An ugly job, but it’s a living

Lieutenant Coffee

No doubt this post will earn me the reputation, among some readers, of being some kind of uncivilized Colonial American, but I have never understood the English fascination with tea. Yes I did understand (vaguely) the whole cultural thing our cousins have going on over there with their “cuppa”. But here in ‘Merka our world runs on Joe. Back before we told King George and the Redcoats that we preferred not to be English anymore – thank you very much – we were tea drinkers. Remember that little tax revolt up in Boston? Did the switch come immediately after Independence? Was Juan Valdez on the next whaler up from Columbia with bags of beans?

This post by a UK cop who blogs as Another bloody grumpy copper, helped put it in perspective for me.

1000: start shift with nice cup of tea
1015: First cup slightly too milky – have another with more favourable milk concentration
1030: Foolishly answer office phone. Need more tea to recover
1045: Oops, too much tea. Would go out but keep having to visit loo instead to pee. Check briefings.
1100: Go out onto ground. Do community visit. Seems rude not to have tea when offered. Wouldn’t wish to offend community after all…
1115: Still talking – need biscuits now. Seriously.
1130: Mostly peeing again from tea.


He’s writing about a new requirement for each officer to account for his daily activities in 15 minute blocks. I worked under such a system when I was an auto theft detective and found it to be ridiculous waste of time. Luckily for me, by the time I transferred in, the idea’s originator (a shooting star of management who went on to become our first female chief) had already transferred to bigger and better things. But the stories of the implementation of her system were hilarious. Cops being cops, they grumbled about the new accountability system before quickly setting about to game it to death. To her credit, future Chief Disaster was smart enough to see it coming and tried to head it off at the pass.

Detective, I’ve reviewed your worklog and I see 8 hours of solid work.

Yes Ma’am! (beaming with pride)

That’s bullshit. You didn’t eat lunch, drink a cup of coffee, smoke a cigarette or use the bathroom all day? Go back and try it again. This time without lying your ass off please.

This detail allowed for even greater pranking with the system. One of the old hands showed me a copy of his worksheet for one day. A particular 15-minute block was circled with the notation “Gross – Please just refer to this as a ‘break'”.

The notation?

“Read sports section of newspaper while taking a dump.”

There were other worksheet entry pranks, some turned in and others that just appeared on a bulletin board. One of my favorites was

“Drank coffee with other detectives and discussed in detail how fucked up the new captain is.”

Oh the love.

The grumpy copper’s bog reminded me of the importance of coffee to American policing. Walk into any police office in the country at anytime of the day or night and the odds are good that there will be coffee on the pot or some kind soul will offer to make a pot.

One of the quickest ways to pariahdom is to fuck up the brew, neglect to make a fresh pot after emptying the last one, or – Lord forbid – drink coffee without paying into the pool. I’ve reported to new assignments where the longest and most detailed part of my welcoming and orientation was how the coffee pool worked.

My first job that didn’t involve spending all night riding around in a two-toned sedan was a six-month day shift gig at a patrol division. I was initiated into the holy rites of the coffee pool, shown how to make a new pot and then given some vague instructions about doing something or the other that involved police work.

Of the two lieutenants on day shift, one was the field training lieutenant, who always ripped through his paperwork before vanishing at the first opportunity (no doubt monitoring the radio from some remote outpost). The other lieutenant was the day shift watch commander, and he managed to hang out until lunch time before he went “on patrol” – not to be seen until 0530 the next day.

The watch commander’s office was tucked in across the hall from the lunchroom. It was also strategically located just past the sergeant’s office / bullpen. The sergeants knew how to keep their rice bowl from being tampered with, and few lowly officers ever made it past them to actually “talk” to the lieutenant. Not that any sane person would actually want to attract the attention of such an august figure.

Now I was not at the time the shiniest penny in the till, but I had mustered together some decent observation skills by that time in my then short police career. And it didn’t take me very long before I made some observations about the coffee pot.

The first thing I noticed was that whenever I walked to the lunchroom to get a cup of coffee I would notice the watch commander standing inside his office, just inside the doorway, holding his coffee cup. All by himself, not walking toward the door or back to his chair – he was just hovering there in a state of limbo. That seemed strange, but with only a few years on the job I was not yet in the habit of questioning what supervisors did. It seemed that most of the shit they did was strange and this hoverng act was just a rendition I had not previously encountered.

Another observation was I found that I was making coffee four or five times a day. It would happen that I found my cup empty and I would stroll into the lunchroom only to find that the pot was bone dry. Having a modicum of responsibility I would dutifully set about making a fresh pot. While the fresh joe was brewing I would wander back to my desk for a bit rather than stand around waiting.

Finally I noticed that even when I returned within a few minutes that the pot was once again dry as the Sahara. I would stare at the bottom of the pot in wonder before opening the filter basket to check and make sure that I had actually made a pot of coffee or was I getting Alzheimer’s at 24.

Like I said, I wasn’t the shiniest penney in the drawer, but as I walked back to my desk – sans coffee – I noticed that every son of a bitch in the substation was sipping from steaming coffee cups and smacking their lips over that fine Arabica taste.

One of the less grumpy old desk officers gave me a knowing smile as he raised his cup to his lips. I leaned on the counter and in a low voice asked

So, it’s fuck with the new guy time is it?

We’re not messing with you kid. We’re playing a game with Mr. Coffee.

Mr. Coffee was the lieutenant. He that hovered near the doorway, coffee cup in hand. It seemed that he had some aversion to making a fresh pot, but wasn’t above conducting intense surveillance on the lunchroom to see when someone was going to brew. When he ran out of joe and the pot was empty he would just stand near his doorway, watching, like some kind of coffee vulture.

Well, maybe we were pranking with you just a little. We wanted to see how long it would take for you to catch on. What we normally do is see how long we can keep from making a fresh pot and how long he’ll stand in his door like a dumbass. So far the record is twenty-seven minutes. Most of us can’t go too long without coffee, and we have talked about going across the street to the convenience store to buy some, but we’re too lazy or cheap to go that far.

How long has this been going on?

Well, I’ve only been here three years, but I know it was going on before I got here.

And the lieutenant hasn’t caught on.

If he has, he hasn’t said anything. But if he’s too dumb or lazy to make coffee I don’t think we’re in any danger.

Before I left to go to my next assignment, we managed to get him to hang in his door for nearly 35 minutes.

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One response

  1. Nice one mate!

    Thanks for the sidebar entry – I’ll return the favour when I get a few minutes (not immediately as working this weekend – BOO!) :o)

    28 October, 2006 at 16:49

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