At a time when television and movies are full of police stories, a father and son have come forth to present a real-life personal look into the lives of police officers. Far more than any episode of Cops can do in thirty minutes, Jim and Jay Padar’s new book On Being a Cop brings us into the heart of a police family, showing not only the job that these brave men (and women) daily perform on the streets of Chicago, but also the relationships that police officers have with their families and their coworkers.
We expect action, drama, grisly murders, and high-speed chases from a cop book, but we might not expect the tales of officers struggling with their personal lives, the hardships that the job brings to their families, the interrupted Christmases and missed birthday parties, the need not to think about your own children while investigating the murder of a child, or what it is like to lose a fellow officer in the line of duty or to suicide. Walking a fine line between the sensational and the sentimental, On Being a Cop provides a balanced look at all aspects of a cop’s career and life.
Author Jim Padar had a long career as a police officer beginning in the 1960s. He writes about such incidents as the riots in Chicago following Martin Luther King’s assassination as well numerous homicide investigations he was involved with and his relationships with his partners and coworkers. His son Jay shares his own stories of both humorous and dangerous incidents, including emails to family and friends and their responses. In fact, the book began as a series of emails exchanged between father and son in which they started telling their stories of working Chicago’s streets, and in time those stories were compiled into this book.
A wide range of stories fill this book, from a shooting at a commuter train to corpses found in barrels in a restaurant, and from rescuing people and parakeets from burning buildings to investigations that lead from Chicago to New York and Puerto Rico. In fact, there is so much variety among these stories that the interest and pace never lags. As Jay writes at the beginning of his story, “7 a.m.?”: “Senators, Naked Gays, Schizophrenic Homeless, and a Polish Sausage. How do you tie that together in a short story? It’s easy… for a cop.” And with the exception of a couple of two-part longer stories, most of the stories are short and can be read individually and in any order.
It is hard for me to decide whether I have a favorite story in this book. It might be the story of Uncle Rocco, a small-time criminal who turns out to be the authors’ relative, or perhaps it’s the story of how Jim found his second wife with a little help from Jay, when he was only four years old. I loved the police humor, the jokes between officers to keep the stress and horror of their jobs at a distance, and I loved when I was so caught up in the story that I had to keep reading to see how an investigation would turn out and who would be revealed to be the true criminal. But perhaps most of all, I loved when a member of the public took the time to tell an officer to be careful or simply to say, “Thank you.”
While there is plenty of sadness over the tragedies that these men have witnessed, there is also a lot of humor, and a great deal of their hearts and souls is revealed as they talk about their feelings for their families, their fellow officers, and why they continue to do a job for which they often get little thanks or appreciation. On Being a Cop makes you realize that police officers are human beings; that they have chosen a dangerous but rewarding job, and that they deserve respect, understanding, and most of all, admiration for the jobs they do every day.