Profile of Gina Gallo
Chicago Cop Gina Gallo Pens True Tales of Policing
By G. Miki Hayden
Gina Gallo's dad was a 30-year cop, but Gina never dreamed of being one herself. Walking the beat wasn't something that nice girls did in the 1960s, when she grew up--and her father didn't give the slightest impression that there was any glamour to the job. After attending art school throughout her formative years, Gina Gallo became an artist. First.
Painting in acrylics and watercolor, and working in stained glass and metal or polymer resin sculpture, after high school Gallo took to the road, living alternately in a Greenwich Village apartment with hot and cold running cockroaches--and in Honolulu and California.
It was in New York City that Gallo had her first, very personal brush with crime. Her partner in an art studio ran off with her work, materials, and equipment--along with their records, bank book, and joint money. "He was kind enough to leave two sawhorses and a staggering phone bill," Gallo wryly recalls.
After she returned home to attend Chicago's American Academy of Art on scholarship, Gallo began to write and sell essays and short fiction to local magazines and newspapers. The idea of becoming a cop still never struck her.
Then, one day in 1982, her father came to Gina to tell her that the police exam would soon be given. He counseled her to take the test. Even at that point, Gallo was dubious, until she caught wind of a cop's starting salary. Now, with two toddlers and on her own, she realized that the money and benefits of policing easily beat the earnings of a woman wielding an artist's brush.
Defeating All Obstacles
In what seemed like no time at all, Gallo was in uniform at the Chicago Police Training Academy, being taught defensive strategies, firearms, and the criminal code. She wound up in the gym extra early in the morning, joining with other "Breakfast Clubbers" to grapple with passing tough physical requirements, while building life-long friendship. Eventually, Gina made it over the formidable "Wall"--a timed obstacle course--and through all the other grueling physical and mental barriers the Academy presented.
But on the streets during her training internship, reality set in. Heartbreak was ever-present in the projects where she was assigned, and so was danger. On a routine call, before she had even graduated from the Academy, Gina Gallo, police officer to-be, chased and killed an out-of-control street felon--the first in her class to draw a gun.
Although fellow rookies congratulated and envied Gallo, the writer/artist in the woman couldn't shake off her uncertainties. How could she make sense of this death and the others that she saw nearly every day on the job? How could she account for the terrible suffering of children she found shivering and neglected in squalid apartments?
The only way Gallo could stop the "traditional" emotional deadening of the cop (how they deal with the horrors that they see) was to write about the life she encountered on her beat. Gallo soon started selling to police magazines, where she was understood and welcomed as a breath of reality.
Crime Scenes was written as a direct result of reader response to my stories in Blue Murder Magazineon the Internet and at Policeone.com," Gallo explains. "After each piece was published, I'd get mail from cops saying, `Thanks for telling it the way it really is-warts and all.'"
Gallo's stories submerge her readers in a cop's life, from a cop's perspective. "Blood Brothers" explores an eager new rookie's struggle to fit in, which results in a shooting considered 'unjustified.' "Bird of Prey" paints a chilling portrait of what happens when the hunters become, instead, the hunted.
"Insane Fish" focuses on the camaraderie of cops under stress, and the creative way they boost morale. "Shoot-out at K.O. Corral" presents the definitive (and amusing) answer to what happens when an armed robber foolishly tries to hold up the cops' own watering hole.
All the stories in Crime Scenes are true, although the names and obvious identifiers have been changed for everyone's privacy. "Any cop can tell you that some of the things we encounter on the street are so incredible a person who hasn't witnessed it would have trouble believing what happened," comments Gallo.
"In fact, that's one of the expressions I've heard most in all my years on the street--`Nobody would ever believe this if we told them.' A lot of cops follow that statement with, `One of these days, I'm gonna write a book.'," Gallo states. " I don't have to bend the truth. What's harder is writing the reality in a way that non-police will believe what we experience. But, for those who haven't been there, the unvarnished truth can be very difficult to imagine."
More than anything, Gallo's hope in writing her book was that police and civilians alike would be able to relate to the feelings conveyed in her sketches. "This is not a fiction about heroes and villains. Instead, I explore the humanity and foibles of ordinary people who sometimes have to deal with extraordinary pressure, pain, or anger."
Nobody passes judgment in Gallo's Crime Scenes. She addresses the fear, loneliness, and bewilderment that we all experience. Most crimes occur, Gallo believes, when emotions fester and escalate to a point at which control is no longer possible.
Gallo has no regrets about her career as a cop or her especially dangerous stint working undercover. "Being a cop is addictive, and becomes who you are, not what you do," she asserts. "This has nothing to do with the power trip, or being part of the notorious 'Blue Gang.' Being a cop is like engaging in a doomed love affair-you know it's potentially bad for you, but you can't resist. At any given moment, there's danger, excitement, comedy-and, every so often, an incredible connection to the people you hope you're doing it for."
Beyond that, Gallo extols the brotherhood. "Regardless of how jaded cops become, we are still a family, and still support each other in ways that continue to amaze me." In her travels throughout the country she's found a sense of community with law enforcement people everywhere. "Among people I was meeting for the first time, I felt right at home," Gallo states. "I've never encountered or heard of a bond like that in any other profession."
Following Crime Scenes, published by Blue Murder Press, Gallo's book Armed and Dangerous was issued by a St. Martin's Press imprint this spring. Again, the stories are all true tales about cops--Gallo's memoirs, really. Gallo is finishing a novel as well and working concurrently on another book of nonfiction stories. "I've reached a point where I only plan to do what comes straight from the heart-which is the writing and the artwork I do," she states. "If that crashes and burns, you're invited to my dumpster for pate de cat food."
G. Miki Hayden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book Writing the Mystery will be out from Intrigue Press in Fall 2001.
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