Paul Bicki confronted an existential question about his renewed life as a beat cop—in the form of an orange.
The question stared him in the face the other day.
Bicki has just started a new beat as a walking cop assigned to downtown on the B shift, from 4 p.m. to midnight.
It was a big step for Bicki. He recently finished months of grueling chemotherapy that followed two operations for stage 4 renal cancer. His doctor said Bicki may no more than five years left to live.
Bicki already has 24 years on the job. He could retire.
Instead, he took one more plunge. He decided he wants to put another year in on the job. And now he has requested to move from a light-duty assignment in the records room to returning to the streets. He thought he might still serve the public well hoofing it on the streets by the Green, talking to people, adding a police presence, responding to disputes.
He wasn’t sure, though. Bicki isn’t one to swagger on the beat; rather, he tends to reflect, to question himself. (Click here for a story about the time he decided to climb, with younger cops’ help, through an open window to stop a rape in progress.)
When he began his new downtown assignment last week, Bicki asked himself: Will he still have the energy to patrol the streets? More importantly, will he still have the compassion needed to do the job right?
Then came the orange question.
It came from a woman who approached him at Chapel and College. She had a black eye; her arm was in a sling. She had just left the Hospital of St. Raphael emergency room, where she received treatment for injuries suffered in an assault.
She asked Officer Bicki for a dollar.
Normally, Bicki would say no. If he were patrolling by car, he would have shifted into drive, pulled away. But he was on foot now. He had more time to talk to people. That’s part of the job.
“What are you going to do with this dollar?” Bicki asked the woman.
“I’m going to buy an orange,” she said.
Bicki couldn’t imagine the dollar buying an orange. Rather, he figured, she’d buy some booze. Or hit up some more marks and score drugs.
He also felt bad for her after hearing about her story. What the heck. He gave her a dollar, proceeded on the beat.
Twenty minutes later Bicki ran into her again.
“She walked by me,” he recalled, “eating an orange. I was really surprised; it was worth a dollar.”
He can still do this job, Bicki concluded. “I’m glad to be back.”
Bicki was first diagnosed with renal cancer in 2007. It was classified as Stage 1 then. He had an operation, then had CAT scans every six months. They kept coming back negative.
Until last year. The cancer had apparently traveled through his bloodstream into his lungs. This was serious. He now had Stage 4 cancer. Doctors removed half his left lung and part of his right lung in operations last October and November. His fellow officers rallied around him, holding a fundraiser to help with medical bills and visiting him in the hospital.
Bicki returned to work in the police department’s records room alongside another cancer survivor, Officer Peter Krause. (Read about his journey here.) Bicki was undergoing exhausting chemotherapy treatments at the same time.
He figured it was time to end his career. His wife and teenaged children sacrificed much during his cancer ordeal. His doctor told him he has only a 30 percent chance of surviving beyond the next five years. “I’ve had dark days; my wife has been there with me. I want to spend the time I have left being a better husband and a better father,” he decided. “It hasn’t been easy on them. What if I have only three to four more years? I want to make them good years for me and my family.”
Bicki, who turns 55 on Sept. 11, figured he’ll remain on the job another year, to qualify for a pension at 80 percent of his salary and in a sense pay back all the support he got from the department.
He wanted to return to active duty on the streets. At the same time, he didn’t believe he could run after gang-bangers or jump fences in dark alleys anymore. Plus he suffers pain and numbness in his hands and feet thanks to nerve-end damage, a side effect of the chemo.
He ended up weighing his next steps in a couple of soul-searching conversations with Police Chief Dean Esserman.
“He spoke not as a chief, but as a fellow cancer survivor,” Bicki said. “He gave me a lot of inspiration and emotional support.”
They agreed Bicki would be a perfect addition to the walking-beat contingent downtown, which involves less running but a lot of professional contact with the public, visibility to deter crime, and problem-solving.
All that walking, Bicki figured, would only improve his health.
In the middle of last week he showed up on Chapel Street for his first 4-to-midnight shift. Eight hours on his feet. A return to multitasking—talking to people while listening to the radio while scanning the surroundings.
By 10:30 he had to sit down.
Stage 3 Policing
He found a seat on a bench on the Green. Homeless people were spread out on the other benches.
One of them approached him.
“This is the first time,” he told Bicki, “I’ve seen a cop sitting on a bench instead of sitting at Starbucks.”
“It may be the first time,” Bicki responded, “you see one falling asleep on a park bench.”
Bicki didn’t fall asleep. He got back up, completed the shift. It didn’t take long to fall right back into the routine. By the next time, he was multi-tasking just as in the old days. He wasn’t in danger of falling asleep.
He made it right to the scene of a rush-hour crime by the bus shelters on the Green. A woman had tried to stop a man from harassing another woman for change. The man turned on her, yelling, threatening.
The man reeked of alcohol. He was on the ground when Bicki arrived. Bicki spotted a box-cutter in his pocket. “He’s yelling and cursing. Everyone’s watching,” Bicki recalled. The man got up—and started urinating in full view. Bicki arrested him.
He has had more pleasant encounters with other homeless people, conversing with them at length about why some prefer sleeping outside rather than in shelters. He has spoken with merchants about problems they’re encountering (one biggie: aggressive panhandling). He’s asked how he can help.
Along the way, he has already dropped 15 pounds. The walking helps. So has cutting down on nighttime snacking. Plus, he’s hitting the treadmill at the gym on his way into work each day.
Who knows? That dire five years prognosis is just a statistic. Paul Bicki has defied adversity before.
He’s still a cop. He plans to be a good one on downtown streets at least through next June.
The orange incident convinced him that he can. It convinced him that he hadn’t yet reached stage 4 of a cop’s career: From “cockiness” to “craziness” to “compassion” to “despair.”
“I’m not in despair,” he said. “The orange lady showed me I still had compassion. Something told me to give that dollar.”
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Craig Alston & Billy White Jr.
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Sheree Biros
• Paul Bicki
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Jeremie Elliott and Scott Shumway
• Bertram Etienne
• Martin Feliciano & Lou DeCrescenzo
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robert Hayden
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Juan Ingles
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Herb Johnson
• John Kaczor & Alex Morgillo
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Ron Perry
• Joe Pettola
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• David Rivera
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Salvador Rodriguez (2)
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Allen Smith
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• John Velleca
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski