Organization Men

Lucas Miller is a detective with the NYPD. Andrew Shuman is a development manager at Microsoft. This week, Slate has asked them to compare the organizations they work for. 

To get our dialogue going, I thought I would follow instructions and give you a quick description of what I do and how I started working for the clamp down.

On a whim, after leaving college unfinished, I went to work for a tiny police department in the town of Wellfleet on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It seemed like being a cop would be an exciting thing to do until I figured out what job I really wanted in life or until I went back to school. I was under the mistaken impression that the Cape was fun all year long. Come January, I was going out of my mind with boredom and loneliness. I joked that I would stop cars on the highway just so I had someone to talk to. But I really liked the law enforcement. So I took the civil service test for the NYPD. I grew up in the city, and I missed being there; and of course it seemed like there might be a little more to do as a cop there. Ten months later, I was accepted and went to the police academy. I managed to graduate from there and went to work on patrol in a police precinct in downtown Manhattan for about three years. Looking for more excitement, I went undercover in the Narcotics Division and was promoted to detective while doing that. After my stint as an undercover cop ended, I remained in Narcotics for another three years. I was recently transferred by request out of Narcotics to a precinct detective squad in mid-Manhattan where I am assigned to a robbery squad. In my current assignment, I spend most of my time examining past robberies and burglaries to see if I can figure out who did them and where he can be found. The perpetrators of these crimes can be tough to catch since by the time I get involved, the crime is hours or even days old, but it makes catching them even more satisfying.

So far, I have had a very good time in the police department. That is not to say there haven’t been some disappointments, but “the job” has been very good to me, and I have a lot of loyalty to both the institution and the men and women with whom I have worked. Once I was on the job, I really forgot all about any desire to do anything else.

If one thinks of the command structure of the police department as extending upwards from the rank of police officer through sergeant, lieutenant, captain, inspector, and chief, the position of detective is sort of a step sideways. A detective answers to a sergeant like a police officer, but he is presumably more trusted and may be charged with investigating the most serious crimes and calling out the most sophisticated resources of the department. He may spend a lot of time on his own without a lot of supervision. Some other police departments use different systems where the rank of detective carries some greater command status, but in New York, a detective can spend one day investigating a homicide and the next assigned to parade duty in uniform, standing next to a kid six months out of the police academy.

I imagine that the most interesting parallel between our organizations, aside from the size, is the unpopularity. It is always a little heartbreaking for me to realize how many people take a negative view of the NYPD. I am not blind to our failings and to the scandals that we have created, but since the mission of the department is a noble one and the day-to-day actions of the cops that I work with are motivated by dedication, it is easy to assume that the citizens of the city share my rosy view of the department, and it is jarring when it is made clear to me that many don’t. Despite Microsoft’s recent legal troubles and the perpetual enmity of Apple fans, I assume Microsoft employees generally see themselves as the benevolent innovators that Bill Gates has described.

I do encounter people fairly regularly who truly believe that we cops spend our time beating up and shooting blacks and Hispanics for the hell of it, covering it up with the complicity of our supervisors, and taking breaks only to divvy up the bribe money, get drunk, go home, and slap our wives around. It makes using your operating system to leverage your Internet browser seem kind of friendly.

That being said, I should admit that until I developed a relationship with Slate, I was one of those Macintosh fans who imagined a Darth Vader-like Bill Gates in his black Empire uniform training the guns of the Deathstar on the tiny but valiant rebel ship Macintosh and demanding that the head of Steve Jobs be brought to him or he will begin executing his own commanders.

I am not being fair. The NYPD has pretty much adopted Windows as its operating system of choice, and I have to admit that, given that most cops are not computer wizards, our computers run pretty smoothly. This has certainly made Microsoft fans out of a lot of us. Perhaps we can get our bosses together and pool our public relations resources. MSNYPD?