Second Place (First Place Loser)

The US Navy SEALS coined the term about being “Second Place” is actually being a “First Place Loser”.  This mantra is a very effective training adage that is implanted in every SEAL candidate for their survival’s sake. This time-tested saying is true in all respects to this Gumshoe and former Marine from hard-learned experiences.

The first Chief of Police that I first worked for and came to deeply respect and admire was Merrill Duncan.   He was a WWII era “combat” Marine and later a retired Captain with LAPD before he assumed the duties as chief. He was about 6’4”, 250 lbs., with a very deep gravel-like voice that penetrated your psyche and rattled your bones.  He got your attention even if it was a passing “good morning”. He always instructed the newly hired “rookies” (during the initial Chief interview) that his cops don’t get paid to lose in a street fight or a gunfight.  There was absolutely no “SECOND place” for a street cop.  You always won and you survived no matter what.

Chief Duncan sternly admonished this young cop (future Gumshoe) that “second place” in any violent encounter was not acceptable!

Now don’t get me wrong folks, good old Merrill was not creating a police force of Neanderthals nor brute-force knuckle draggers who “shot first and asked questions later”. Nope! Not on Chief Merrills watch.  He expected us “blue suitors” to be fair, firm, and friendly.  We were not an armed uniform army of occupation.  We worked for the citizens and we were all individually accountable for our actions.  Period, end of story.  Officer friendly at its best and beat ownership to be sure.

Many fresh-faced rookies who did not adhere to the chief’s philosophy soon found other career paths apart from law enforcement after a dreaded second visit to the chief’s office. Dismissed, terminated, hasta la vista! Many were called and few were chosen as scripture annotates in the book of Chief Duncan. Amen!

When I left the chief’s office, he imparted me with this warning:  “Remember a bucket full of water Officer Pitocco?”  “A bucket full of water, Chief? (I meekly replied with a puzzled facial expression) “Yes, Officer Pitocco; stick your fist into the water and then pull it out.  Just how long that hole remains inside the water is just how long you will last if you screw-up!”

“Yes sir” I firmly replied as my splinter muscle involuntarily tightened.

During my next forty-plus years as a police gypsy working in all levels of law enforcement and a myriad of assignments, those trusty words of the late Chief Merrill Duncan were my lodestone.

When I had the position of an FTO (field training officer) I always quoted Chief Duncan’s sage advice to my trainees. It worked!  I never had to frequent any of their funerals nor plan any unexpected bed-side hospital visits.

Through my up close (yikes!)personal involved shootings, stabbings, and physically exhausting down-to-the- ground, hands-on, all-out fights, I managed to come out first. (Due to the Grace of God to be sure and with Merrill looking over my shoulder from his office in Heaven)

I also learned that the best weapon I had was to listen (if possible) and use my words (if practical) that deescalated simmering violent situations aplenty.

My old Taekwondo sensei, Fuki Okiama use to tell us, students, that we only have so many victories in life and that we must use them wisely. I am sure that Sensei Okiama and Chief Duncan have become fast compadres up in paradise. Their combined wisdom kept my fist from pulling out of that metaphysical bucket of water and wasting any of my prescribed victories.

No second-place loser for this Gumshoe.  Alleluia!

Well kind readers that’s my tale from yesteryear and I am sticking to it.  Always remember to love the ones who love you and even try to love the ones who don’t.

Coram Deo


Danny Pitocco
Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.

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    • Okay, okay my friend Brian. I blame the auto-correct since it is sometimes a real pain in the a** unlike some folks I decline to mention at this time.

      Thanks for reviewing and editing my post. Hey, give me a chance to start reviewing your posts — I dare you!

  1. As one of the first females of 3 hired on the department I always felt the support of Chief Merrill Duncan. His words still remain within and that was ” Always do the right thing” and go home with a good conscious” when my last FTO was assigned ”Gumshoe” himself, I was always tested on my listening ability which encompassed ”deescalation” imperative. That followed me in my career which served me well.