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In Print: one policewoman's way of staying alive

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Gina Gallo's dad was a Chicago cop, but she never dreamed of being one herself. Walking the beat wasn't something that nice girls did, and her father didn't give the slightest impression that there was any glamour to the job.

Instead, Gallo planned to become an artist. In grammar and high school during the 1960s she traveled from her south-side home to attend classes at the School of the Art Institute. After her graduation she took to the road, living alternately in a cockroach-infested Greenwich Village apartment and in Honolulu and California while working as a painter, sculptor, and stained-glass artist.

After she returned home in 1977 to attend Chicago's American Academy of Art on scholarship--getting married soon afterward--Gallo began writing and selling short fiction and essays to such publications as Eye, the Charleston Review, and Fabulous, a British magazine.

Then in 1982, Gallo's father told her about an upcoming police exam and suggested she take the test. Gallo was dubious, until she heard a cop's starting salary. Divorced with two toddlers to support, she realized that the money and benefits of policing beat her earnings wielding an artist's brush hands down.

Gallo enrolled at the Chicago Police Training Academy on West Jackson. She showed up at the gym extra early in the morning, joining other "Breakfast Clubbers" to prepare for the tough physical requirements. Eventually Gallo made it over the formidable "Wall," a timed obstacle course, and through all the other barriers the academy presented.

But once outside the academy walls, reality set in. Danger was ever present. The most important rule was "cover your ass." The second was "cover your partner's ass."

During one of her training stints on the street Gallo shot and killed an out-of-control street felon waving a gun, becoming the first in her class to shoot someone. Although her fellow rookies congratulated and envied her, she couldn't shake her discomfort. How could she make sense of this death and the others that she began to see nearly every day on the job? How could she account for the terrible suffering of children she found shivering and neglected in squalid apartments in Cabrini-Green, Rockwell Gardens, and other housing projects?

The only way Gallo could deal with the horrors she saw was to write about her experiences. About ten years ago she started selling her stories to magazines devoted to law-enforcement issues, such as WomenPolice, Southern Lawman, and Law and Order, and later to on-line sites like NY Cop and PoliceOne.com, where her work was understood and welcomed as a dose of reality.

Her new collection of short stories, Crime Scenes, "was written as a direct result of reader response to my stories in Blue Murder magazine on 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. "Blood Brothers" explores an eager new rookie's struggle to fit in, which results in a shooting labeled "unjustified." "Bird of Prey" paints a chilling portrait of what happens when the hunter becomes the hunted. "The Insane Fish" focuses on the camaraderie of cops under stress and the creative way they boost morale. "Gunfight at K.O. Corral" presents the definitive (and amusing) answer to what happens when an armed robber foolishly tries to hold up a cops' watering hole.

In writing the book Gallo hoped that police and civilians alike would relate to the fear, loneliness, and bewilderment that pervade her stories. Nobody passes judgment in Crime Scenes. "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."

Gallo, whose memoirs, Armed and Dangerous, will be published by Forge Books next spring, has no regrets about her choice of career. "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."

To order Crime Scenes, call 503-944-6682 or check out www.bluemurder.com/warehouse.html. --G. Miki Hayden

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