Thursday, May 29, 2008

Call box key

Last night was the graduation ceremony for our Spring academy. Seventeen new police officers were commissioned. They were hired for these positions from a total pool of 372 applicants. I've been making remarks at two graduations annually for 14 years, and the regular attendees are probably a little tired of couple of variations on the theme that I normally talk about. Nonetheless, I haven't covered this ground in The Chief's Corner, and I thought it might make a good story for those who haven't had to hear it a dozen times before.

It's about the endurance of values in the police department. I talked to the trainees earlier in the day about the importance of upholding their ethics, abiding by their oath, keeping balance in their lives, focusing on quality, not obsessing over the inevitable missteps that will start tomorrow, and a few other things I think are important for police officers. The most important of all: The Golden Rule. I told them that the values of the organization are healthy, and are passed on from each generation to the next.

To illustrate the point, I tossed them my key ring. The gray plastic fob is a smart card that pops the doors in our facilities' computer-controlled access system. The brass key is my call box key. New recruits don't know what a call box key is, and some readers won't either. A call box is a metal box containing a direct-line telephone to headquarters. This is how the police communicated before radio. These boxes were strategically located around the city, and on a specified interval, the officers contacted headquarters for dispatches or instructions, and to report their status.

When I was hired in the summer of 1974 the call box key was among the stuff in the cardboard box of gear Officer Paul Wiar issued to me. Forty years earlier, LPD's first radio system was acquired in 1933. It was receive only, until two way radios were deployed in 1942 (page 9, if you have the patience). By the mid 1960's portable two-way radios were common, and by the time I started, everyone went out with both a mobile radio in the car, and a portable on the belt. Rookie officers all started with an assignment to downtown foot patrol. We were required to go to a call box and phone in to HQ between five minutes to and five minutes after the hour. The call boxes were long obsolete, but we were still calling in every hour, even though we all carried perfectly functional portable radios on our Sam Brownes.

The last remaining call boxes were removed from downtown utility poles in the mid-1970's. I'm still carrying the key, which has now been obsolete for at least 30 years. I'm not alone, many Lincoln police officers still have their call box key. The key is emblematic of tradition, endurance, and the inertia of values. We best make sure those are healthy and productive, because they last a long, long time.

Graduation ceremonies are among my favorite duties. Department veterans look forward immensely to watching the careers of these men and women unfold, and seeing them have the same opportunity to do challenging, socially-significant work that we have enjoyed.

29 comments:

West A Dad said...

Another cool bit of Lincoln history, thanks Chief. I'll have to ask J.W. Kerns if he still has his key.

Just checking the time said...

No disrespect but since I have heard the key story so many times that I'm just gonna hit the snooze button on this issue.

See you tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

It was 374 applicants.

We did not apply.

Anonymous said...

What was carnal knowledge of insane woman?

I think I have a tip for you.

Anonymous said...

http://nebraskamemories.org/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/lpd&CISOPTR=97&REC=7

bottom of page

Anonymous said...

Did someone say Pirate Dog?

Anonymous said...

So what happened to the call boxes? Did they just wind up as scrap metal? It would be quite cool to have one next to an old-style, fully-mechanical pinball machine in the rec room. Really a piece of history.

"Carnal knowledge of an insane woman" might be something like this, but with a more PC name these days.

Tom Casady said...

8:38-

We have two salvaged call boxes, both of which have been rehabilitated for display--one at HQ, one at the Northeast Team Station. No clue what happened to the rest. As we all know, the junk pile contains a lot of future historical artifacts.

Anonymous said...

black jacks, and billy clubs

Anonymous said...

Carnal Knowledge of an insane woman..... that sounds like a movie title on the late night HBO play list... I may have to DVR that one....

Anonymous said...

8:07 AM

The peg leg sells it.

LadyPuzzler said...

For what it's worth, sometimes good points bear repeating, and those that have heard them many times might stop and think about how they might put a different spin on the same idea.... from the perspective of one who's been there and done that...LOL

Anonymous said...

Do you still have that original non-working revolver you were issued as a rookie? That's a story worth repeating too, now and then, about basically carrying a paperweight in your holster.

Tom Casady said...

