The radio spot seemed to be playing all the time.
Do something for your community, it coaxed. Be respected. Get well paid. Be where the action is.
It was 1971, and Paul Wyland, then 20 years old, heeded the call to become a policeman for the District of Columbia. He quit his "glorified mailboy" courier job and nearly doubled his salary overnight because the police were paying top dollar, $8,500 a year to start.
Now, 10 years later, Wyland is still on the job, he is still doing something for the community, but he's not so sure about the respect he gets and the money he's paid.
"I expect to do my 20 [years for retirement] to the day," Wyland said in a recent interview. "I enjoy the job, but when I do 20, I'm gone."
Maybe it's something about the job, maybe it's just part of getting older, he says, but things are different today. He sees less glamor and respect in his job. He's looking for part-time work to supplement his police income. He socializes less with fellow officers, doesn't even watch cop shows on television. He and his wife, Kathy, have drawn more into their own world, but even that has not always been easy.
Stocky and mild-mannered, the Pennsylvania-born Wyland, now 30 years old, fairly typifies today's D.C. force where average length of service is about 10 years and the average age is about 34. Like most officers, Wyland lives in the suburbs, and like a bare majority of the total force, he is white.
Older, wiser and more cautious than his counterpart a decade ago, Wyland is today's front-line officer. He has also see the force go from the golden era of the Nixon administration when the department doubled in size to 5,100 officers and could get almost anything it wanted from a friendly Congress to just another city agency fighting for crumbs in the District's cash-starved treasury. Morale is sagging. Internal squabbling increased recently over a pay contract settlement that left many officers dissatisfied.
"He's a lot more cynical now," says Wyland's wife."He tends to see the worst in people before he sees the good. Of course, it probably comes from dealing with the worst."
"But I still enjoy the job," Wyland insists. He worries that the public has less respect for the job he does and acknowledges that he knows many officers who would quit but are "economically tied" to their jobs. "They make themselves miserable. I still say to myself, I enjoy the job."
"The job," for Wyland is patrolling with a K-9 Corps police dog in Northeast Washington's 5th Police District.
"I worried a lot in the beginning," Kathy said. "I wouldn't sleep at night when he was working. Now, I sleep at night."
Wyland said he tries "not to bring home war stories."
"That's an agreement we made long ago," she volunteered, looking straight at her husband.
Going out for dinner usually means avoiding restaurants and night spots in the District of Columbia because Wyland is required to wear his service revolver anytime he is inside the city, on duty or not.
They try, like other couples to have friends outside the force, but many people they meet look askance at his line of work. "It's not that they don't respect us, it's more, 'Why would you take a job like that?'"
Wyland recalls when he first signed up, the District was considered the place to be a policeman. It was where you went to be a "real policeman," he said, not the suburbs where officers mainly patrolled bedroom communities.
But that's not so true any more, he says. Suburban police have "caught up in pay and seem to get more respect from their communities," he said.
At 31, Kathy Wyland has quit her data processing job to try word processing on a free-lance basis. "Her income is almost up to mine," says Paul Wyland whose police salary is almost $22,000 a year, an income that on paper has barley kept ahead of inflation. They're interested in starting a family, but are just now trying to decide how they can afford it.
They live in a single-family house they bought in Arlington a couple of years ago for $80,000. It is now worth more than $100,000. Like many other couples, they say they couldn't afford to buy the same house again because of increased interest rates and down payments.
A few years ago when the D.C. City Council was considering a proposal to require all officers to live in the city, Wyland said he and other officers, both black and white, joked about buying an entire city block and putting a chain link fence around it. That way, he said, they figured they'd take the roughest block in their district and solve two problems at once.
Inflation, he says, has sharply limited his favorite pasttime, travel with his wife out West and along the East Coast. At home more, Kathy stays absorbed in her work. "I'm busier now," she says. They eat out a lot becasue of the time she spends on her word processing business, but "it's usually the Steak & Egg," she says, not a luxury restaurant.
Wyland helps manage a Boy Scout troop, taking it on week-long hikes from time to time.
He used to have a few beers with fellow officers at the Fraternal Order of Police lounge at Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. He doesn't do that much anymore, he says, in part because of the costs, but also because he sees it as part of a maturing process.
He'd like to take a part-time job. "The extra money would help out," he says, and he's waiting for the City Council to approve a bill letting officers wear their uniforms on part-time jobs, a routine practice in Prince George's County and some other jurisdictions. "That's what businessmen want to buy, your presence," Wyland said.
The D.C. police officers' new pay contract, which gives Wyland and his fellow officers a $1,000 bonus this year but doesn't raise their wage base for another two years, is viewed criticallly by many rank-and-file officers. They say it works out to a one time, 3 to 6 percent bonus while superior officers are scheduled to get a permanent 7 percent increase.
Wyland said newly appointed Police Chief Maurice Turner has a reservoir of good will among the officers, but Wyland worried that the contract issue has the force "more upset than I've ever seen."
On racial issues, Wyland said he believes the department is doing better than in past years. The force was only about 30 percent black when he joined but is now near 50 percent. More to the point, he says, many officers have worked together so long that "it doesn't matter what color you are. You're just blue."
As for his politics, Wyland says he's been all over the map. "I always vote," he said, but he didn't say how. A decade ago, he says, he was "a young, white liberal, peace movement [supporter] and all that garbage." He became more conservative in the early 1970s, but "in the last couple of years I've mellowed out. I've been more tolerant, but definitely not liberal," he says.
Kathy described herself as a waning liberal, lately leaning to the position that, "you've got no power, so why bother."
They married in 1974, six years after Kathy was lured to Washington from her upstate New York high school by a federal government recruiter who told her there were 10 men to every woman here and urged her to "bring all your party dresses because there is a party every night."
The social life didn't quite turn out that way. They have several friends on the police force, mostly within the K-9 unit, but, Paul Wyland says, "the job" can intrude here, too. "When you get them in groups," he says of some of the officers, "they tend to go into character . . . [and] take on a sterotype" of the macho police officer.
Family members in Altoona, Pa., where Paul is from, and Buffalo, N.Y., Kathy's hometown, have idealized images of the police, the Wyland's said.
Paul said his widowed mother keeps a picture of him in uniform with his dog. "She has images," Kathy says, of him standing in front of the White House, guarding it, not the seedy business corridor of New York Avenue NE where he spends much of his time.
Police shows on television get low marks from both the Wylands.
They "always start out with a policeman dying; who needs to watch that?" Kathy says. "I liked Dirty Harry [movies], Paul said. "I don't like TV police shows."
He said a few officers "watch the glorified TV shows. They get into it" and bring those macho images to work. He can do without that, says Wyland. "It's nice when things come out neat at the end," he says, "But it doesn't happen that way."