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[B]Texas man embraces last chance at becoming an officer[/B]

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  • [B]Texas man embraces last chance at becoming an officer[/B]

    I read this article, and I thought of the many people who have dreams or goals, yet convinced themselves they can't achieve them for one reason or another.

    Even if LE is not your dream, Know matter what they may be; Pursue your Dreams-Never Give Up!

    I hope you all enjoy this article as much as I did.


    Texas man embraces last chance at becoming an officer

    By Scott Goldstein
    Dallas Morning News



    DALLAS — Tom Coval wakes up dreading the day ahead.

    I gotta go to work. I gotta do this job that I absolutely hate.

    The Keller resident looks in the mirror and sees a graying, overweight smoker. He sees a man beaten down by years of sales jobs. He sees a man who spent more than 20 years pushing aside his dream of becoming a police officer.

    Where did I go wrong? How do I move on?

    Now, at 43, he's probably too old.

    He preaches a tired lesson in failure to his son and daughter.

    Don't be miserable like your old man. Do something for a living that you enjoy.

    One day in April 2008, his daughter Shelby, 15, gets tired of hearing it.

    "Why don't you follow your dream?" she fires back.

    The challenge hits Coval like a brick.

    Maybe it's not too late. He quits smoking. He starts exercising. With time running out before he hits the Dallas Police Department age limit, he launches the arduous application process.

    ------

    Roughly 15 percent to 20 percent of applicants become cops. Most of them are in their 20s or 30s.

    Coval's path toward law enforcement began decades earlier and many miles away.

    It is the 1970s and Tommy, as friends and family call him, is growing up in a working-class neighborhood of northeast Philadelphia.

    The aura of public service is all around.

    Several of his friends' fathers work as Philadelphia police officers. His father and uncles on both sides of the family are military veterans. His family flies an American flag on the Fourth of July.

    At 17, he joins the Marines for four years of active duty. He plans to enter the military police force at 19, but superiors steer him into work as an aviation electrician.

    In civilian life, he begins a series of jobs, mostly in sales, and sometimes earns nearly $100,000 a year. Over the years, he sells cars and Yellow Pages ads. He works for advertising agencies and briefly runs a flooring business.

    He marries Joanne in 1991, and they have a son and daughter. His personal life is comfortable. His work life is something else.

    "It's not what I wanted to do," Coval says. "I mean, money means a lot, but I'd rather come home feeling good about myself than bringing home a very large paycheck."

    The family ends up in Keller in 2001 for his wife's advertising job. Soon, he gives the Dallas Police Department a shot – and fails the physical test.

    A few more years tick by. The joyless routine carries on.

    Until the chat with his daughter.

    "Fifteen years of me saying stuff to her and she turned around and said that to me," Coval says.

    The desire to become a cop is no longer just about following his own dream. It is also about making his children proud.

    He discovers that the Dallas department accepts applicants as old as 44. The starting salary is about $42,000. He quits his sales job in July 2008. He passes the physical, background checks, interviews and polygraph, psychological and physical exams.

    By October, Coval is turning 44. He is fit, focused, giddy about what lies ahead. He is the oldest among 38 recruits in Dallas Police Academy Class 311. But can he make it?

    ------

    The 32-week course is based in a nondescript Red Bird building barely large enough to accommodate the students. They walk the halls in orderly lines, addressing each person they pass with an assertive "sir" or "ma'am."

    Instructors aim to mold individuals of different backgrounds and abilities into a cohesive unit. When one recruit screws up, they all screw up. They all will be punished.

    "We hit them hard, and we hit them as often as we can," says Senior Cpl. Bobby Parrott, a defensive tactics instructor. "We try to put them in as close to a real-life incident as possible."

    Coval knows the drill-instructor mentality well from his Marine days.

    But early on, he seems weak. He ponders decisions that should be made in an instant. He's dropped from about 220 pounds to 185, but he could stand to build more muscle. He seems downcast or shy.

    "I thought he was real quiet," says Parrott. "I wasn't quite sure if this job was cut out for him ... I was concerned about his physical fitness, being able to keep up with younger kids."

    Push-ups, sit-ups, weight-lifting, running, jumping and fighting – at more than twice the age of the youngest member of his class, Coval has something to prove.

    A few months in, an injury tests his will.