1:23-

Mine was war surplus, stamped "U.S. Navy". I split the forcing cone, and got a replacement from Ofc. Wiar, but he was none too happy--he had warned me not to shoot any duty ammo out of it. It took me a few months to figure out how to schmooze Paul and finally get a well-used-but-functional S&W Model 10 .38 Special revolver. The real suck-ups scored heavy barrel Model 10's.

Anonymous said...

All the people that complain about how things are just don't know how it really used to be. Like walking the beat, in the snow, up hill....

MLKingsley said...

I'm not a librarian, but could be said to be in the information business, and thought you might be tickled to know that the Citizens Association of Georgetown in DC has been promoting the restoration of the 30 callboxes in their neighborhood (there since the 1870s), as part of a larger DC effort. Don't know how it's going overall, but I have noticed a few gorgeous-looking ones that were previously hanging by a thread.

Anonymous said...

Now, weight a minute....all of us on the ASAP unit were given "heavy barrel" model 10's through the federal grant. IF memory serves me...YOU were on the ASAP unit too - "suck-up"!!!

Anonymous said...

Not all of us on ASAP were issued the new Model 10's. I'am guessing you had to be one of the original members of ASAP to recieve one of the new guns.

Tom Casady said...

mlkingsley-

Wow, very cool!

10:33-

No heavy barrel for moi. I think 9:11 is probably right. Some of those original ASAP members must not have turned their property back end when they left the unit! :-0

Here's an interesting factoid (at least to me): The ASAP squad was six officers. Four of the six from my time in the unit are still here at LPD: me, Morris, Garnett, and Wetzel. I think Barry Rogers ended up at the Scottsdale PD, and Steve Worster retired from the LA County Sheriff's Office a few years ago and moved back to Lincoln.

Anonymous said...

I could hit a silver dollar at 20 yeards with my Model 10. That gun was sweet. Wish I would have not sold it.
bbrk

Anonymous said...

Cool story, Chief. The new guys don't appreciate this type of thing, but will one day understand when they have their own icons of how it used to be, and the next batch isn't appreciating it. I fear, though, that we won't have many tangible, durable, enduring things like that key, what with everything being disposable and plastic.

sockrider said...

Hey Chief, FYI, I heard about voting machines being compromised because Diebold posted a photo of a key.

Thieves were able to reproduce a key from a photo.

Tom Casady said...

Makes sense, when you think about it. A good photo of a key would provide the data you need to make a duplicate.

Anonymous said...

OH GREAT! Now the bad guy key copiers will be able to get into our call boxes. If they copy the fob exactly then they can pop the doors in our facilities computer controlled access system. We've been compromised.

Murph said...

Two of your graduates were Soldiers I served with in Iraq. Excellent guys, and I'm sure they'll make outstanding Officers. Tim and Tyler, have some sympathy if ya' see me slightly exceeding the speed limit on the Ducati. You guys know better than most all the effort that went into getting it.

grander said...

In your post on Call Box Key's you mentioned my mother's uncle Paul Wiar...I never met him but am doing some genealogy work and would love if anyone had stories or rememberances of him. I'm in California, so I'd really appreciate and treasure anything at all...thanks!

g.anderson

Tom Casady said...

Mr. Anderson: There are probably around 20 or 30 of us left who overlapped a little bit with Paul prior to his retirement. When I started in the summer of 1974, he worked in Property & Evidence. He was the guy that rookie officers went to to get their issued supplies and equipment. He scared me half to death, until I realized that he was really not as his work persona with rookies appeared. He was really a push over. If you spent some time getting to know him, he would lavish new stuff on you to replace the well-worn hand-me-downs you had originally been issued!

JimmyC said...

Hi Chief,in 1972 I started my law enforcement career in Richmond, VA. My first assignment was a walking beat in downtown Richmond. Motorola HT 200 portable radios were scarce, and most of the time foot patrol officers didn't have portables . . but we had plenty of call boxes. We were required to "pull the box" (call in) every 30 minutes to advise "10-4." Also, the beat cars kept an eye on us . . and if you forgot to make your 30 minute "pull" you got chewed on by the Sergeant because headquarters would announce over the car radios that "W-1" didn't call in . . and they respond to our foot beat to insure we were okay. Now I collect and restore these boxes. I also carry my issued brass call box key . . 40 years later! PS We got portable radios on every walking beat in 1973!!

Tom Casady said...

JimmyC,

Great to hear from you. Remarkable how similar our experience was!