DEBBIE: I'd been a Quaker all my life, and I wanted to see how the other half lives. I was a typical college student, suspicious of the police, antiestablishment and idealistic. At the last Inaugural I was chased by a policeman with a stick. So I decided to see how they work. How they do it.
FRANK: I was in the service four years, an Air Force MP. When I was a kid I worked part time at those Triple A summer camps for safety patrol. You work with cops. And when I got working with 'em I saw that, gee, they're pretty nice guys and normal people. The way you meet most policemen, you need help with a burglary or you get a ticket, you don't exactly jump for joy. It's just one of those things.
Debbie and Frank Weinsheimer are District police officers. He is 29 and she is 25, and they consider themselves lucky to have managed so far to get the same hours and beats. They both work the same area in separate cars, she covering 14th Street (actually 13th to 16th from P to S), he in the 7th Street section.
"I work with prostitudes, he works with junkies," she says with a wry smile. "Mine is the smallest beat in the District. But lively. We have 80 per cent of the city's prostitudes and 100 per cent of the Marines, soldiers and sailors. When the Tall Ships came in we heard 'I been robbed.' in 15 different languages."
She was the first woman officer to be put in a car with a male partner. She's had two partners, neither of them Frank.
"It's been a trip," she says."We get along. I worked with Frank two or three times in the last three years, but not in the car with him."
They met when she was on an undercover assignment as a hooker, a job she detested.
"I wanted to ask her out for a long time," says Frank, "and just couldn't do it, so one night she was on the street and I couldn't stand it any longer, I just pulled up and asked her out."
They joke about that a lot. They like having the same kind of job: There's always plenty to talk about in the evenings (or mornings, as the case may be). Both of them know many street people by their first names, so their conversation after a shift is apt to sound slightly like a cozy postmortem of a particularly raucous party.
As one of the first women to hit the street in the summer of 1974 as what the media insisted on calling Flat Foot Floozies. Debbis got into her share of fistfights. There was something about being told by a pickup that she was a cop that panicked the customers and made them start swinging.
"They couldn't accept being locked up. It was a blow to their ego. The shock, 'Oh my God, my job, my wife, my family.' They all think they're gonna be in the paper."
Debbie was the first woman to make Traffic Officer of the Month, an award that is hard for women to win because it means making the best felony case anywhere in the city, and most women on the force don't see enough action for that. But last summer she stopped a woman driver who had just run a stoplight at 17thj and New Hampshire.
"A citizen drove by and said, 'I think you might like to know this, this car's been involved in an armed robbery. I don't think you know that.' I said, 'Thank you, sir.' Never got his name. He saw the whole thing as he drove past, the Safeway manager screaming for help, then the car and me stopping it. They made a real good case out of it."
Any traffic stop is dangerous to an officer, Frank notes in an aside, as is any family dispute. No matter how carefully you approach the car, coming up from behind on the driver's side, there is always the chance of scaring someone into shooting you in the face.
Debbie laughs, "What was embarrassing was that the getaway person had already thrown the gun and money out of the window and I didn't see it. The gun was under my wheels."
Last Christmas Eve she was driving near the Corcoran Gallery, alone in her car, when someone ran a light. She stopped him. "Sir, the light was red, you realize that. I'm going to have to give you a ticket."
He replied, "Oh, no, there's a law you don't have to obey the traffic signals on the holidays . . ."
Before she knew it, he was out of his car and punching her. Who should turn up but Frank, who had been cruising nearby. Anytime a long officer makes a traffic stop, the dispatcher passes along the word and someone swings by to cover. This was one of the few times the two of them handled an arrest together, for they make a great effort to keep their working lives separate.
"We never call for each other on the radio," Franks adds. "People are always listening and there's a kind of double standard. They see Debbie and me talking together, they don't just say there's two cops talking, they say look at those two, they couldn't wait to get home to talk."
Do they listen for calls that involve each other? He says no. She says yes.
Quite aside from the danger, which leaves her family in Pennsylvania more than a little nervous, police life has its special problems.
FRANK: We have to wear a gun whenever we leave the house, and normally there's no way people will know you have it on you. But I'm a hockey fanatic. I love the Caps, and once at a game I got carried away and I was standing up yelling. My sweater had risen up over the gun, and these two ladies in front turned around to see what kind of idiot was behind them making all that noise. Their eyes got just like headlights. They started whispering and nudging their husbands. So I pulled out my badge and told them who I was, and they sure were relieved.
DEBBIE: In the summer it can be sort of a ball and chain. I carry mine in my purse sometimes when I'm out of uniform. I was scared to death of guns, never shot one before. I went out to the range and shot Expert. They told me it was because I had no bad habits to unlearn.
The Weinsheimer home life has to be run like a chronometer. They go on a shift for two weeks at a time: 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., then 3:30 to midnight and so on. Regarding themselves as a test case for married officers in the department (there are other couples but not where both members are on beats), they appreciate being given matching hours.
Chores are shared with meticulous equality. Sometims they find themselves cleaning house at 3 in the morning. Court appearances often cut into their days off, and few outsiders realize how much time every officer has to spend on paperwork. (They get a laugh out of Kojak stalking off the scene with the casual line. "Book 'em for murder." "Whaddya mean. 'Book 'em?' You made the arrest, you book 'em.")
Recently they decided to wallpaper the house, which is his childhood home, left him when his father died. Frank finished one room, then she did the rest while he was in court. Having only one car means they must plan their moves all the time.
Once they went strolling with some other police friends in a somewhat rough neighborhood, and one of them muttered somehing about, "Gee, I wish there were some cops around here." And then, brightening: "What am I talking about? We're cops!"
They like their modest, neat neighborhoold in the Northeast, once all white, now all-black.
"We see so much hardness on our job," Frank says, "it's nice to come homd and see people caring. See their children playing. There are good people down where we work, too. It's very easy to forget these things down there, you see a lot of viciousness and hatred, and there's a real chance of getting hard. But there are good people there."
Neither of them has ever shot anybody, though they have pulled their weapons or occasion. They look for ward to the new hollow nose bullets and say most police on the street have little faith in the regular bullets. "You shoot someone, they jump right back up and keep coming, and that's why you have to shoot so many times. Also, the old ones would go through and hit someone else. When they talk about stopping power, they don't necessarily mean a worse wound, they mean impact. Something that will knock the person down."
Debbie's Quaker family goes along with her being armed, for her own protection. Frank, raised a Lutheran, is not from a gun-toting family either. He's been a policeman five years; she joined the force three years ago, after graduating from college in Wilmington, Ohio.
They have two cats, Girard and Cutton, named after Washington streets ("We thought of Belmont, but that's definitely a dog's name.") They are not ready for children.
DEBBIE: I'd go crazy as a housewife.I just feel like - just being on this job, just the fact that you're here tonight talking with us. I feel some sense of importance. When they line out what I do, people are always asking me. I feel kind of important. What I do is kind of unusual. I think I'm very good at what I do, proud of what I do. And I just think if I had a kid and was stuck at home, I'd go crazy. Couldn't accept it. Who'd ask a housewife what did they do all day? I'd go crazy. So I don't know.
FRANK: When we do have children, if she'd like to have 20 it's okay with me. A lot of guys say they couldn't have their wife be a policeman - uh, police officer - and I say, why not? It's a jon and she's good at it. Maybe we'll have some children in a while.