    Parrott is demonstrating a "take down" for the class, using Coval as his target, in the padded defensive tactics room of the academy. The instructor tells Coval to fall one way, but he misunderstands. The instructor's knee goes hard into Coval's shin, tearing muscle.

    The injury prevents him from running for about two weeks.

    I won't get another chance. I cannot let this hold me back.

    Coval downs painkillers. He spends evenings soaking in his bath.

    ------

    The academic curriculum is also intense. There are legal classes. And courses on Spanish, multiculturalism, ethics and report writing.

    At home on evenings and weekends, Coval spends hours reading and highlighting his textbooks. His son, Alex, 13, lounges on the couch nearby watching cop shows on TV with the volume down.

    Among the constant classroom themes is officer survival. For Coval and his wife, no class lesson can match the reminder that comes on the night of Jan. 6.

    A classmate calls for Coval about 9:30 p.m. Well-respected Senior Cpl. Norman Smith has been gunned down in east Oak Cliff while serving a warrant with fellow officers in the elite gang unit.

    Days later, Coval and his classmates are among thousands of mourners at a funeral service for the 43-year-old father of two.

    For the 44-year-old father of two, still months away from earning his badge, the images and stories of Smith are sobering. Yet the outpouring for a beloved officer confirms Coval's desire to serve.

    This man sacrificed his life for the safety of others. That was his job. That was his life, and he loved the Dallas Police Department.

    Joanne, married to Coval for 17 years, sees Smith's grieving widow on television and in the newspaper. She thinks about her own husband's mortality.

    "I look at Norm, I'm like. 'Oh, my God, that could be Tom,' " she says.

    ------

    It is late February, and the class meets early in the morning at an old warehouse in southern Dallas. Recruits are separated into groups of four and armed with fake silver handguns. A veteran officer walks them through the basics of how to hold a service weapon and flashlight when searching in the dark.

    One rule: Do not extend your elbow outward when aiming your gun.

    "No chicken wing," the trainer says.

    The group in plain navy uniforms is instructed on the slow, careful footwork and slightly hunched posture they should use when searching. This helps with balance while minimizing exposure to threats.

    The instructor likens the positioning to the walk of a legendary comedian.

    "Anybody ever watch Groucho Marx?" he asks.

    Only Coval raises his hand.

    "OK, I'm dating myself," the instructor says.

    Throughout the morning, Coval appears awkward and uncomfortable as he tries to internalize the techniques: Stay close, communicate, check every nook, point your gun down when crossing paths with a fellow officer.

    During the warehouse exercise and the many other training scenarios that follow, instructors keep a close watch. They expect their students to undergo a transformation. A critical confidence must emerge.

    "It's a slow progression, and one day you can see it in their eyes," says Parrott. "You can see it in the way they walk and the way they carry themselves."

    Parrott and others begin to see it in Coval, who overcomes his injury and ultimately ranks near the top of his class physically and academically.

    "He started taking more control in our role play," Parrott says. "Not being afraid to make a decision whether it was wrong or right."

    His Marine background helped him handle the military-like structure of the academy.

    "The concept wasn't foreign to him; he wasn't arrogant." says Senior Cpl. Tom Kelly, the class coordinator. "He said 'OK, teach me what I got to do.' "

    For those close to Coval, the changes are also evident.

    "He just seems light years more confident," says Gary Harper, a close friend.

    Now Coval comes home giddy about what he has learned and anxious about what lies ahead.

    More than any time since his days as a Marine, he feels a sense of pride, a sense of purpose.

    ------

    It is late June, and Coval and his classmates are about to receive their diplomas at El Centro College in downtown Dallas.

    Inside a darkened auditorium, his wife, kids and other relatives watch as he files in among the 34 new officers from Class 311.

    Mayor Tom Leppert has a simple message for the graduates:

    "The most important thing we do for our city is to protect our citizens. That now is your role."

    In his crisp uniform and shiny shoes, Coval makes his way in a single-file line toward the stage. He waits for his name to be called.

    "Officer Thomas John Coval. Badge No. 9634."

    He shakes hands with Leppert and other officials, then walks back to his seat. He thinks about the gravity of the job ahead.

    Now I'm really going to go out there and run into bad people. I'll see some terrible things and I'll see some good things. But this is it, this is the real deal.

    For 13-year-old Alex, seeing his dad in uniform shapes his own dreams. "It gave me like a feeling that I want to be a cop," Alex says.

