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If you've ever seen a classic rookie-cop film, like 1990's The Rookie, then you know the score: you've got the old, grizzled veteran all set in his old-school ways, you've got the wet-behind-the-ears rookie, and adventures and hijinks ensue -- not to mention some pretty spectacular action scenes.
"On TV they make it look so cool," says Kimberly Curry, a rookie officer with the Montgomery County Police Department, "They jump out of the huge, black trucks and they bust down doors. You know: 'Police! Everybody show me your hands!'"
But Curry says in reality, it's a bit less dramatic: "Put it this way: I haven't jumped out of a black SUV and kicked down anybody's door!"
At age 25, though, Curry's seen a fair share of action during her first 18 months as a patrol officer in Germantown, Md. On a recent overnight shift, Curry patrolled the area in a police SUV, and got continual updates from a laptop computer and the police radio.
In just a few hours, she responded to a 911 call from a potentially mentally-disturbed woman who claimed voices were threatening to kill her; she pulled over a driver who'd blazed his way through a no-turn-on-red light; and she provided back-up to a senior officer who'd stopped a kid for drinking in an abandoned parking lot. By the time she arrived, the officer had cuffed the 19-year-old, who, apparently, had initially lied about his name and age.
Kimberly Curry says her initial inspiration for getting in on all this action was her uncle.
"Growing up, my uncle was a police officer in this department for years," she recalls. "And he just always had a very demanding presence. When he walked into a room people paid him so much respect, and I just admired that. And that helped push me in to it."
But Curry admits her first few weeks in the police academy were pretty intimidating.
"I mean, you have all these people with brass on their shoulders, and you're like, 'is that my sergeant? Is that my lieutenant? I don't know who that is!'" she says. "In the academy, you had to address them by their rank, yet you could not look at them. I'm like, 'without sounding like an idiot, how am I supposed to know what your rank is if I can't see your shoulder?' But we mastered the art of glancing out of the corner of our eye to catch their rank."
Curry says she and her 30, mostly male classmates also had to master all kinds of law, from constitutional to criminal. "Day one, we get there and there are two stacks of books on your desk, and you can't see over top of them!"
But Curry made it through, and now ranks as Police Officer One, which she describes as "bottom of the barrel."
"I mean, we have full police powers," she explains. "So I get to do everything a PO3 [does], which is the highest patrol officer except sergeant. But 'bottom of the barrel,' meaning if I go on a call with a PO3, he calls the shots."
And quite often, Curry says, she actually prefers being so deferent.
"There are times you get on the scene of a call, and you're like, 'I feel like a rookie! I don't know what to do with this!' And then sometimes I run call with the officers who just got out of the academy. So I'm the senior car. Uh, that's weird! I'm like, 'I have six months on you! Like, that's it!'
But sometimes, she says, those six months can make a big difference.
"It's fun because then I actually feel like I know what I'm doing and they don't," she says with a laugh.
Curry says since getting out on the street, she's learned all sorts of things: the neighborhood, the people, not to mention all that cool police lingo - like "41," which means "OK."
"It comes from the old 10 Code," she explains. "We don't use those anymore. But '41,' it's easier than 'I'm okay.' And then sometimes you use our phonetic alphabet: 'I'm Ocean King.'"
Curry says in the police force, you're considered a rookie for the first five years. And once her five years are up, she hopes to get promoted and, ideally, keep protecting and serving the community here in Germantown: a place she's truly grown to love, even if it's nothing like a movie or TV show.
The reality may be far less glamorous, far less dramatic. But PO1 Kimberly Curry says she can imagine being a cop for the long haul. For her, that would be positively "41" - if not "Ocean King."
[Music: "Bad Boys (COPS Theme)" by Inner Circle from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twBD3JgEh9o]