Joe: One Cop’s Story

I always wanted to be a police officer. My family encouraged me, and had high hopes for me. My uncle, who had served as the chief of a small town, pointed out that wearing the uniform and the badge was an honor. It was about service, not power.

At twenty-two, I began my first shift on a small city force. My first partner was Mickey, an older guy with a potbelly and a cynical attitude. Our beat was in the city’s red-light district. Mickey knew everyone, and he didn’t care what people thought about him. He was the big man, a bully who pushed people around to get favors and keep them in line.

We came across a petite young woman on the stroll. She was pretty, but not gorgeous. “Hey, Angie!” Mickey called out. He motioned with his fingers for her to come over. I thought I saw her rolling her eyes as she walked over to him. “You know the game,” he told her. They ducked into a nearby diner, and I saw them disappear in back. About ten minutes later, they were back out. Angie scurried off, and Mickey was smiling.

“What was that about?” I remember asking.

“Little treat on the beat,” he bragged. Later I’d learn that the “game” was that she’d “treat” him to a blowjob whenever he wanted, and he wouldn’t bust her. Being green and desperate to get on his good side, I bit my tongue, and during the next eight or nine months, I’d be witness to my partner getting “treated” by her just about every day.

Mickey’s career ended after a heart attack, and he was put on disability. I visited him in the hospital. “Do me a favor, Joe. Take care of Angie.”

I took that to mean I should watch out for her, so I started looking around that area for a cheap one-room apartment. I told the landlord it was so I could rest, or take a witness to talk, without having to drive them to the station. Then I found Angie on the street. I told him about Mickey, and then had her go with me to the apartment. Once we were there, I gave her the spare key. I explained that she could take her johns here, because it was safer than an alley or some abandoned building, or she could even just rest there.

She shrugged, then went over to the bed. “So, you want a BJ, or a fuck?”

“No, I don’t want that.”

“Then why’re you doing this?”

“It’s for Mickey. He said I should take care of you, so I thought having a safe place would help.”

She rolled her eyes, then started laughing. “You don’t get it. Mickey didn’t mean helping me out. He meant ‘take care of me’ like make sure I don’t talk.” I was floored, and stammered something about that I didn’t want to do that. “It’s okay,” she assured me, “I can tell you’re a nice guy. Green cops usually are. And really, I wouldn’t mind treating you.”

The next few minutes were really awkward. She had a hard time believing a young guy would be turning down freebies from her, until … I came out to her. Keep in mind, this was the early seventies, and there was no way a gay man – especially a cop – could come out to anyone. We were both silent for a long time, until she went up and gave me a hug. “Okay, you’re queer. No problem with me. So, we’ll do it this way. You and me go up here, talk or eat or whatever. At least the other cops will think you’re straight, and believe me, they’d rather have a straight guy who’s seeing a hooker than a homo who’s squeaky clean.”

So that was our arrangement. Sure enough, when two other uniforms joined me on the beat later, they noticed and reacted just like she said. I don’t know if they did that with any girls themselves – if they did, they kept it really quiet – but they just took it as a matter of course that cops and hookers sometimes got together.

A friendship started between Angie and me. She wasn’t a bad cook, and liked having someone to cook for. She had a tough, angry shell, which you’d expect, but over time a tender side showed through the cracks. I learned she had a daughter, Mindy, who her mother took care of while she was strolling and tricking. I almost lost her as a friend, when I tried to get her out of the life. Our arguments over that led to her giving me a real education about why women – and some men – sold sex on the street. For a lot of them, it was survival – the best way they had to pay for food, clothes, and rent. I’d always assumed they had pimps recruiting them, abusing them to do what they did. But I learned from Angie and the others that was the exception to the rule. Some women had boyfriends or buddies who’d look out for them, helping them find johns or handle other things. But most of the time, the women looked out for one another. They told me about their clients – yes, some were jerks, a few were violent, but most were shy guys, lonely guys, older men who’d lost their wives or never had what it took for a “normal” relationship. Their regular johns almost seemed part of their crowd.

I always thought that being a police officer meant upholding the law. Slowly, that belief was challenged. The more I was learning about this, the less it made sense to have laws against prostitution. I didn’t have any illusions about how hard life can be for streetwalkers, but knowing more about them convinced me that the laws were hurting more than helping. Being on the beat, I’d learn in advance when they were doing sweeps, and I’d warn Angie or other women about it. I was expecting that they’d keep clear of the streets, but there were always some around when the time came. One of Angie’s friends later explained that the ones who couldn’t afford another bust on their sheet would stay clear, and the rest would pool money to pay any fines or bail. But there was another reason. “If we’re all gone,” they told me, “your bosses would figure out there was a leak, and they’d look at you. So we’re covering you, too.”

It was about five years after arranging the apartment that I came up there and found a meal, Angie’s key, and an envelope with a photograph of her with her daughter, and a note:

I’m leaving the city with Mindy. Thanks for everything. Not just the room and all you did, but for being the only really good cop I know. Take care of yourself, don’t ever change.

I couldn’t eat the meal she’d made. I just cried. I never found out where she went, or what happened to her or Mindy.

Angie’s friends on the street had heard about it, and did their best assuring me everything was going to be okay. Three of the women took on the apartment, paying the rent and taking turns using it for their tricks. It was a short time after that I made Sergeant, and got taken off the beat. Still, I’d do what I could for the women I knew, bending the rules to let someone walk. The worst was when a streetwalker got assaulted, because there wasn’t much a cop could do for them, because the prosecutors almost never took those cases. One time, I tracked down the scumbag who had abused someone, then went to my old beat to give them the info. The victim’s friends “took care of him” – that still haunts me.

I retired in 2003, after thirty-one years on the force, having made Captain. I thank God I only had to fire my gun twice – once as a warning shot, the other time when we were being shot at, and just winging the perp. I get angry reading about how downhill police have gone, shooting without provocation, lying and killing as though it was always part of the job. Even when I did see corruption, it was nothing like what I’m reading about now, and there were some things the top brass just wouldn’t stand for. When I was a cop, it was an honor to put on the uniform and the badge day after day. Now I read about bullying punks disgracing the motto “to serve and protect,” killing black people every day, and it gets me pissed to high heaven.

The other thing getting my goat is this crackdown on prostitution. It was bad enough when I was on the beat, but now we have people saying they’re all being “trafficked” and that’s just bull. If our leaders want to bring prostitution down, then they should do more for the poor, bringing back social services for single moms and their kids, instead of just rounding people up into wagons and showing off for the TV cameras. We say we’re a Christian nation, but I’ve never seen so little mercy and justice than before. It reminds me, too, how people used to say gays were molested and “recruited” by other gays. That was bull then, and all the hype about trafficking has the same smell to me.

I moved to Florida, met a great guy and married him as soon as the Supreme Court decision came down. On my wall, I have a framed display with my badge, insignia and commendation ribbons. Behind it, I keep the note and photo from Angie.