Chemo Complete, Cop Walks Toward Sunset

Paul Bass PhotoPaul 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.”

Fighting 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

Post a Comment

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posted by: HhE on August 31, 2012  1:23pm

Godspeed, Officer Paul Bicki, and thank you.

posted by: lambshank on August 31, 2012  9:35pm

nice job paul, you’re the best and you’ll be catchin khalid konnuchi in no time

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on September 1, 2012  11:04am

No one can put a value on your contributions Paul. The current one is your ability to show your younger coworkers that Cancer is tough, but not tough enough to stop a decent, hardworking person, and a cop who has survived the the late 80s and early 90s in D4. Go get ‘em! Every morning, when it gets tough, remember somewhere ahead in the day, someone you love will say or do something to touch your heart, or the streets, where you will find people who need you, and you need them.

God Bless You, and Thank You.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on September 2, 2012  2:13pm

I don’t know Officer Bicki personally but based on this article he is a very decent human being as well as tough and resilient.  The photos also reveal a calm, pleasant, kind, open face.

Good luck to him, and nice reporting, NYI.

posted by: jjon63 on September 3, 2012  8:47am

I had the pleasure of working with Paul for twenty two years, in fact, he kind of broke me in. He is the toughest guy you will ever meet. We used to call him, “one punch Paulie”. But he is also the most decent, fair minded , compassionate, and honest person who ever lived. Paul is an example of who gets hired when your cops are held to a higher standard than the normal citizens in society.