by Rick Anderson
I remember the day that I called my mother and told her I was hired as a police officer. She was ecstatic, elated, and very excited. That was until I told her where I had been hired. It seems strange now how it all got started, my search for a career as a cop. I started in Anchorage, Alaska. But I got a bit sidetracked when I became a wrangler for a big game guide and spent the summer of 1976 in the Alaskan bush, breaking, chasing horses, and having an adventure most people only dream of having.
I returned to Anchorage and spent the fall and winter months working for a catering company at the Anchorage International Airport. I started as the janitor and ended up managing their storeroom, getting supplies, taking inventory, and picking up shipments at oh-dark thirty at the airport in freezing, snowing, frigid temperatures. It was kind of fun. I worked by myself and set my own schedule. I just had to make sure that the meals for the airlines that we contracted out to Alaskan, Korean, and Japan airlines had steaks, cutlery, and napkins for the passengers who ate the meals. I even remembered the toilet paper. We supplied it all. But I really wanted to be a cop. So I up and enlisted in the army.
I entered the U.S. Army in April, 1977. I went in as a military policeman and spent the next three years in Europe. West Germany was where I was stationed and the “WALL” had not come down yet. My first duty assignment was at the Nike Hercules Missile base in the farm country of central Germany. They were tipped with some awfully bad warheads and pointed east where the danger was supposed to be coming from. I worked as a tower rat, in physical security, watched grass grow and sunrises. I did that for the first nine months and then got re-assigned to a garrison unit, or actual police company in Darmstadt, West Germany.
At Darmstadt, I learned martial arts from a Hawaiian named Mr. Silva. I trained very hard, working out every day for 3-6 hours a day for fourteen months. I wasn’t half bad. I was one-on-one for the first few months of my training and then I found a sparring partner from my platoon named Kelvin Knudson. Kelvin and I spent the rest of our time in the military beating each other up and beating up on other students that Mr. Silva had visit.
After I left the service, I stayed in Portland, Oregon with an old friend and started looking for work as a police officer with agencies that had openings. I tried for four months to get hired on with agencies around the state. I took tests, oral boards, put lots of miles on my car, but had no luck. I stopped at every county sheriff’s office, city police department that I could think of, except real big cities. I didn’t feel like a 'big town' cop. I have never liked crowds much, so it was the rural departments and smaller cities that I was searching for with no luck.
One day I read the want ads of the local paper, ‘The Oregonian’. I saw an ad for the Warm Springs Police Department hidden in the back of the section. I thought to myself, “What the heck? I might as well give this a shot.” So I sent them a résumé. I waited for about two months for at least a “thanks for applying” response, but didn’t hear anything from them. So I decided to go check it out and see why they didn’t send me a “thanks, but no thanks” letter.
I drove over the mountain and through the woods, but to grandmother’s house I did not arrive. I showed up at the front door of another country - Indian country. Warm Springs is an Indian reservation. Located in central Oregon, the reservation covers about twenty-three square miles of territory. From the peak of Mt. Jefferson, to the eastern edge of the Warm Springs river, the land belongs to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Three Indian tribes make up the federation: the Warm Springs, the Paiute, and one other tribe that I can’t remember at this time.
I stopped at the office of the Police department and asked about my application. I was shown into an office where I met Sgt. Ray Calica. Sgt. Calica was the assistant chief. He asked me why I stopped by and I told him: “Most departments at least sent out a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ letter to applicants and I hadn’t heard back from here. So I decided to drop by and see what happened to my letter”. He replied, “Nothing happened to your application, I have it right here on top of my desk.” Sure enough, there it was right in front of me. We talked about my background, he asked me several more questions, and then he told me he would be in touch with me. I thought, “Yeah, right,” as I walked out the door and headed back to Portland.
But, as God would have it, within the week, I received a call from Sgt. Calica asking me if I was still interested in working for the department. I said, “You bet!” And my career in law enforcement had officially started. I called my mom to tell her the good news, and like I said before, she was really happy for me until I told her that I was working as a cop on an Indian reservation. She didn’t like that at all. She said, “Rick, it is dangerous being a cop on an Indian reservation. I am worried for your safety.” I said, “Mom, it’s dangerous being a cop anywhere. I will be okay.” She replied, “Okay, but you just watch out for yourself. Remember, they don’t like white people much.” I said, “Mom, the Indian reservation isn’t the only place that doesn’t like white people. I will be okay, don’t worry.”
My mom grew up in a different culture than I did. I was raised in Oregon while my mom was raised in the hillbilly country of West Virginia and Tennessee. The perspective on colors and the like is slightly different in that part of the country. At least I thought so.
I was to start work on August 1st. So, the week before I was supposed to start, I came into the office to check in, and to complete some paperwork. I was seated in the office room next to the main secretary’s desk in a wooden school chair when I met the man who was to be my training officer for the first time.
I was just finishing up on the health insurance stuff when Cliff first walked in the room. I knew that someone had come in because the lights started dimming. It was like a solar eclipse was happening in the middle of the room, he was so big. At least six foot five inches this man stood. Frankly, I didn’t think that they grew them that big on the reservation, but here he stood. And he wasn’t an ounce under three hundred forty pounds. This sucker was huge.
Cliff had jet black hair that glistened like shiny coal. It fell long and straight ending in the middle of his mammoth back. The secretary, Sylvia, introduced us, saying: “Cliff, let me introduce you to your trainee. This is Rick.”
Cliff looked down at me and from where I sat, he was looking down a long ways. I looked up into his eyes and saw two black pinpoints of glistening obsidian, sparkling with mirth. He had a rectangular pock-marked face with a bulbous nose and thick lips. Huge hands were dangling at his side with the right hand real close to a holstered revolver that would put Clint Eastwood to shame it was so big. He carried the same weapon that Dirty Harry used; it was just that the gun was at eye level with me, and a .44 magnum that close still looks huge.
As Cliff looked at me he asked me in his baritone voice that had hints of gravel in it: “So, you think you can be a white cop on an Indian reservation?” I looked up at him and said, “It won’t be much different than being a white cop in a black army base.”
Cliff’s eyes changed then. In a moment, mirth and humor vanished. His eyes turned into black holes, sucking all life and light from the room. His baritone voice went down an octave and became softer, quieter. He spoke with astonished menace when he said back to me: “You calling me black?”
I held his gaze. I don’t know how, but I did. I thought to myself: “Man, I haven’t even started yet, and already I am getting in a fight. This guy is big. I can take him, but it isn’t going to be easy. I didn’t bring a lunch with me. This is going to be a very long day.”
I responded to Cliff, still looking into those black holes. “Nope, I am not calling you black at all, (I think Cliff still harbored resentment against the 10th cavalry). I just said that being a white cop on an Indian reservation isn’t much different than being a white cop on a mostly black army post. Neither one like the color white very much. I did okay there, I think I will do okay here.”
Cliff looked me straight in the eyes and I watched the light come back into the room as the mirth and humor returned. He turned to Sylvia and said: “He’ll do.” Then he walked out of the room.
Sylvia looked over at me and told me it was okay to breathe now and I let out a huge sigh of relief that I survived without being shot, scalped, or beat on. Sylvia later told me that the best thing I ever did was to stand up to Cliff that day. I am still trying to figure out how I could stand up to someone over six feet tall when I was sitting in a chair two feet high. I was just glad I was sitting down, so no one could see my knees knock together.