By Craig Hastings
Way back in 1979 I was working full time for my parents at the family newspaper. I had never given any thought to becoming a police officer. Two things happened that threw my newspaper career off course. The first thing that happened was Chief Harris asked me if I would be interested in a part-time patrolman’s position. Several weeks later good friend Fred Galey asked me to ride with him on some of his midnight patrol shifts at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. That was a no brain-er because if Fred wasn’t working mid-nights, he, Doug and I were out together, somewhere, nearly the same hours anyway. I was instantly drawn to the “anything could happen at any time” excitement of law enforcement. It didn’t take me long to one night drive to Chief Harris’ home and tell him I was willing to give policing a try if he still wanted me to.
So what all did I have to have to do to start this career and what equipment did I need? These things will be the subject of this story. I would need to go buy a revolver handgun. True Value carried guns at the time, and Jim Higgins fixed me right up with a $175, 4” barrel, stainless, Llama brand revolver and 50 rounds of ammo I knew nothing about. Years before, maybe ten, I shot my dad’s revolver at a barn on my granddad’s farm in Ingraham, Ill. That was my gun experience to date. One pair of new pants, two used shirts, used winter coat, two used uniform badges, name tag, tie, tie clip, handcuffs, and a night stick were the City’s investment in me. I would need to purchase my own shoes, boots, leather duty belt, flashlight, holster, and any accessory leather pouches needed to carry extra ammo, night stick, handcuffs, etc.
Here’s where it gets more interesting about 1979. There were five police officers and Tuscola had two marked patrol cars when I started. A 1977 Ford LTD II purchased new for $5,200 and a 1978 Plymouth Fury purchased new for $5,600. Inside the cars were radios older than me at the time that constantly were down, siren boxes that were also probably some World War II surplus property leftovers. A simple 2 revolving and 2 flashing lights lightbar on the roofs along with 3 antenna mounted in various random places. We had two stationary radar guns that also were in the repair shop as much as they were in the field. That’s it! Nothing else required! Oh, did I mention the AM only radio with one dash speaker that was an option to buy back in the day?! But, we had no complaints about any of this. And because I’m still here and know what’s required today; I’ll take our simpler way of patrol duties in 1979 any day.
The total investment in a new car and fitment was the cost of the car itself and $300-$400 labor costs to move the few things from the old car to the new car. No big deal. Well, I say no big deal, but, back then, it was a really big deal and moral booster to get a new car. By the time the police department could get approval to purchase a new car, the old car it was going to replace wasn’t suitable for patrol. After all, if a car won’t start or shift gears, what good is it for emergency response? Back then, as all of you my age know, cars rusted at three and four years old, and we kept police cars that long or longer. It was the interior seats that broke down the most often and back in the day the officers with the know how did their best to fix them. Welding was a must on broken seat frames. I was present at a council meeting, still a patrolman, when a councilman during the meeting, questioned the Chief as to the necessity of the purchase of four new tires for a police car! Now what I didn’t know was, back then was the budget so tight that every purchase of $200 was being scrutinized? Maybe? It costs me (the City) $200 just to replace an in car flashlight with charger today!
So let’s talk about today. New car, $23,000. New SUV, $29,000. New in car computer, $5,500. New in car flashlight and charging system, $200. New dash mounted moving radar, $2,000. New roof mount light bar, $2,500. New accessory center console, $500. New rifle, $800. New shotgun, $400. New portable radio, $350. New taser gun, $1,100. New prisoner transport partition, $1,200. The cost just to install all the new gizmos in a new car, $3,000. But wait, M/FM/CD stereo radio with six-speaker sound system….standard equipment! What?!!
All the above is provided by the City as do most law enforcement agencies. The City also provides the officers handguns at a new cost of $450 each. The reason being is liability. Some officers back in the day would take their personal guns they carried on duty and have them modified putting into question safety and reliability. Every officer is provided a portable radio today. When I started, and for many years, six of us shared two portable radios. Every officer is provided a taser gun. We had no such thing back in the day. Unfortunately, society is at a place where all of these things are necessary everyday tools carried by police officers in all departments. Patrol cars have become offices. Because I remember how it used to be, I hate all of this new stuff. I hate it, because police need it and because I have to make sure it’s all working all of the time. It’s expensive to purchase and expensive to maintain.
This story came to me from the recent purchase of a replacement in car mobile computer. I’ve become used to replacing broken equipment that can’t be fixed or makes no sense to fix with new and as quickly as possible. The in car computers are an officer safety necessity as much as they are a tool to streamline the process of law enforcement. However, at $5,500 each I would usually touch base with city hall so when the bill hit everyone would have a heads up as to why. It’s maddening to me to think that back in 1986 when I became the Chief a “heads up” purchase was $500! Today it’s $5,500! Where will all of this end! Will police cars have devices installed at a cost of $10,000 or more some day?! Oh, there are already some other expensive “goodies” available out there, but I’ve always resisted until my resistance became futile.
What happen to a gun, a badge, spartan squad cars, mobile radio, Larry Lujack on WLS am radio, and off we went for an eight-hour patrol shift? God it was so much easier and best of all; no cell phones so no one could bother me and disrupt my shift. No need to worry about “heads up” purchases because we didn’t own much that expensive! Aahhh yes, those were the days.