Harry Smith has always admired police officers and once considered joining an auxiliary police force.
Thanks to the New York police department, he had the opportunity to visit the training academy, as well as spend a day on routine patrol. The experience was both uplifting and humbling.
The following is his report for The Early Show series "
I grew up south of Chicago in a little town and for many years there were only two cops. There was the full-time cop, and then my dad.
My dad had two jobs. He drove a milk truck during the day. He'd come home, he'd drive the squad car at nights, and on the weekends and on his vacation, he was a cop. If you're lucky, I guess at some point you want to be like your dad. I never thought about being a milkman. But I did think about being a cop.
Real police officers undergo arduous training before they can wear a badge or carry a gun. Me, I got a crash course at the NYPD's firearms training center. This drill, called "fats", is like playing an elaborate video game.
Explaining how it is done, a police officer says, "You're going to bring the weapon up to eye level."
And while a video shows police officers on normal patrol stopping a vehicle for a minor traffic violation, the question is: Is the driver going to pull out a wallet or a knife? You have a split second to make a life or death decision.
After firing a few shots, the computer says I just killed a guy. It leaves you with a nasty feeling in the pit of your stomach, even though I made the right choice.
The weight of responsibility on officers in these situations is: We ask a lot. We ask a lot.
It's more intense in a drill called "simunitions." Real people. No computers. And weapons that fire nasty pellets that will leave a welt. So I suit up in safety gear and wait anxiously for the scenario I was later thrown into.
With the NYPD jacket on, my partner and I had to respond to a call about a street disturbance. We don't know why these people are fighting. Or if either of them has a weapon. It's a maddening situation. Both are belligerent. No amount of talking - or shouting - can get their attention.
Until suddenly, the situation spins out of control, chaos wins over common sense, and because I couldn't keep these people apart, both get shot.
All in a day's work? Think about it. Would you want that kind of responsibility?
All of my suspicions about how difficult it is were only confirmed and then multiplied.
I spent one morning with Sgt. Mark Iocco. His beat: midtown Manhattan.
Some days are routine. This one is anything but. We're barely in the car and the radio reports a bomb scare, a street disturbance, and a missing kid. An eight-year-old from New Hampshire disappears right on Fifth Avenue.
Operator: "We're looking for a missing male, white, 8-years-old, 4 foot 8; he's wearing a navy blue shirt, navy blue shorts and jacket, sandals, light colored hair, goes by the name of Max."
We try to comfort the mother and get additional information.
Sgt. Iocco asks, "Has he ever been on the subway before or has he ever taken any public transportation in New York City?" And offers instructions: "Notify the 19th precinct in regards to this missing, it's possible that he walked northbound on Fifth Avenue."
Sgt. Iocco's instincts are on the money. Little Max walks 60 blocks straight north. That's three miles. A fireman spots him, hands him over to police, and, after a tense two-and-a-half hours, a happy reunion.
Max made front-page news. I got an inside glimpse at the work of New York's finest and a whole new appreciation of the work they do, the work my dad did.
If in another life I'd get to wear this hat for real? I'd trade my life in a second.