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Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2001 /6 Shevat, 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports

Sometimes a police story begins with a poem -- A SWEARING-IN of some importance took place on a cold January day this year.

It happened far from Washington, and nowhere near the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

In order to explain the meaning of this swearing-in, it is necessary to go back many years -- to a column I wrote about a Chicago girl who, in 1986, wrote a poem for her father.

The dad was Ken Knapcik, who was a Chicago police officer with the tactical unit in the 24th District in Rogers Park. One of Knapcik's fellow officers, Jay Brunkella, had been killed during a drug arrest.

Ken Knapcik lived with his wife and three daughters -- Teresa, Laura and Kristina. One night shortly after Officer Brunkella's death, Knapcik arrived home after his shift to find a note on the dining room table, addressed to him. It had been written by Laura, the middle daughter, who was 15.

"Dad --

"This poem came directly from my heart. . . . I love you so much it scares and amazes me that you go out every day and risk everything to provide us with all that we have.

"I didn't write this poem to scare you or Mom, I just wrote to express how much I love you and how lost I'd be without you!

"I love you, Dad!"

Under Laura's signature was a P.S.:

"Hey, let's be careful out there."

With the note was the poem Laura had written. She had titled it "The Ultimate Cop," and had dedicated it "To all the cops in the world who have daughters who love them with all their hearts. And especially my Dad."

The poem was about how afraid a police officer's child can be every time the officer walks out the front door. It was about an officer's daughter who sees on the late-evening news that her father has been shot. It ended with the lines: "Daddy, my Daddy, can you hear me cry? Oh G-d, I need my Daddy, please don't let him die!!!"

The night Officer Knapcik got home from his shift and found the letter and the poem, he stood alone and read it. "It took me several minutes," he told me at the time. "I would get through a part of it, and then I would have to stop and wait awhile before I could go on. I was weeping.

"She had never told me that she was scared for me. She had told me she was proud of me -- but she had never told me she was scared. I have three daughters, and I don't recall any of them ever telling me that they were scared.

"I took the poem to work with me the next day and showed it to my fellow officers. I've never seen so many grown men weep. Some couldn't even finish it."

Ever since his girls were babies, Knapcik had told them that he wished he could carry them around with him. "I wish I could carry you and your sisters and your Mom with me every moment," he once told Laura. "I wish I could have you with me all the time, so I could always be there to protect you."

He couldn't do that -- he couldn't carry his family with him. But, starting with the day his daughter wrote the poem, he has carried the poem with him -- in the pocket of his police jacket. It has been with him every time he has left the house for all these years.

Which brings us to this month's swearing-in.

Fifteen years have passed. Ken Knapcik is still an officer in the 24th District. His three girls, the ones he worried about so, have all grown up.

And the youngest -- Kristina -- was just sworn in as a Chicago police officer.

She's 25. She graduated from Marquette University in 1997, after studying to become a news reporter.

She did some reporting work for a while -- but she decided that she didn't want to just observe the bad things in life. She wanted to do something about them. She wanted to be a cop.

"I think I can do more to help this way," she told me.

She was valedictorian in the most recent graduating class at Chicago's police training academy. She is assigned to the same district as her dad. He's 53 now, and he's working days. Kris has been assigned to the overnight shift. She admitted, with a small laugh, that "there have already been times when I have been standing in an alley and I ask myself, `Just what am I doing here?' The first time you get a man-with-a-gun call and you know that you have to go respond to it. . . ."

Her dad said that he is "a little apprehensive, of course. This was the little girl I always wished I could carry around in my pocket and protect." Mostly, though, he said, he is very proud. His wife, Izzi, told me she's the same way: scared, but filled with pride.

Big sister Laura, who wrote the poem, is now 29 and a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. She said that she, too, is proud, but "I go to bed every night and don't watch the news on purpose. Dad and Kris work different shifts -- so I have to be worried for 16 hours."

Why did Kris do it? Why -- having grown up in that house -- did she choose to become a Chicago police officer?

"Because my father is my idol," she said. "I want to live my life like he has."

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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