The Job: True Tales from a New York City Cop
© 2015 Steve Osborn
Steve Osborn grew up by his father’s side in a bar, standing on boxes to play pinball and idolizing the men his father hung out with. They were all cops, and their lurid stories of policing the City’s streets captivated him. He knew that’s what he wanted to do — and at some point in the early eighties, he became a patrolman in New York City, and started collecting stories of his own. The Job shares some twenty-odd tales of life on the beat, starting from his first rookie patrol to his last takedown. Although these stories are shared for their entertainment value, they’re not uniformly comic; instead, we see a young adrenaline junkie maturing into a tough beat cop, whose emotional walls are sometimes broken by events like 9/11,
The Osborn evidenced here is a natural beat cop; he has no desire to be a detective, rise as an administrator, or work for something like the FBI; his happy place is the city street, where he can mingle with people and watch them, and ‘collar’ the ones that prey on their fellow New Yorkers. I referred to Osborn as adrenaline junkie before, because he loves chasing down suspects, and his enthusiasm is such that in his early years they led him to doing really dumb things, like following a robber into the subway tunnels. When he’d gotten far enough in be stuck, and felt a train approaching from behind him, he could only think that this was a stupid, stupid way to die and that from now on, he’d be the morbid example used in Track Safety classes. Osborn’s passion for the job, and for his home city in particular, allowed him to flourish as an officer and truly connect with his partners, some perpetrators, and citizens themselves.
Although throughout the book Osborn established himself as a world-weary cop, forever scanning and processing the people and places around him for trouble, using dark humor to cope with the horror and uncertainty that his occupation makes him face every day, a few stories show another side. Early on, for instance, he’s assigned to investigate a foul odor in an apartment — but runs into a problem when he learns that that the foul odor is most definitely a body, and the deceased’s parents are waiting outside the apartment demanding to see their child one last time. The young lady has at this point been dead for days, and decaying in a stifling-hot July apartment. Knowing he could not allow the woman’s mother to see the ghastly remains, the putrefied blob of something that was human, Osborn finds some source of inner strength that allows him to take a knee and convince the sobbing, desperate woman that she doesn’t want to see her daughter this way. It’s one of the first times Osborn realizes his job was about taking care of people, not just chasing bad guys. Another break in the tough-guy wall comes shortly after 9/11, when — scarfing down McDonalds during a multiday shift pulling out bodies from the rubble — Osborn discovers a card made of construction paper tucked into the bag. Somehow, schools across the country had gotten their kids to make “thinking of you” cards for fire&police officers, and place them in the meals being given out to first responders. The realization that New York is not alone, that people across the nation are thinking and standing with them, almost makes the grizzled lieutenant cry in public.
Page for page, 400 Things Cops Know* is more informative about the way police officers notice and interpret the world, but The Job humanizes an occupation and an institution (the NYPD) that is being increasingly villanized. While Osborn doesn’t comment on this directly, he does include stories of being attacked by mobs just for making arrests on the streets, and presumably his sympathies are with the officers.
*I read 400 Things last year, but did so over the course of several months, reading a few chapters at a time when visiting a local Books a Million and drinking coffee. Because I kept skipping around, I’m not sure I read it in its entirety.