October 15, 2011

The Literature Corner: Kill The Light, Hymie...

This will be my final installment of the Literature Corner at Confederate Yankee. I'll continue it at Stately McDaniel Manner, cross posting this story, and adding new stories beginning in November.

There is a classic scene from Mel Brooks’ Get Smart TV series. The bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart was working with a prototype human-appearing secret agent robot named Hymie. On the way out of a room, Smart said “kill the light Hymie.” Hymie, not understanding the idiom, pulled out his gun and shot it. Robots, it turns out, aren’t alone in taking things too literally.

All cops begin their careers as patrol officers. It’s in that job that they learn all of the basics of police procedure, the law, and most importantly, how to deal with people without unnecessarily ticking them off. The best cops—because they have an innate feel for human nature--can talk people into doing just about anything, and as a result rarely have to use force. Master officers are easy to spot: people they arrest sincerely thank them for doing it.

Cops usually start by attending a state mandated basic training academy, and larger agencies also have their own in-house academies. Virtually all police agencies have a field-training program. Some are very brief, little more than a rookie riding around with an experienced cop for a few weeks. Some are very specific and lengthy—up to six months--but the idea is to team up the new officer with an experienced officer who rides with them in a patrol car, watches over them and teaches them what to do and when, and most importantly, what not to do and when. In professional law enforcement agencies, new cops aren’t allowed out on their own for a year or more.

Many people think anyone can be a teacher. Not so. Being a Field Training Officer (FTO) is a surprisingly difficult and demanding job. A good FTO can anticipate each trainee’s needs and accurately recognize and help them overcome their problems. A really good FTO can remember their own beginning experiences and can help to make the transition from rookie to seasoned professional seemingly easy for a new cop. Great street cops aren’t always good teachers of street cops. Just because they can do their jobs very well doesn’t mean that they can teach others to do the same. Very different skill sets are involved and are sometimes mutually exclusive. The best FTOs learn as much as they impart.

It took several years before I became a FTO. Having many years of prior police experience, to say nothing of being the only officer on the force of any rank with an undergraduate degree in education (with years of teaching experience), made me suspect rather than an obvious choice for the job. Go figure. But when the time came to appoint new FTOs, my qualifications were so far ahead and above whoever was in second place, it would have been too embarrassing not to give me the job, so there I was, to the chagrin of the Chief, a guy who gave lip service to hiring only highly educated, smart cops. The problem was, he wanted them only smart enough, and not too smart. Cops that are too smart aren’t very easy to trick or control, but that’s another story.

My trainee was Steve McCandless. He was a young guy from a state that mandated all potential officers complete an authorized training academy on their own time and at their own expense. He did just that, but couldn’t find a job in his preferred city. It wasn’t his fault, really. He had a bachelor’s in law enforcement, an academy certificate on which the ink was not yet dry, but no one was hiring. With a new wife as fresh as his certificate, he needed a job and ended up with us, one state to the left.

Steve was a bright kid, very anxious to go to work, but like most new cops, had no real idea how much he had to learn. He was particularly frustrated because he had to attend, at our expense, the state law enforcement academy. Yes, he already graduated from an academy, an academy that was likely far superior to ours, but the law is the law, and off he went to several months of near fatal boredom. Now, with two still dripping academy certificates on his wall, Steve was assigned to me, his second FTO.

His second? The program moved a trainee through several phases, all taught by different officers. It was assumed that this policy assisted new officers by exposing them to a variety of styles and techniques. Maybe yes, maybe no. In Steve’s case, his first FTO turned him into a basket case.

The guy, let’s call him “Jerry,” was appointed a FTO because he was “one of the boys.” That tends to count for a great deal in law enforcement. He wasn’t an incompetent cop, but he was an awful FTO. He had a fatal flaw: He couldn’t shut up. No matter the situation, he just kept running his mouth, usually saying little or nothing for hours on end, even when talking was potentially dangerous. We used to joke that he would be effective in interrogations. Just put a criminal in a room with Jerry and within 20 minutes he’d be begging to confess to any crime we cared to name—sinking the Titanic, leading the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 9-11--just to get out of the room. But we knew any court would throw out such a confession on 8th Amendment grounds (the 8th Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment). Jerry was so bad, so unable to control himself, that on a SWAT field exercise (yeah, being one of the boys counts there too) which included an overnight component, another officer, who had been, until that night, completely sane and rational, had to be forcibly restrained from killing Jerry with a combat knife when he refused to shut up and let everyone sleep.

