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I wanted to be a spy when I grew up, until my mother told me that girls don’t play with guns.  Then I decided I would be Lady Diana, instead.

But the fascination with cops and criminality didn’t stop.  It just grew latent, relegated to fiction and television shows, and a voyeuristic fascination every time those blinking sirens whirred by.

Then there was a shooting on my block. One morning, on my way to work, I walked out of my building to a scene from CSI.  The street was roped off with bright yellow Crime Scene tape, cops were milling about, talking, photographing, investigating.  There were guns everywhere, neatly tucked into holsters. I stared — and had to forcibly wrench myself away to my much more civilized day job.

But I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I realized that maybe this was something I had to do.  At the very least, it was something I had to pursue. I started doing my own investigation. I started figuring out what lay between me and a police badge.

The first step was a written test in a local community center. It was me, a group of muscular ex-military men, and a couple women. One was a professional trainer, the others looked like they spent most of their time on the couch.  I was feeling more optimistic about my state of physical fitness.

The written test entailed three short essays on such topics as “Describe a decision you made that you now regret” and “Describe a situation in which you helped someone.”  They were essays that you knew were being evaluated both for your communication abilities but also for your psychological status.  I was very nervous.  My palms were sweating and my hand hurt from the endless writing.  I proofread my essays several times and was still one of the first to turn hers in.

I was convinced that I wouldn’t pass.  That my essays were too edgy — instead of describing a decision that I regretted, I described, instead, my opinion that all experiences could be learned from and there weren’t “proper” mistakes — or that they hadn’t shown the proper psychological aptitude. But my fears were misplaced. About a month later, I received a notice in the mail that I had passed and steps 2 and 3 awaited me.

My next appointments were a background investigation and a physical aptitude test which would measure my strength and cardiovascular abilities. No pull-ups, thank god, but I still had a lot of training ahead of me before I would feel prepared for the aptitude test (PAT) or the police academy, which, if I kept sailing through my appointments, could be as close as half a year away.

I began hitting the gym like it was my part-time job.  I averaged three hours a day, six days a week.  I devised a routine based on a book written by a former member of a S.W.A.T. team with advice provided by a friend training for the Marines.  I was in decent shape, but I had a long way to go before I was police academy fit. My cardio needed a massive leap, and I had to master the pull-up. For the academy, I had to be able to pull myself over a six foot wall. I also needed pure physical strength to get me through everything else the academy would require.

In addition to my gym workout, I started attending the occasional CAP session. CAP stands for Candidate Assistance Program, and it’s free training offered to pre-academy applicants. It’s to get you into serious shape while getting you used to academy exercises and routines. Don’t let the pre-academy status fool you into thinking that it’s a group of people getting together a couple times a week to run some laps.  The attitude is total military, which for a liberal arts kind of girl was a huge culture shock.

You meet at the Police Academy. Everyone has to wear matching outfits, dark grey sweatpants with elastic at the ankle, dark grey sweatshirt with your last name silkscreened on the front and back, white t-shirt with your last name on the front and back, and dark blue shorts. No logos on anything, no stripes or patterns. No jewelry. No makeup (for girls). No facial hair (for boys). If you didn’t have the uniform for your first session, you were forgiven. If you didn’t have the uniform for your second session, you were given a hard time. If you didn’t have the uniform for your third time, you were asked to leave and told to get serious.

So there we were, in our matching sweatpants and sweatshirts, our last names emblazoned on our shirts so that our supervisors could bark commands at us (“What’s wrong with you, Holzman?” “Why are you holding up the pack, Smith?” “An extra lap for everyone, thanks to Gonzalez,”  etc.).  When we weren’t running laps, we were organized in military precision into rows in the middle of the track at the local academy, doing sit-ups and push-ups and jumping jacks and whatever else they threw at us. And that was all warm-up until we were taken to the obstacle course.  After dark, when the official future police officers had gone home, the facilities belonged to us wannabes.  

Read part two here