The 48 fresh-faced recruits training to be Baltimore County police officers put their lessons on pause yesterday to recall another era - a time of call box keys and trench coats, of twirling batons and whistles, when the neighborhood beat cop ruled the block, doled out candy to kids and dragged bad guys away by the shirt collar.
It's an America we like to remember and wish still existed, if it ever did.
At the Community College of Baltimore County in Dundalk, members of the 128th academy class shoved their books under their desks, swept lint from their uniforms and stood at ramrod attention to greet the icon of this idyllic image of policing - Richard "Dick" Clemens.
As a Massachusetts State Trooper in 1958, he posed with 8-year-old Eddie Locke at a Howard Johnson restaurant for the Norman Rockwell illustration titled "The Runaway," which graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post and is treasured as one of the most positive images of policing ever conceived.
The cop and child sitting on adjacent counter stools staring at each other, the soda jerk in the background, the cop's gun swinging from his shoulder holster, the boy's belongings wrapped in a red kerchief tied to a stick on the floor - the image championed service over adventure, a trait teachers try today to instill in recruits who grew up with gritty police dramas and reality shows like Cops.
Clemens, who retired in 1975 and is now 80, reminded the class that old-time values remain important.
"Never leave your partner and never lose your self-respect," he told the young men and women set to graduate in June. "Police work has been shaded by shoot-em-up, beat-em-up television shows. That's not what your work is about. You are going to serve people."
How Clemens came to Baltimore County is a heartfelt tale all by itself. A week ago, police commanders who had gathered for a leadership seminar had to take turns telling memorable stories. Lt. James Pianowski, who commands the violence crime unit, told of running into a car wash attendant who had known Lt. Michael Howe, the commander of the tactical unit, who died in August of a stroke he suffered while investigating a murder-suicide.
For moving the room to tears, Pianowski won a framed, autographed copy of "The Runaway."
Pianowski stunned the group when he said, "I can't accept this." He marched the illustration to the Cockeysville precinct commander, Capt. Marty Lurz, who went to the academy with Howe and was his closest friend.
That left Pianowski without his prize, prompting a retired major from the Harford County sheriff's department, Steven Bodway, to write Clemens and ask for another illustration. Clemens not only said yes, but he flew to Baltimore to present the gift.
After the brief ceremony, Clemens posed for pictures with the soon-to-be officers and then was to head to Anne Arundel County to speak at its Police Department's graduating academy class and hand out diplomas.
Norman Rockwell didn't "capture" a slice of America in the illustration at the Howard Johnson as much as he created one. Clemens has a fact sheet in which he describes in detail how the photo shoot was set up, how different models were tried, how the "Howard Johnson" name was eliminated to make the shop appear more like a small-town diner, how the counterman was changed to appear older.
Even then, the illustration was more an ideal than a snapshot.
But the message is still the same, and still worthy of remembering.