How do I know about this guy? You guessed it; he was one of my FTOs when I first joined the force. Jerry was talking constantly, just rattling on about everything and nothing, day in and day out. He was actually obstructing me, making it impossible to concentrate, to hear the radio, to do my job, and I had more than enough prior experience to know what the job should be. I finally had to tell him, loudly and not very nicely, to shut up so I could listen to and answer the radio.

Because of my past experience, I knew enough to go to the FTO program administrator and get a transfer to another FTO. It was clear that new officers would have a hell of a time under Jerry. I knew better. Steve didn’t, so by the time he finally got to me, Jerry had put him on probation, written a ton of bad daily evaluations, and so poisoned the well that poor Steve was expecting to be fired at any moment. That tends not to be a good way for new guys to build confidence and ability.

I suspected as much when I learned that Steve had Jerry before me. It was obvious when Steve got into the car. He was nervous and wouldn’t do anything without being told. He kept glancing at me, waiting for me to start blathering. He had been nitpicked to death, unfairly and irrationally criticized for any and everything he did or tried to do or didn't do, so he did what most people in that situation would do: he shut down.

I immediately pulled him off the street and into a quiet, out of the way office, and told him to relax—he was tensing up, expecting the career death stroke. I laid it out, told him exactly why I thought he was behaving as he was, and exactly what I thought—what I knew—happened. He was amazed, I’d hit it squarely on the head, and he was indescribably relieved.

When we went back to the car, I told him to relax, and most of all, to have fun. By the end of the shift, it was obvious Steve had what it took to become a good cop. He was smart, observant, and had developed most of the basic skills he needed. It wasn’t his fault he hadn’t fully developed the remaining skills, and I knew he’d catch up quickly. I told him that he would pass the FTO program. Months later, when he was out of the program and patrolling on his own, he told me that his wife cried for joy that first night. Who says good deeds aren’t their own reward? To keep my word, I made sure the FTO administrator knew what happened and why. By the end of our time together, Steve was transformed--as I knew he would be--into a confident, capable cop who breezed through the last phase of the program.

The domestic violence call was in a nice neighborhood. Dispatch told us that an ex-lover broke into the house, and the occupants locked themselves in a bedroom. The ex-lover was banging on the bedroom door, trying to get in. Dispatch told us they could hear the banging and someone yelling over the phone. They also said the ex-lover might be drunk.

We parked a good distance away, and as we approached on foot, we saw two young women waving to us from an open window on the side of the house. I asked Steve how he wanted to deal with it, and he thought we should talk to the women first, and so we did. I let Steve handle the conversation while I kept an eye out. We could both hear the ex-lover, who appeared to be female, banging loudly on the door, and sloppily yelling. She sounded drunk indeed. After a quick conversation, Steve decided that it would be a good idea to climb in through the window, and so we did.

Climbing though a window in full patrol regalia isn’t very pretty, but we were soon through, and I took stock of the two ladies. They were in their pajamas, and looked pretty upset. Not terribly frightened, but upset. They kept close together and kept glancing nervously at the bedroom door. Both were in their mid 20’s, one slim, tall and blonde and the other shorter and brunette.

Steve wanted to speak with me out of earshot; we huddled near the door. “They said the ex-lover’s name is Mary, and she’s really drunk,” Steve told me. “She broke up with the blonde a couple weeks ago and has been bothering her ever since. They were getting ready for bed when Mary let herself in and started yelling at them, so they locked themselves in and called us.”

“Right,” I said. Did she assault anyone? Break anything?”

“No, but I think they’re, they’re…” Steve stuttered, glancing at the women.


“Yeah! That’s it!” Steve exclaimed, surprised. I later discovered he had not dealt with any gay or lesbian folks since he began. He apparently thought there was some unusual technique involved.

