Plenty of things have changed in the twenty-five years since I first walked through the doors of the police academy. I’m older, of course, and hopefully a bit wiser.
But my footspeed is, well, let’s just say it ain’t what it used to be.
Being on the downhill slope to fifty will do that to a person, as will an accumulation of injuries from sports played well past an “athlete’s” expiration. At least that’s what my orthopedic surgeon keeps telling me. Repeatedly.
But I remember when I used to be pretty fast.
When a suspect turned and bolted, a spike of adrenalin would hit me and make my feet spin like Wile E. Coyote’s. There’s nothing like pounding the pavement after a bad guy, never mind the chafing wool shirt and pants, the twenty pounds of gear or the squawking radio held up to one’s ear.
You slip into a rhythm. Talk into the mic, breathe, repeat. Run between houses, over fences, through alleyways and back out onto the street. Foot pursuits are an urban steeplechase which usually end well for the police.
When I hit the age of thirty, I was a swing shift patrol officer still undefeated in foot pursuits (6-0, not that I was counting). Then one sunny afternoon I stopped a car driven by a lean, nervous young guy about ten years my junior. When he handed over his driver’s license I saw the telltale signs of a runner - restless feet, tense muscles, furtive glances towards the likeliest route of escape. I put myself in a mental starter’s block.
I might as well have pulled up a chair to watch. The guy took off at the precise moment news of his arrest warrant crackled out of the radio. He shimmied between cars and down the street, hit the hood of a car on the run, and leapfrogged to the top of a fence. From there he jumped to a rooftop, disappearing over the edge and into oblivion. The only proof that he had actually been there was his car.
I towed it, but it was a hollow victory at best.
I soon realized that chasing after every slippery character was a prospect with diminishing returns. That point was driven home one afternoon a few years later when I came across a young kid standing on a street corner. I traced his guilty expression to the white, crumbly granules in a transparent baggie clutched in his hand.
I was just stepping out of my patrol car when the kid spun around and took off like he had been shot out of a cannon. While he ran between houses and leaped the fence, I got back in my car and drove around the corner. He was darting across the alley as I drove past, and I continued pacing him on side streets for several blocks.
Finally, all the scurrying and climbing wore him out, and he stopped. With a pathetic attempt at subterfuge, he dropped the baggie on the sidewalk. The poor kid was still sweating when we got to the detention center.
Such lessons, along with all the aches and pains, have taught me a lot about the tradeoffs in life. We lose a step but, hopefully, we gain insight. We set aside one interest and, instead, pick up another.
But does that mean we should give up the chase altogether? Absolutely not. I’m still lacing up my shoes nice and tight.
Just in case.