chaos. But the schedule change and the inability to work extra jobs do. Things like child care, family schedules, and income are all thrown into question.
The most important thing when you get The Shit Stick is to not let them beat you twice. Getting passed that stick is going to happen, but do not let it make you forget why you joined in the first place. If you put on that badge and gun and took that oath, you want to help those who need help, to defend those who need defending, and to pursue those who do wrong to others. It is unpleasant to feel like your own team has screwed you over, but a worse feeling is the loss of your purpose, or worse yet, having it taken from you. Don’t let that happen.
Mac eventually adjusted, served his time, and to his credit he used it an opportunity to study and promote. He’s back on the streets where he belongs. I don’t know where Tommy is now, but I hope he’s still doing the job because he was damn good at it. I hope he hasn’t let The Shit Stick beat him.
Know that you’re going to get The Shit Stick and remember the thing about Officer Van Hauser: No one liked that dude.