George Steel was sure in 1973 that he'd only stay in the police department for one year. Ten years later, he's happy that he's still an officer and has made plans to retire in 15 more years--preferably, he says, as the city's police chief.
Steel, 32, came into the department expecting to encounter "brutality, ignorance and racism." But by the end of the first year, he says, he was "enthralled with the variety of personalities and the camaraderie of the officers I worked with." He had been interested in law school, but that interest disappeared after "a lot of contact with dirty lawyers."
Steel, now a homicide detective, sees police work as social work. "Police work is strictly taking care of people," he says. "We are the representatives of the government to the vast segment of the public." Steel credits this viewpoint to his first partner, who he said took an active social role in patrolling the densely populated Eckington and Bloomingdale neighborhoods that border North Capitol Street near Rhode Island Avenue.
The homicide branch is considered a prestigious assignment, and Steel says he enjoys the work. But he says it is the uniformed officer who has the greatest impact.
"The scout car officer is closest to the community, and has the greatest job satisfaction. It is also the hardest job, to be a conscientious uniformed officer in a scout car, because you have the most stress and the most responsibility," he says.
"You spend 8 1/2 hours wearing a uniform and everybody is looking at you. You may have just locked up two bad guys, but when you stop for that cup of coffee, that is what the public sees. When the department and the citizens don't appreciate the job you do, you stop appreciating the job you do."