    More than 14 months after the conversation with his daughter and 25 years later than planned, Coval is finally a cop. The real work is about to begin.

    ------

    Less than a week later, Coval arrives early for his first overnight shift in the North Central Patrol Division.

    Officers fresh out of the academy are assigned a series of trainers over 24 weeks of graded work. They then ride with senior officers for two additional months before they can patrol by themselves.

    Coval's first trainer is a gray-haired senior corporal named Steve DeGroff, who graduated from the police academy in 1981 and has been training rookie officers since 1984.

    They head out of the station with Coval behind the wheel, breathing heavily.

    "First thing, take a big breath," DeGroff says. "We ain't gonna do anything crazy. We're just gonna start off slow."

    Midway through the shift, they assist several other officers who have stopped four juveniles for questioning. The kids are suspected of throwing rocks at cars and being out after curfew.

    For most cops, it is a routine and boring exercise. For Officer Coval, standing in a parking lot with fellow officers and kids about his son's age, it is a dream come true.

    "This is so [expletive] cool," he says.

    One night the following week, Coval and DeGroff respond to a burglar alarm at a Mexican restaurant. They meet a sergeant at the rear, where a glass door has been smashed open.

    All three officers pull their guns.

    "Stay close," DeGroff tells Coval as they step through the hole in the door, glass crunching under their boots.

    With his gun in one hand and flashlight in the other, Coval and the other officers make their way through the darkened restaurant.

    I'm not as nervous as I thought I would be.

    After several minutes of searching, it is clear that the burglars – and the flat-screen televisions – are gone.

    DeGroff believes his trainee did fine in the first chance he had to pull his service weapon. The rookie also appears to be getting comfortable with the nightly routine. He is learning the geography and is good at spotting suspicious activity.

    But like the academy instructors before him, DeGroff has questions about Coval's confidence – the same questions he has about many rookies. The officer's subdued nature concerns him.

    "I'm not sure how he's going to do if we have to fight somebody," DeGroff says.

    But those who know him best have little doubt Coval is ready.

    "He's kind of an even-keel, good guy, but he's also a guy that can be tough when he needs to," says Harper, the close friend. "Kind of like looking a German shepherd in the eye, it's not attacking you, but you know it could."

    Copyright © 2009 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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    MDRDEP:

    There are no stupid questions, but there sure are a lot of inquisitive idiots.

  • #2
    Thats awesome.. its good to see those that really want it, make it. I see so many people I know trying out just cause they cant get a good job somewhere else. My heart is in law enforcement and I will make it when I get back or die trying.
    Hoping to get picked up when I return from Iraq

    Comment


    • #3
      Finally some good news on here. Great story. Great inspiration. And I agree with ^^ (blkside). LE is all I ever wanted in my life, from the time I was a tiny little boy. And I always said, I am going to be an LEO, or I won't be nothing at all.
      "Abandon your animosities and make your sons Americans." - Robert E. Lee, 1865

      Comment


      • #4
        Great story!
        Moooooooooooo, I'm a goat

        Comment


        • #5
          Good stuff and best of luck to him in the future!
          "Inside me is something that is too stupid to quit. I don't know where it comes from or why it is, but it is there and always has been."

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by az4code23 View Post
            Finally some good news on here.
            haha +1

            Good article




            Futurelaw

            Comment


            • #7
              I'm just waiting for some 21 year old to come in here whining because the older guys are taking all the law enforcement jobs and how a person that age doesn't have a "PASSION" for the work but just wants a steady paycheck
              Those who believe, ye shall receive.

              Comment


              • #8
                We have a 39 year old in my recruit class. I could never question his passion.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Got one that's 42 in my class. Former accountant and father of 2
                  "Naw officer, I was hanging with my cousin"

                  "Sooo, real cousin or play cousins ?"

                  Originally posted by JasperST
                  I'm thinking a battalion of menstruating bearded women could kick some serious booty!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Had a guy that was 44 when I went to my academy. Great guy, still talk to him all the time.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Great Read.
                      RIP Sgt. Joe Bergeron, We will surely miss you.

                      - EOW 5/1/2010 -

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Oldest in mine was 41, I was 4th oldest at 36. We had a guy in his 50's but he quit on day 1 and went to a night academy instead.
                        _____________
                        "Corruptisima republica plurimae leges."

                        "The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws."
                        - Cornelius Tacitus

                        Comment

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