Officer reflects on a life in law enforcement Sergeant retired after 27 years


November 09, 1993|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

Before Robert T. Hauf graduated from Milford Mill High School, he knew that he wanted to be a cop -- in the truest sense.

"I guess by the time I was, oh, 13 years old, I was on my own because of my family situation," Mr. Hauf says. "I could fix anything, do anything, go anywhere. I wanted to join the police department and help fix things in society."

At age 19, he became a cadet with the Baltimore County Police Department. He retired last December as a sergeant, after 27 years on the force. He remembers his career in law enforcement with pride, but looks to the future with more than a measure of concern.

During his career, he was shot once, comforted his share of crying drunks, quieted volatile domestic quarrels, listened to the lamest of excuses from speeding motorists, and estimates having drunk enough coffee to keep Colombia solvent into the next century.

QUESTION: How would you sum up your feelings about your years as a police officer?

ANSWER: It's different out there now, so much has changed. . . . I miss my fellow officers very much, but I'm glad I'm out.

Q: You joined the department in 1965. What motivated you, aside from a call to public service?

A: I guess some people were motivated because they liked the uniform, the power it brought them. But my stepfather was a sergeant, and I rode in a patrol car with him; other officers became like big brothers to me. Plus, I was curious why things happened.

I really saw firsthand what it meant to help people. I even became a qualified Emergency Medical Technician.

And back then, for the most part, people had respect for the police.

Q: What exactly was the public attitude toward police officers then? And how did you see it shift during your career?

A: Well, for most of my career I worked in the Woodlawn precinct, and I did about two years of traffic work.

In the beginning, there seemed to be more of a structure, an order. Kids generally listened to their parents, the church had a role in young lives, and you'd never hear of an 8-year-old child punching a police officer, as we saw last week.

And because of that order, you could talk with people, reason with them.

Today, though, even in Baltimore County, you see highly armed and mobile criminals who live for the day. They lack values. Some of these young guys don't think they'll make it past 25. Like the one who shot me -- he was 15 and had a $100-a-day heroin habit.

Q: How did that happen?

A: I was leaving the apartment of a friend in South Baltimore about 1 a.m. in 1971, going to work. Two teen-agers came up to me, asked for directions, and suddenly, one stuck a .32 in my face and demanded my wallet.

I got very focused, saw the gun was real.

I told him my wallet was in my car, but my gun was also under front seat.

We walked over, I reached under for my weapon [but then] the other kid saw my police uniform in the back seat.

He yelled, "He's a cop," and the gunman shot me in the right side, collapsing my lung. The bullet exited my front.

I staggered back to the apartment foyer and started screaming for help.

They caught the kid after he car-jacked a couple's automobile to escape.

He got slapped on the wrist. And I was reminded in the strongest possible way that I wasn't invincible.

Now, I always sit with my back to a wall. And when Officer !B [James Edward] Beck was shot [Oct. 31] on Pulaski Highway, it was very personal.

I felt for him and his loved ones -- anybody who gets shot, really.

Q: Aside from attitudes, what else has changed in police work? Were any of these changes improvements?

A: In the technological field, I saw light-years of change. The information retrieval systems, computers in the patrol cars, communication systems, bulletproof vests, improved weapons.

Other important changes have been in formal education and training of officers, the SWAT teams and hostage negotiations.

While I think former Chief Cornelius Behan played some politics during his time as leader of the department, I have to give him credit for bringing the force well-prepared into the '90s.

Q: Are any of the lessons learned from the '60s and '70s applicable today? What did you pass along to younger men and women coming to work on the street?

A: You simply can't treat everybody like a criminal. I don't like to see a bully in a police officer's uniform.

I would say the ability to tactfully suggest something to someone is a real winning quality, whether it be a citizen, a suspect or someone in your command.

Once during a traffic stop, a man got out of his car and laid across the hood of my patrol car. I asked him to get off, and he replied that it was a taxpayers' vehicle and was I aware of how RTC many degrees he had.

Then he asked me if I had any degrees. I told him I had several, all connected to my temper, and that he was starting to push them higher.

He got off the patrol car and accepted his ticket.

Q: What does a retired police sergeant do after all that time on the street? Don't you miss the work?

A: I miss the camaraderie, but not the stuff out there now.

It just seems so much more violent with no solutions in sight.

For my retirement, I get 58 percent of my last annual salary, which was about $40,000. I work full time for the state health department investigating complaints against nurses, and I work

part time as an armed courier for Federal Express.

I love it.

I have a recreational vehicle and have gone across the U.S. three times since retiring last December. Boy . . . Montana, the Grand Canyon. They're so majestic and peaceful, something I think I earned.

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