In the Summer of 1992, we held an open house at New York State Police Troop E headquarters in Canandaigua, New York. The whole station was open to visitors.
As you walked through the building, you opened a door and found yourself looking down the firing range where the Troopers practice their marksmanship. There were little kids playing there where, on any other day of the week, tons of hot lead would be crashing through the air at hundreds of miles an hour.
I thought of all that force, what it could mean if I could make children everywhere see it is on your side to protect you, that power is your power entrusted to the hands of people who would give their lives to protect yours...
Only a few weeks later, the children of some neglected neighborhoods in East Buffalo, New York awoke to find hundreds of Troopers, county deputies and city cops sweeping the streets, arresting over a hundred drug dealers who had been turning their neighborhood into a violent and ugly place. The people came out and cheered, just like in the ball park when someone hits a real home run. Something bad had been batted with a mighty swat clear out of their neighborhood -- and out of their lives -- for a while.
Yes, for a long time afterward, there was less violence and fewer drug dealers.
After the Troopers led a similar operation in a similarly troubled neighborhood in Schenectady nearly two years later, Fred LeBrun, a columnist with the Albany Times Union, called it "Constantine's Circus" after Thomas A. Constantine, who was then Superintendent of the New York State Police -- our Top Trooper.
Tom had created a program -- the Community Narcotics Enforcement Teams or CNET -- that made these operations possible. He would send in specially trained teams of undercover investigators who would positively identify the people who were selling drugs and then, one day, in a meticulously planned and well-coordinated operation, he would send a force of officers in to arrest as many of them as could be found.
Fred, while impressed with the show, felt that all the arrests were just not enough to make a real difference. He wanted something more. "Otherwise," he wrote; "in six months, we'll be wondering what Constantine's circus was all about."
Was that a criticism? I thought not.
Instead, it was a challenge.
And so, I wrote Fred a note -- in fact, a poem:
What could be better for children,
especially those who have a hard life,
than a circus?
Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.
This way, boys and girls;
this way to Constantine's Circus,
the greatest show on earth.
All for you.
And there he is, in center ring,
in the cage with all the tigers --
and all your nightmares.
This book is called Constantine's Circus. It is an introduction to our police. It is inspired by some of the remarkable people among the ranks of our police officers.
This book also has lessons to teach about some of the dangers that children face in this world.
Some of what you read here may be sad or scary. It is not intended to make you feel that way. Like your parents, families, teachers and all the other adults who care for you, I want you to know what you need to know to protect yourselves.
Perhaps even more, I also mean to assure you that you are surrounded by a whole society of men and women who believe that there is nothing in this world more important than you.
The title of this book refers not only to Mr. Constantine's anti-drug operations, but also the fact that one of the great turning points of history was the time of another Constantine -- the Fourth Century Roman Emperor Flavius Valerius Constantinus, known to history as Constantine the Great.
That turning point came on the night of the 27th of October in 312 A.D. It is said that Constantine had a vision that night that assured him that he would succeed in all his efforts to come in restoring the great empire his predecessors had built.
And so, Constantine went on to unify a disintegrating empire, stand off invasions, end the persecution of religious minorities and, although that empire did not long survive after his death, he did set in motion the forces that ultimately made the values of the Judaeo-Christian tradition the fundamental values of Western civilization.
Because of religious persecution, prior to the reign of Constantine, the circus was a place for chariot races and where good people were sent to be killed by gladiators and wild animals in a barbarous spectacle. After his time, the circus evolved into the wonderful and inspiring spectacle of performing people and animals that we enjoy with our children to this day.
Emperor Constantine himself enjoyed the circus -- the horse-racing kind -- so much, that he doubled the size of the most famous circus in his empire -- the Circus Maximus in Rome, the ruins of which may be seen to this day. It is believed that he made it large enough to accommodate two thirds of the entire population of Rome. It was renowned for the thrilling horse and chariot races that were held there. Yes, Constantine loved a day at the races.
So, you see, the title of this little book expresses my hope that our lifetime marks a turning point just as important as the reign of Constantine the Great in our society's struggle against cruelty and barbarism in their specific modern forms of violence, drug abuse and intolerance and against the marauding enemies of civilization who attack us through organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorism.
In the circus, everything you see is absolutely real. It is entirely possible that the girl on the trapeze or the man on the high wire could fall; the tigers could turn on the man in the cage with them; the acrobats could hurt themselves. That doesn't stop any of them from performing. The performers are very dedicated to one another. They work hard as a team to put on a great show. They also know that the eyes of children are always upon them. And that is why they continue to perform despite hardship and danger and they do the very best they can.
The same is true of the police officers you will meet in this book. Unlike the circus performers, they don't often get to hear you applauding and cheering them on. Far from it. Police officers are always being criticized and second-guessed even though their job is often hard and dangerous.
Maybe you will read this book and get to like them --if you don't already -- and maybe you can think of your own way to let them know that you appreciate them.
This book is my way.
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CONSTANTINE'S CIRCUS, INC.
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