“OK. Does that change our procedure? Are there any special lesbian provisions or exceptions in the law”

Steve thought about it for a few seconds. “Uh, I guess not…”

“Good answer,” I said. Steve smiled, obviously relieved. “So what do they want done?” I asked. It was obvious he hadn’t asked, so I suggested he do that. They told him they wanted her removed. I questioned them to clarify—for Steve's benefit--that they had asked her, repeatedly, to leave. So I huddled with Steve once more. “OK. So what charges do we have?”

Steve thought a few seconds. “Trespass?”

“Good. How about burglary? Are all the elements present?” I asked.

“Well, no theft…she didn’t commit any felony—yet…”

“Still good,” I replied. “How about a domestic violence charge? Elements?” I was asking Steve about the elements of the various offenses for a good reason. The real world is not like TV. The police must know the law very well, because every law has specific “elements,” acts that an offender must perform in order to break the law. It those elements aren’t present, no arrest.

“Nope,” Steve said. We just reviewed those statutes the night before. “No assault.”

“Good again,” I replied. “Trespassing then?”

“Trespassing,” Steve said, nodding emphatically.

Mary was still slurring loudly and banging on the door. Steve seemed a little hesitant, so I prompted him. That’s where I made my Hymie mistake. “When you’re ready, pop the door open and take her down,” I said. What I meant was that Steve should quietly and calmly arrest Mary, handcuff her, and we’d leave. I scarcely got the last word out of my mouth when Steve started bouncing up and down, pumped up like an NFL wide receiver on speed, flung the door open, and in a flash of blue, streaked into Mary, who let out a piercing scream of surprise.

Equally surprised, I followed Steve into the living room in time to watch him execute a textbook arm bar take-down that, with extraordinary speed, flopped her face down on the floor, driving all the air out of her lungs with a loud “whoof!” As she lay, gasping like a freshly landed trout, Steve whipped on the cuffs in the flashy manner of a rodeo cowboy wrapping up a steer he just wrestled to the ground. He was so excited I was afraid he might chuck her out the same window we entered, so I quickly leapt in and helped him lift her to her feet, allowing her to catch her breath. Steve was grinning like a kid on Christmas morning that just unwrapped the toy he'd been badgering his parents about for months.

The women who called were standing in the doorway, clutching each other. The blonde was crying a little and the brunette was looking at Steve, who was still bouncing up and down, with a mixture of awe and wariness. Steve's neatly wrapped package wanted to say something, but was still gasping. It was time to refocus and redirect Steve.

"Officer McCandless, I'll be happy to take this young lady to the car if you'll gather all the necessary personal information from these nice ladies," I said, nodding toward them. Steve suddenly focused on me and stopped bouncing.

"Oh, right. I'll do that," he nodded vigorously and pulling the small spiral notebook I convinced him to buy out of his shirt pocket, began the ritual of information gathering I drilled into him early on.

By the time I had her in the back seat of the car, Mary could talk again. I asked if she was OK and if she needed medical attention. She told me she was fine, but it was obvious she thought Steve was a cross between The Flash and The Incredible Hulk. And of course, she started crying. It was the usual tale of true love gone wrong—cops hear that all the time. After hearing her out and nodding at all the right places and making all the right comforting noises, it was pretty obvious that Mary wouldn't have come over if she hadn't been drinking. Booze sparks a huge portion of police business.

By that time, Steve was done and returned to the car. I quickly filled him in and we drove Mary to the jail where I let Steve handle the booking procedures after first telling him to carefully observe Mary, get on her good side, and fill me in afterward. He handled her well. Steve was a good scout who actually liked people; amazingly, not every cop does. He came to nearly the same conclusions, and I helped him the rest of the way.

When we debriefed his handling of the entire affair after shift, Steve demonstrated his ability for self-examination, again, not a quality every cop shares. He realized how hyped up he was, and while he didn't use excessive force or do anything truly wrong, he also realized he needed to be much calmer and more in control in the future. Shaking his head, he said "Man, I really bulldogged her, didn't I?"

It was at that moment he received his police nickname. One of the more senior officers was walking by, overheard what Steve said and Steve immediately became, to his embarrassment, "Bulldogger."

