Former D.C. police chief Jerry Wilson stood awkwardly at the podium, which was too short, and offered advice to the "eight-week wonders" of 10 years ago who had gathered for a reunion.
"Keep flexible and keep your humor," Wilson said. "Change is a lot of fun. A lot of officers like the first 10 years, and then get grouchy the last 10."
The police academy graduates who attended the reunion Saturday night at the Woodner Hotel were members of the only two classes in recent years to speed through the usual four-month academy training in just two months.
Officer Fannie Stephens, who organized the 10-year reunion because "we're halfway to retirement and I thought it would be nice to get together again," laughs when she recalls the accelerated training.
"We learned the general orders, the police manual, the traffic regulations, the D.C. code, self-defense, how to shoot, use mace, run a mile and polish brass in eight weeks," she says. "We came out the eight-week wonders--wondering what we were supposed to do."
No one seems to be able to explain specifically why the two classes were hurried through the academy, except that at the time the department was just concluding a period of rapid expansion set off by then-president Richard M. Nixon's assertion that the nation's capital was also its crime capital.
Everyone Stephens could find from the two classes was invited to the gathering. Most who attended were from Stephens' class of 62 recruits. Among them, 32 remain on the force, 29 are in civilian jobs and one committed suicide. Of the other class of 58 recruits, 31 remain on the force and one died in an accident.
Barbequed ribs, fried chicken, potato salad and beer was the fare, along with old war stories from the streets and talk of baby-sitting problems. Stories that might have embarrassed rookie officers when the incidents occurred were now told with glee--especially by those who have left the force.
For example, Cathy Hurrin, who left the department after a year and now works as a probation officer in Alexandria, is remembered as the woman who smashed up the precinct chief's car when she was asked to drive it downtown to headquarters. "One of my weaknesses is directions," she says. "I get lost easily. Well, I made a left into what I thought was a one-way street and it was two-way. I turned right into the lane of traffic. I totaled the car. I had to listen to jokes about it for weeks."
Assistant Chief Marty M. Tapscott remembers the continuing scramble 10 years ago to keep the strength of the force at 5,100 officers, as mandated by Nixon and Congress. Now, there are fewer than 4,000 officers in the department.
"People were coming in as fast as they were going out," he says. "We had an awful lot of recruits going through the academy. Those who came for the money usually lost interest early on. Those who came to be police officers overcome the stress of the job and mostly stay on. They tend to rejuvenate themselves."
And 1973 was the year the department lowered the height requirement to five feet, partially accounting for an increase in applications from women. "I remember when women were stretching trying to meet that former 5-foot-7 inch requirement," Tapscott said. "A lot of them just couldn't make it."
Wilson, who joined the police force in 1949 and is now a vice president of Peoples Drug Stores, recalled the atmosphere during that period. "Prejudices change. At the tail end of the '40s, the Protestants hated the Catholics. A prejudice against blacks and women was considered logical then. When you came on, the differences between blacks and whites diminished. Now it is women, and that too will diminish."
The class of '73 arrived with high school diplomas and college degrees. Members came from the city of Washington and from small towns in Maryland and Texas and from service in Vietnam. For some, the draw was the $10,000-a-year pay. Some thought of the job as social work, while others wanted the glamor and excitement of emulating television cops like Baretta.
Elton Pinkard, now a recruiting officer for the department, joined the force after his father gave him an ultimatum: find a job or get out of the house. Pinkard, 29, prides himself on his athletic abilities, playing football, softball and basketball for the police teams and for outside teams as well.
Synthia (S.K.) Brown is having a ball as the department's first female motorcycle officer. She says it wasn't easy to learn to pick up a 1,200-pound bike when it falls over.
The instructors "let me struggle," she says. "But then I did pick it up, honey! The way you do it is hitch the motor up over your hip and then the rest of it just goes right up with you. I don't know how it works, but it does. I haven't fallen in a year."
There are officers like Linwood Elliott, who patrols affluent upper Northwest Washington, where "tact is the name of the game" in dealing with the public. And there are those like Tom Costa, now a Richmond attorney, who worked in rougher neighborhoods and remembers the time he tried to subdue a suspect and ended up spraying himself with mace.
On this page are sketches of six of the "eight-week wonders" of 1973.