It’s not always easy being a rookie. Whether it’s baseball, politics, law enforcement, or whatever comes to mind, the new kid on the block has a lot to learn, and dues to pay. You might think once you’ve gone through the rigors of the minor leagues, taken political science for four years of college, or gone to the police academy for physical, weapon, and sensitivity training that you are locked and loaded for your new position on the team.
Not so. Schooling gives you the bare minimum of training, and an iota of the information which you will need to make a success of your chosen career. It is what addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, is to calculus. You need the basics to eventually go on to solve an intricate problem. Every day, during the performance of every job, one should expect the unexpected. Often, the rookie, must perform his duties with little or no guidance. He must do it within the boundaries of job title, or incur the wrath and ridicule of a supervisor, coach or elder statesman. This circumstance never changes. Once in a while the “rookie” pitches his own curve ball, leaving supervision speechless.
Under the reign of Mayor of New York, John Lindsey, the city went through some unprecedented upheavals. We had a blackout, race riots, looting, sanitation department strike, and a mass transit strike. Every form of urban, man-made pestilence, fell upon the city. It was a rough and tumble time, and exactly when young, Jim Matthews entered the police academy.
Typically, the probies (probationary patrol officer) trained and tested in the academy for a minimum of three months, however, only a month after Officer Matthews had begun his training the transit workers union, (TWU) under the inflammatory, Michael Quill, went on strike. This was 1966. Every subway station a potential crime scene. The stations, rails and equipment needed police presence to guard against not only vandals but disgruntled transit workers as well.
Much man power was needed, to protect the massive New York City subway system. The probies in their pressed and starched tan uniforms and their shiny new, Smith and Wesson 38, were wrenched out of the academy and deposited on a bitterly cold subway or elevated line platform. The rookies were paired with an experienced police officer for at least the first couple of days to patrol their beat.
Such was the case with P.O. Matthews. He reported for a midnight tour and was sent to the Bronx with a ten-year veteran. No sooner had the pair arrived on the scene when the veteran gave Matthews a pat on the back and informed him that he was going to cash a check and would be back shortly. It didn’t occur to the rookie that a check cashing places are usually closed by midnight.
Full of confidence and energy and in an effort to keep warm, it was a very cold night, Officer Matthews diligently began to patrol the post. One end of the platform was clear. He noted that clearly in his memo book as he had just learned in the police academy. Turning he walked briskly down to the other end where he spied someone lying on the cold, dirty floor, next to the far staircase. Matthews slowed his pace to walk over cautiously. He observed a well dressed, older male, perhaps fiftyish, lying motionless.
Matthews, bent over the man and called to him. No response. He knelt beside the unfortunate person, lifted his wrist and felt for a pulse. Nothing. The rookie wondered if it was his imagination. He removed his own gloves, and slid his hands around the neck of what he was beginning to think of as, the body. Matthews pressed around the neck, feeling for a pulse, then he pressed harder, thinking to jolt the man. It suddenly occurred to him, if it came to someone examining the body, Matthews’ own finger prints would be around the man’s neck. He jumped back! He stood and looked at his first incident and then realized in this below thirty temperature, smoke should be coming out of the man’s mouth. No matter how shallow someone would be breathing, smoke should appear.
What to do? His mentor, the veteran cop, still had not returned. P.O. Matthews jogged to the nearest phone and called headquarters. After identifying himself he blurted into the phone, “I just found a dead guy on my post!”
The cop at the other end of the line screamed, “Are you a doctor? Only a doctor can proclaim someone as being dead. Got that officer? Now, Matthews, what do you have?”
Police Officer, Jim Matthews thought for a moment, then stated in the most professional voice he could muster, “Sir, I have a man on the South bound platform, who refuses to breath.”