Editor's Note: Back after a brief 3-year unpaid sabbatical, "Behind The Badge" is back! The popular series written by Al Hobbs was published weekly from June through October in 2017. Al writes on a wide range of topics on Law Enforcement but focuses mostly on the human element of being a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO). Al brings a unique writing style that allows him to connect with his readers.

The Masked Avenger!

Been a while, how have you been? How’s the weather? I’m looking at a standing 26” of snow and -8 temps. And with that statement so ends most signs of normalcy around here. I imagine it does where you are too.

Looking at today's world, I sometimes struggle to recognize it!

  • Build the Wall - Lock Her Up & Not My President
  • Businesses & Schools shut down - Learn & Work From Home employment sweeps the Country
  • Protests & Riots
  • Destroying, Burning & Looting Businesses & Stores
  • Defund the Police - Abolish ICE
  • Police Reform - Coming soon to a neighborhood near you
  • CHAD\CHAZ - Did anyone get a chance to travel outside the country this past summer? Say to ... Seattle?
  • It’s 9 PM, do you know where your statue is? Probably broken or defaced would be my guess
  • Supreme Court - the High School Years
  • COVID-19 - Masks, Sanitizers & Vaccines
  • Video conferenced families & holidays
  • Elections - That was fun! Stop the Steal & Not My President; Part II
  • Impeachment & Impeachment - The Sequel
  • White Supremacy - Neo Nazi’s & Fascism
  • Cancel Culture
  • Murder Hornets! By the way, what happened to Murder Hornets? I think I missed them!
  • Happy New Year? Which by the way, I’m compelled to mention that 2021 was the year the Mad Max movie was set in!

So many topics! What to write about? More important... what NOT to write about?

As usual, my articles focus on events from a cop's perspective, namely, this cop, me. These are not meant to lay blame, assign value or minimize other’s beliefs. We have enough of that to go around. If you want someone to validate your feelings, opinions & beliefs there are plenty of media sources firmly planted on one side or the other of every topic, and then some to either validate your viewpoint or minimize it. To validate that you’re “Right”, or attack you because you are “Wrong”. This is not the place for that.

Of course, you can always check the “Hollywood” crowd. Folks who spend their life playing make-believe as someone else are always willing to give you their opinions on what you should believe or feel. Oh don’t worry about disagreeing with them, it’s okay they will “get over it” by telling you how wrong you are, or “canceling” you out!

Do I have opinions? Oh, you betcha! However, due to my position as a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO), they will remain private and not for public consumption, or expression, except where noted.

Thanks to the Cancel Culture, it’s just not a select few who suffer the fall out of public expression anymore. Now you too can enjoy “conditional” Free Speech! Depending on your position in the community or business you also may face the threat of unemployment or worse for voicing your opinion, which lately seems to require Social Justice approval. Just this week mainstream media reported 3 more additions to the unemployment rolls due to their expression of opinions. Like others, over the recent years, some were “canceled” for current words, deeds, or actions, but most were for things from their past.

So why am I back now? Well, I had a thirst to renew these articles, so I reached out to DrydenWire with my request. Fortunately, I know people there, Hey Ben!! How’s my favorite nephew? Favorite nephew... named Ben Dryden that is!! Can’t upset his older brother Matt now can I?

For our new readers, and a refresher for established ones, you see I am the brother of the now-retired Washburn County Sheriff Terry Dryden, I might add the younger and some might say better-looking brother! One person can be considered “some”, right?

In fact, even though I have always called Chicago home, I have spent many summers in my youth up North there with cousins and eventually, when Terry and family moved North, with them. Bailed hay, rode horses, hunted, and in general, did all the things you experience daily, but to a city kid, a real treat! Well not sure about the bailing hay part! How can straw be that dang heavy?!?

Well as normal, give a cop a platform and he never shuts up! On traffic stops when I sense a “warning only” coming up, I offer the driver, a “ticket or a lecture?” Followed by; “My kids don’t listen to me, so that leaves you, the lucky winner. That is if you have time to listen to why you should not have done what you did, and maybe a bad... dad joke or 2!”

Remember regardless of all the misinformation and public perceptions; quotas, bored, nothing-better-to-do, and my favorite... Why aren’t you out catching real criminals? The goal of traffic stops has been, is, and will always be to “modify bad\negative driving behavior”, hard stop. Sometimes that’s just a warning, other times a ticket and for our frequent flyers, it sometimes ends in an arrest and the driver wearing my ever-stylish bracelets, connected of course by a chain so I don’t lose them! You know, just like kids' mittens!

Wow!! ou guys and gals are a great audience!! I have not heard one “get to the point officer yet!” So back to my point - Ben and the other DrydenWire folks took pity on an old cop, and “Uncle Al”, with lots to say and no one to listen. Plus... I think it may have been a slow news day as well, so they figured sure, why not?

Thirst is not quenched by a fire hose, that’s called drowning! So we will wade these turbulent waters by dipping a toe in here and there over upcoming articles. All of course from my perspective and experience as a cop, now with over 40 years of guns, badges, and donuts behind it! No powdered or jelly-filled please, they clash with the uniform!