I learned the most important lesson that night: It's never smart to assume that new officers, no matter how bright, understand even simple procedures until they've demonstrated they do. Bulldogger made me a better FTO and my Hymies didn't kill any more lights.

Posted by MikeM at 01:21 AM | Comments (1)

October 07, 2011

The Literature Corner: Desperate Love

One common problem that drives police officers crazy is domestic violence. There are few people more despised by the police than those who harm children or women—maybe people who hurt animals—but the situation is often not as clear-cut as some would has us believe. Officers are always careful in such situations, for as they handcuff and try to remove the offending male, the battered, bleeding woman may very well attack them. The fact that battered women often return to their abusers despite Herculean efforts by officers and others in the system is also a major cause of frustration and disgust.

This edition of The Literature Corner pays a true, early morning visit to the ravaged apartment of just such a couple as related in court.

Desperate Love

“And after Officer Doucett asked for backup, what did you do?”

The prosecutor, a young guy fresh out of law school, was nervous. It was one of his first serious (multiple felony) cases and he was doing his best not to look like the neophyte he was. The bad guy was pleading guilty after a particularly disastrous (for him) preliminary hearing and I was testifying at the sentencing hearing before the judge. He plead guilty to two of four felony counts so he was looking at a maximum of only 20 instead of 50 years in the pen. And who knows? Maybe he’d be able to cry some crocodile tears, sloppily profess heartfelt remorse, and the judge would be suckered into giving him probation. Couldn’t hurt to try.

“I was only a few blocks away, so I immediately drove to the apartment complex. While I was still on the way, Officer Doucett radioed for me to cover the north side of the building, so I parked at that side and approached on foot.”

“Did Officer Doucett tell you why he needed help and who was involved?”

“Yes Sir. He told me that Terry Wilson attacked a woman in the apartment, and wouldn’t let her out. He said that he was afraid he would harm the woman.”

“And did you know Terry Wilson?”

“Yes Sir.”

“How did you know Terry Wilson, Officer?”

“I had several past contacts with Mr. Wilson for a variety of reasons, including drunk driving, assault and domestic violence.”

“So you knew Mr. Wilson to be potentially violent?”

“That’s correct.”

The defense attorney--a public defender--wasn’t going to object. He and I were friendly, and he knew I wouldn’t go overboard to dump on his client. Besides, his client had already admitted the offense. The judge only needed to get a more immediate sense of what happened--that and read the pre-sentencing report from the probation office--before rendering a verdict. If the defense raised unnecessary, obstructive objections, it would only annoy the judge, and that wouldn’t help his client.

“What happened then, Officer?”

“I noticed that one of the windows was broken--someone broke it from the inside out--and I could hear people screaming inside. A woman, who I later learned was Anita McComb, came to the window and screamed something at me. I was able to make out ‘help,’ but not much else. She was crying, her head was bleeding, her blouse was torn, and she looked very upset. It appeared that someone suddenly pulled her back out of sight, but I couldn’t see them. It was dark inside the apartment.”

The apartment was one in a large development of low income, subsidized housing units. We had many, many calls there. I didn’t need to mention that. Everyone in the courtroom was familiar with the place. By "everybody" I mean the judge, the prosecutor, the defendant, his attorney, the court reporter, a deputy, me and two other attorneys waiting for their cases. There is seldom TV-like drama in such cases in the real world.

“Did something cause you to go to the front of the apartment, Officer?”

“Yes Sir. I called Officer Doucett on the radio and told him what I saw. Within seconds, he called back and told me that he was kicking in the front door. I ran around to the front--the south side--of the building just in time to see Officer Doucett and Officer Bower break through the door. I entered the apartment just behind Officer Doucett with Officer Bower right behind me.”

“And what did you find inside the apartment?”

“The only visible light was coming from the upstairs, which was at the opposite side of the apartment from us. What I could see of the apartment was a mess. Chairs and a couch were overturned, and there were several fresh holes in the drywall. We were all stuck in a narrow entrance hallway, and Mr. Wilson was standing several feet in front of us, holding an aerosol can of some kind in one hand and a Bic-type lighter in the other. Ms. McComb was sitting on the floor several yards behind Mr. Wilson. She was bleeding profusely from a large cut above her left eyebrow, and she was dazed. She was moaning and crying.”

