My degree in English Literature was still unframed when I first walked through the doors of the state police academy in 1988.
What started as a job became an interesting career that spanned more than two decades, three police departments and thousands of service calls.
When I finally gave notice, I knew it would end – just not so dramatically.
True story: It was July 4, 2012, and my partner and I — normally assigned to the gang unit — were on fireworks patrol. It was pretty low-key duty, at least until we spotted a wanted felon hanging out in a parking lot with his street gang.
“Whaddaya wanna do?” my partner asked, well aware that this was my last day.
“What the hell,” I remember saying. One last arrest.
What followed was chaos of the first order. Almost immediately, my partner found himself outnumbered five-to-one while our felon, all six-foot and 350 pounds, chose to ignore the gun in my hand and came at me. The situation, as they say, became fluid.
For the first time in my career, I considered shooting an unarmed man. I didn’t, but in hindsight that could easily have been the wrong decision.
I still get angry when I think about the incident – angry at the stupid 20-year-old kid for forcing me to choose, and angry at myself for putting my life at risk. It was pure luck that no one was hurt, and that my wife and kids didn’t have to live with the consequences.
This experience wasn’t and isn’t rare in police work. Since I had been contributing to The News Tribune editorial section for a few years, I wrote about it.
Soon after, the editorial page editor at that time, Patrick O’Callahan, graciously suggested I write a regular column about the dynamic and complex realm of law enforcement.
What the hell, I remember thinking. One last chance to change people’s minds.
Blue Byline appeared as a TNT blog, addressing topics such as domestic violence, gun safety, drug use and suicide.
Of course, others also harbored strong opinions on these and other matters. Some appreciated my perspective; others did not.
But I was less concerned about criticism. This was about starting a conversation, and it did.
It lasted three years, until O’Callahan dangled another carrot: “You should write a novel.”
I went for it like a fish to a worm, like a mouse to cheese, like some other lame cliché describing someone about to jump in over his or her head.
Sure, I knew nothing about writing more than 700 words, but how hard could it be? I’d just add a few zeros.
Ironically, zero was the number of ideas I had for a novel. But I did have an ace up my sleeve: a location.
Four years and eleven drafts later, “The City of Destiny” has been released by Publisher’s Network.
Set in Tacoma, where unsurpassed views of mountains and water combine with a vibrant and often violent atmosphere, the story is about a police department struggling with gang crime and internal strife as told by a cop with the best of intentions but plenty of baggage.
More than anything, this book was written to honor the service of my former police brethren, especially the notable few whose lives were stolen while performing their duty. Gone but not forgotten.
And if you want to hear the whole story about my last day on the job, check my website for a book signing and come on by.
Brian O’Neill of Gig Harbor is a former Tacoma police officer who invites readers to visit his website at brianobooks.com or check out “The City of Destiny” at Amazon.com. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org