Where to begin? Let’s start with the obvious, where have I been since my last article in 2017, which introduced some life, position, and address changes for me;

First and probably most important, was my second heart attack and a renewed call to reduce stress in my life. You see in both my attacks, they were not caused by a weak heart, quite the contrary, my heart is strong. It was caused, according to my cardiologist by constant stress which released a steady stream of adrenaline, which when unchecked causes plaque to break free from artery walls. This jammed up the pipes leading to my heart. A stent here a stent there and I’m once again vertical and caffeinated! Reduced stress, eh, we can talk about that later.

The second change, and one in which probably negates the “reduce stress” mandates of my doctor, was a new position, as a technical analyst in a CyberSecurity Defense Center (CSDC). Housed in a hardened and underground bunker sorta place, about 150 miles south of me in central Illinois.

I worked there 4 days a week, 10 hours a day. I maintained (WFH for now) an apartment and would commute there Tuesdays at 3 AM and back home Friday’s after my day - only to work 12-hour street shifts over the weekends. Who needs sleep anyway!

When COVID-19 started to hit with a vengeance, The CSDC ordered us to work from home (WFH). After all the very term, “Cyber” tells you the position was based in the Internet\Web\Network environment. So with a truck full of equipment and MiFi access points in hand, on March 13 I headed home for what we were told was about 2 weeks. Now just shy of a full year later I only return South for In-Person emergencies or to check on my apartment to ensure it has not been taken over by wolves or squatters. Honestly, either is possible, I’m surrounded by cornfields on 3 sides, and my CSDC “Bunker” on the 4th as my neighbor. Ironically, twice a week I drove 150 miles, only to commute less than a 1/4 mile round trip to work the remaining 3. It took longer to warm up the car than it did to get to my “office”.

My LEO duties and shifts on the street were altered as well. In my golden years now, having once retired, I’ve given up the big city crime-fighting for a NorthShore (Lake Michigan) community, just north of the big city I’ve called home for many decades now. As you may recall from my earlier writings, I love where I am assigned. When a young up-and-coming LEO, I craved action, excitement, and adventure. My current agency and community would not have sated that itch. Now, however... I am fully satisfied being waved to, having residents say “thank you” and enjoying the many treats, cakes, and various yummy items the community brings into the department. All just to show their appreciation of the police, THEIR police.

That’s the difference! We are THEIR police officers. The community and the police share in making the community safe, enjoyable, and built on mutual trust and bonds that were established long ago.

For the first time since the late 1800s, the police department had to cancel our annual open-house due to COVID-19. While we were all, residents and LEO’s alike disappointed, as a department, we elected to use the monies budgeted for this to instead purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including masks when they were in short supply for anyone in the community who needed them. We had hundreds of these “kits” with sanitizer and gloves all packaged up and residents would come to the department and take what they needed. Not one example of anyone hoarding or taking more than they required was witnessed. And it was all on the honor system, they were out in the lobby and available to anyone who needed them.

We also implemented a “no contact” approach to non-emergency response. All of our squad cars are equipped with cell phones and computers, including internet access. When dispatched, we would phone the caller\complainant and take the report over the phone. Only emergency calls were answered in person, and as safely as possible given the virus.

As 2020 wore on, more changes were implemented, many vacation and days off were canceled. Some officers, like myself who are at higher risk of either contracting the virus or suffer harsher symptoms and consequences as a result of infection were assigned over-night shifts or “admin” assignments at home or in the station. This was not only to protect us from infection but also provide the department with “backup” officers as street cops were starting to test positive, taken out of rotation, and began becoming sick. Fortunately for our department, all recovered with no lasting or permanent impairments. Sadly, the same can not be said for some officers in surrounding departments, several now have either long-term health issues or worse, have died from complications.

This is not unique to Law Enforcement nor me as an LEO or even just a person. I’m sure we have all experienced loss of family, friends, or co-workers, or at the very least know of someone who has. The one thing COVID-19 has demonstrated is that it did not seem to care who, what or where it spread and infected. Sure, wealthier persons could afford to “stay home” and have essentials delivered rather than risking a trip to the store or other public venue. But likewise, I can tell you there are plenty of wealthy families in my LEO community that suffered just as many if not more infections than others in lower-income areas.

To say that money does not provide “some” level of protection or safety or just a better quality of quarantine would be a lie, but to say it is a factor in the many hundreds of thousands infected would also be a lie. But then again what do I know, I’m only a cop and a masked one at that!

To Mask Or Not To Mask - patrolling the COVID world... Let’s address this “Badge Wearer’s” take on that next time on Behind the (Masked) Badge!


About the Author

Al Hobbs is a retired police detective from the metro Chicago area. He has been a Law Enforcement Officer at the City, County, State and Federal level in excess of 40 years. His career has taken him all over the nation and the world. Although Al has been involved in all aspects of criminal investigation as well as general police duties, for over 15 years he has also been a computer forensics examiner, investigating over 500 cases of Child Exploitation and Internet Crimes Against Children. He believes these investigations and the protection of our children to be his highest calling. He is once again on the street as an active LEO for a North Shore community, just north of Chicago in Illinois.



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