“And what time did you say this was again, Officer?”

“It was about 3:10 in the morning when we entered the apartment, Sir.”

“I see. You said that Mr. Wilson was holding an aerosol can and a lighter. Was this significant, even dangerous?”

The defense attorney tensed and began to rise from his chair. He appeared to be about to object to the “dangerous” part. I paused and everyone looked toward him like some kind of dramatic movie moment when someone leaps up and identifies the real killer, but he thought better of it, relaxed and sat down. Everyone relaxed and I continued. “Yes Sir. Mr. Wilson was pointing the aerosol can at us, his finger on the spray top. The hand holding the lighter was at his side. He had an odd look on his face. He was grinning, but he looked angry. All he had to do was raise the lighter, light it, and hold it in front of the aerosol can to make a field expedient flame-thrower. We were packed tightly into the narrow hallway; we couldn’t easily retreat.”

“What happened then?”

“He screamed some sort of bizarre war cry and began to move toward us. I delivered a front thrust kick to his leading thigh. It rattled him and stopped him in his tracks. He didn’t see what I did, but it surprised him. I stopped him within arm's length of us. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that if he ignited the aerosol can we would be in range. I drew my handgun and took a ready position and Officer Doucett ordered him to drop the can and lighter.”

“A ready position?”

“Yes Sir (I was always unfailingly polite to every attorney; it made defense lawyers look hostile and unsympathetic to judges and juries). My handgun was pointing downward, approximately at Mr. Wilson’s belt line and my finger was off the trigger. It allows me to see what he is doing, but to fire quickly and accurately if necessary.”

“And had the other officers also drawn their weapons?”

“Yes Sir, they had.” I didn’t mention that Bower, Doucett’s trainee, was very hyped up, and that the muzzle of his .40 S&W Glock, which was visibly shaking from his adrenaline-fueled death grip, was nearly against my left ear. If he fired, I’d lose an eardrum at the least. People just don’t realize how loud gunfire is in enclosed spaces. They’re used to the movies where heroes blast off thousands of rounds indoors without the slightest discomfort. Bower wasn’t experienced enough to know better--he was completely focused on what he could see of Wilson--and I couldn’t afford to take my attention off Wilson to calm him down. Things were moving very quickly.

“What happened then, Officer?”

“Officer Doucett kept ordering Mr. Wilson to drop the aerosol can and the lighter, but he didn’t. I locked eyes with him and as I did, I felt that he was trying to decide if he wanted to die. He knew if he raised the lighter the second he tried to light it, we’d fire. Again, we had no way to retreat or duck. His eyes hardened--he made a decision--and I put my finger on the trigger and began to take up the slack. Just before I had to bring the muzzle online and complete the pull, he suddenly dropped the lighter and aerosol can and raced for the back of the apartment, toward the stairs and the light.”

“How close were you to firing, Officer?” The prosecutor was doing a pretty good job, and he was fascinated by the story. The judge was leaning forward, listening intently too. The defendant--Wilson--was avoiding eye contact with me. He looked very nervous.

“It’s hard to say exactly. Within a few pounds of the seven pound trigger pull of my weapon, perhaps.”

Wilson winced.

“What happened then?”

“We immediately ran after Mr. Wilson. We had no idea if he was running for another weapon or trying to escape. He hit Ms. McComb on the head with his fist as he sprinted past her. She cried out and fell to the floor. Mr. Wilson sprinted up the steps and turned right into a bedroom with Officer Doucett just behind him. As I rounded the corner, I saw Mr. Wilson throw a punch that glanced off Officer’s Doucett’s forehead. Officer Doucett grabbed Mr. Wilson and punched him in the face several times. Mr. Wilson fell to the floor, but continued to struggle wildly. We all grabbed Mr. Wilson, and after a brief struggle, handcuffed him.”

“Was Officer Doucett injured?”

“I could see a darkening red spot on his forehead that was beginning to swell.”

“Was Mr. Wilson injured?”

