By Craig Hastings
One day I’ll need to have a new and different telephone number. When I became the Police Chief in Tuscola back in 1986, well before cell phones, I had two landlines that rang into my duplex. One was my own personal and unlisted number, and the other was one provided and required by the City. At that time the Police Chief was required to have a telephone number published in the local phone book. Telephones with answering service were at their peak of popularity so of course I had two of those also. I never really understood the required telephone service the city provided to the Police Chief, but I’m confident that in the years before me there was a need. This line rang into the police department and my home at the same time. I didn’t keep the city provided landline in my duplex very long because seldom did it ring, and when it did I would let the answering service screen the calls for me. I felt it was a needless expense, and since there was an answering service available it made more sense to move the phone I bought for this line to the police department and let the answering service on this phone pick up on the line at the police department and not in my home.
Nine out of ten of the calls coming into this line were prank calls anyway and most after midnight. Of course this happened because the number was published in the phone book under my name and available through information if the unwanted caller didn’t have their Tuscola phone book close to the empty case of beer they had consumed leading up to their great idea to prank the Chief. The Sheriff’s Office and all of my police officers knew my unlisted telephone number anyway so why have this second line interrupting my sleep? At the time I had it disconnected from my duplex I think it saved the City a whole $14 per month, but, back then, $14 bought a hundred rounds of practice .38 caliber bullets! Seemed like a brilliant, no brainier trade to me at the time. Yes, the six shot revolver was still the trusted duty weapon of most municipal police officers at the time, and I resisted the switch to the semi automatic pistols as my own duty weapon for years after most officers had made the jump.
Years later, along came the cell phone and all the problems it would conjure up as it became more and more part of people’s daily lives. I’m not sure of the how and why of this, but governments debated the question: should employers of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs require these people to use their own cell phones for law enforcement purposes? Or would it be fair to provide these department heads a separate cell phone to use for business? I had a second cell phone provided to me and soon discovered this a giant pain rearward. I turned it back in and never looked back. I used my own then, and still do today. Now the problems this can cause for a police officer using his/her own phone for law enforcement can become many. It certainly has for me but not to the point I wish I carried two phones around.
The problem becomes a whole population of people I wouldn’t normally have telephone conversations with having my number. Sure I could try to every time remember to block my number from view of the people I call. However, if you had any idea how many calls I’m required to return or make during the course of my day-to-day activities you would understand why I gave up my efforts to block my number from view. Many times the people I’m trying to call won’t answer their phones unless they can screen the calls themselves. Only then will they return my calls!
Years ago, I quit answering incoming calls that I didn’t recognize just like the people that ignored my own calls to them. Add the craziness of this past year’s 500 percent increase of solicitation calls to the mix of calls from people who have acquired my number through my duties as Police Chief, and my phone can sometimes ring none stop night and day. I’m old enough to remember the time when should you miss the call coming into the single phone in your house, you never knew the phone ever rang! Years before answering machines became available. Life was so much more quiet and uninterrupted back then for sure. Today, if I might not return a call made to my cell phone I’m scolded by some, ignored by some, and always questioned, “Why didn’t you answer when I called you?”
Here’s what I want to get back to doing one day when I’m all done with being a police officer. I remember picking up my parents phone and hearing: “Number please.” We would then answer with just a three number code assigned to whoever we wanted to call. Simple, yes? If I’m not home, too bad, so be it, I don’t want to know what you want me to know until I’m home when you call and provided I’m willing to get out of my recliner, I’ll answer my phone. “So what if it’s really important Craig?” Not to worry. By then my time away from home will be counted by the minutes and not the hours and those minutes will probably number under 30. You’ll talk with me soon enough. You won’t get to leave a message, because I absolutely will not have an annoying answering machine that I have to figure out the playback buttons. You see, I want my last days here to become much simpler, the way I started in the 60’s.
One day when I’m asked why I didn’t answer my phone I want to be able to answer the question by saying: “Because I wasn’t home.” “I don’t have a cell phone, nor an answering machine, no voice mail capability, and my cats can’t speak English.” You probably will think driving millions miles around Tuscola in a police car for more than 40 years have finally taken their toll on my mind and never try to call me again. That’s okay too. I’ll still consider you a friend. A friend that has given up talking to me on a phone.