Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Odd Jobs

By Annette Dashofy

I’ve always been lured by the occasion odd job. Maybe it goes back to being a kid picking up some spare spending money by doing a little work for Grandpap on the farm. These days, my designated odd job usually takes the form of critter sitting.

However, this weekend, I picked up another odd job. I became a proctor for the City of Pittsburgh. The opportunity arose in the form of a bulk email that went out to all graduates of the Citizens’ Police Academy asking if anyone would be interested in serving as a proctor for the police recruits’ written exam. Payment was involved and since I’m still waiting for that elusive book contract, other sources of income are always welcome. Besides, anything that takes me inside the workings of the police sounds like a good chance to do some research.

I emailed back that I was interested.

After calling to confirm my interest, the Proctor Coordinator mailed me a packet of information and instructions. Eight pages of instructions, to be precise. Page One began with “The following instructions are very important. Be sure you read and know these instructions thoroughly before reporting to the Convention Center.”

What was I getting myself into?

But I dutifully spent Friday night studying the pages.

Saturday morning, attired in the comfortable clothes recommended in the instructions and my trusty New Balance sneakers (suitable for five hours of walking on concrete floors), I drove into the city, successfully avoiding the massive construction projects that were going on this weekend.

When I arrived at the testing room on the second level of the David Lawrence Convention Center, I was asked to fill out some paperwork and then I received a blue apron and a name badge. Considering the stern nature of the instructions I’d been studying, I was surprised and relieved at how friendly everyone was. My supervisor and I finished setting out the testing materials with enough time to spare for me to locate key points of interest: The snack room and the restrooms.

At 9:30AM we all gathered at one end of the hall for our orientation. Basically, it was a review of the instructions and procedures. We were told that they had no idea how many would actually show up for the test although roughly 1,300 had applied. When the recruits entered, they would be directed to the rear of the room to fill up those rows first. My row was in a section near the front. It was possible there wouldn’t be enough recruits to fill our section. In that case, we would be “extras.”

Just before 10AM, we were ordered to stand by our rows. “Battle stations,” I whispered to the fellow who headed the row next to mine. Our supervisor pronounced us ready. The doors opened the sea of recruits marched in.

They were a cross-section of society. Many more men than women, but they were large (some very large) and small (dare I say SKINNY), young (one girl looked to me to be about 12, but that may say more about my age than hers) and old (well, older than I expected, some appearing to be well into their 40s). Note: Hey! I’m 49. I’m not saying 40s are old, but for a police recruit…yeah.

There were a few that looked and dressed like good choices to go undercover in the gang unit. A couple of guys were clean-cut to the max and wore suits and ties. Bucking for captain, perhaps?

The rows in the rear filled in. The rows on the sides, too. But the tide of recruits dwindled to a trickle and ended before they reached the three front sections, including mine.

Several supervisors and the cop who was the main recruiter all powwowed, counting filled tables. It seems there was a betting pool going on about how many would show. I did not hear who won. We ended up with a few more than 720. And I ended up as an extra.

My first task was clearing my tables of testing supplies and turning the booklets and blank answer sheets back in to the supply table. Then my supervisor handed me a stack of surveys the recruits had just filled out. Several of us sat down and tallied the results to indicate where they had learned of the test and how they had been recruited. The results were interesting. The largest number by far came from the city’s website. Many more had been told about the test by city employees and family or friends. Quite a few read about it in the Post Gazette. Nice to know folks still get information from the newspaper.

With that chore completed, I spent the rest of the time circulating the room, filling in for other proctors so they could take a break, or just being an extra set of eyes. This gave me a chance to get a closer look at some of the varieties of people who have dreams of becoming a cop.

There was the skinny kid with short flame-red hair. He wore long sleeves, but had some impressive tats on his hands and fingers. One girl wore red boots, red belt, and a sharp black and red outfit complete with plenty of bling. A very large fellow wore a head-to-toe brown velour sweat suit. I walked behind one seated test-taker who, I can only assume, was a plumber. After that, I avoided that row.

One of the guys from my Citizens’ Police Academy class was there, taking the test. He was so intent and focused, I didn’t dare disturb him to say “hi.”

In fact, I saw quite a lot of nerves in that room. Bouncing feet seem to be the most popular indicator of stress during a test. But some guys appeared ready to rip hair from their heads. I concluded I was much happier being there, doing what I was doing than if I were doing what they were doing.

There was three hours allotted for the test. Some finished in just over one. A handful took the entire time permitted.

So what’s next for these eager recruits? Those who pass this test will then take a physical test. Of those who pass both, maybe the top 200 will be called up when the next police academy class commences. From those, 25 or 30 will actually make it to becoming a police officer.

Sounds like pretty good odds compared to what we deal with when trying to get published.

As for me and my new odd job… I have signed up to proctor for another test next month for potential fire fighter recruits.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, Annette!

Get any information on what's in the test?

Joyce Tremel said...

I always thought it would be fun to take a sample test just to see if I could pass it! If there was any math involved, I'd be in big trouble.

Annette said...

Tory, I didn't get a chance to look inside the test booklet except when one recruit asked me about one of the questions. It had to do with how many traffic citations you'd had and she wanted to know if it referred only to those where she'd been found guilty. But part or our instructions had been that we couldn't help them with the questions.

My fellow CPA alumnus told me he found studying the civil service books came in really handy.

Annette said...

Joyce, there were several test-takers who were our age there. I did wonder if they were trying to get into law enforcement rather late or if they were seeing if they could pass.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Shoot, I couldn't tell you how many traffic citations I've had. I guess that's an indicator of age too. I know I've talked my way out of more than I've actually received.

Interesting way to spend a Saturday.

Anonymous said...

Extra money is always a good thing. I have a monthly-at-least odd job, editing reports for a friend who speaks English as a second language. She does very well, even has a masters acquired in the US, but she does not always consistently remember how to punctuate or spell.

And I just worked as an election official last week, which should net about $150. It was a long day (6 AM to 8:45 PM), but it felt like doing my civic duty, to help our voting process go smoothly.

Karen in Ohio

Jenna said...

Sounds like fun, Annette! Lots of scope for character analysis. I can feel a book idea coming on... (like I need another one).

Odd jobs and picking up spending money is nice, when you can get it. I don't have time anymore, unfortunately. Not entirely sure whether that's good or bad.

And since I'm here, let me share that my editor emailed me yesterday to say that Fatal Fixer-Upper made it to #11 on Barnes & Noble's weekly sales lists last week, for mass market paperback mystery. Woo-hoo!

Annette said...

Congratulations, Jennie! That's fabulous news!

Annette said...

Will, I think the girl probably thought that if she admitted to having citations, she may not get the job. However, I was talking with the woman who is behind the hiring and she told me that they do a background check (so the citations would have been discovered anyway) and they do take into consideration if an arrest happened, how long ago was it and how severe the crime. A few traffic tickets weren't going to keep her out of the academy.

Karen, like your election duties, if you figure the payment per hour, my proctor gig wasn't exactly going to contribute a substantial amount to my wealth. But I figure it's one of the rare instances when doing research didn't COST me anything. Looking at it that way, I definitely came out ahead.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Yeah, I co-taught a class on mystery writing at the local Community College's Continuing Ed Program. I think I netted a couple of dollars an hour.

But it was fun.

Kathleen said...

You make me smile, Annette. You do some very unique things!

This was very interesting. I would have never thought that so many people would want to apply to be an officer. It amazes me that they had to use the convention center! And, talk about a variety of characters!