“A little blood was trickling from his left nostril, but other than that, he appeared to be unhurt and he continued to struggle with and scream at us.”

“Did Mr. Wilson ever cooperate with you after that?”

“Not really Sir. He continued to scream and began to spit at us. Officer Doucett and Officer Bower held his arms and head, so he couldn’t spit on them and pretty much had to carry him down the stairs. He was screaming obscenities, kicking, and trying to wedge himself against the walls so we couldn’t remove him. When we reached the ground floor, he continued to struggle, and tried to kick Ms. McComb as we moved him past her, but Officer Doucett and Officer Bower pulled him away and he missed. When we reached the entrance hallway, he managed to kick several large holes in the walls, but we finally carried him outside.”

“What happened then?” Wilson was avoiding making eye contact with anyone. He wasn’t exactly looking like a saint and he knew it.

“Officer Doucett and Officer Bower tried to put him in the back seat of their vehicle, but he would not sit down and braced his legs against the car body. We tried to calm him down and asked him to come with us, but he became even more angry and violent and narrowly missed biting Officer Bower on the ear.”

I didn’t mention that Bower made a rookie mistake and left his ear hanging in range of Wilson’s teeth. I saw what was going to happen and pushed Wilson’s head away at the last instant. If I hadn’t, Bower would have looked like he went a few rounds with Mike Tyson.

“What did you do then, Officer?”

“I put him in a vascular neck restraint and encouraged him to cooperate.”

“What is that?”

“It’s a technique that momentarily restricts blood flow to the brain by compressing the carotid arteries on either side of the neck. It causes no permanent harm, and causes temporary unconsciousness.”

“Did he cooperate then?”

“Yes Sir. Just before he passed out, he agreed to cooperate and we were able to seat him in Officer Doucette’s car. He was pretty woozy and didn’t act up again for awhile.”

“Did you speak with Ms. McComb?”

“Yes. Officer Doucette asked me to conduct the investigation while he took Mr. Wilson to jail.”

“What did you learn?”

I opened my mouth to speak…

“Uh, your honor, to save the court’s time, “ the defense attorney interrupted, “we would stipulate to the Officer’s report regarding the subsequent investigation.” Good move. He didn’t want me to say what McComb told me aloud. If I did, it might be more effective--more harmful to his client--than if the judge merely read it.

“Mr. Berman?” The judge asked the prosecutor for his take on the issue.

“Your honor, surely the officer can testify to what he saw and heard.”

The judge turned to me. “Officer, I’ve read your report. Does it fairly and completely represent your findings?” I’d appeared before him often before. He knew my reports were very detailed and complete and that I didn’t take liberties with the truth, but he was asking for the record to avoid being overturned on appeal.

“Yes your honor, it does,” I replied.

“Very well. The court is satisfied; move on Mr. Berman.”

“Yes your honor. Officer, is there anything else you’d like to add?”

“Just that I have only come so close to having to shoot another human being just a few times in my career. I don’t know why he decided to drop the aerosol can and lighter, but if he had not, I almost certainly would have fired within the next few fractions of a second. I don’t like having to make that choice.”

“Do you believe that he would have caused serious bodily harm or death to you or the other officers if he used the flame thrower?”

“I have no doubt of it.”

In fact, our evidence section tested the aerosol can and lighter to be sure they worked--they did--and bought an identical aerosol (it was a type of hair spray) and lighter and videotaped a fully suited and helmeted firefighter touching it off. It was a pretty spectacular sight, and the flame would have nailed us. We could have been burned or blinded--that’s “serious bodily harm” under the law and ample justification for shooting. After seeing the video in the preliminary hearing, the defense wisely decided they didn’t want a jury to see that in a trial and quickly did a plea bargain.

“And would you have killed Mr. Wilson if you had to fire?”

“I would certainly have stopped him.” The prosecutor didn’t know the game very well, but caught on quickly and dropped it. We always testify that we shoot only to stop, to stop the bad guy from doing what he was doing that gave us justification to shoot him in the first place, never to kill. If he dies as a result of being stopped, good for us/bad for him, but the point is stopping, not killing.

I sat in as Wilson did the obligatory performance. He was very, very, very sorry that he attacked and injured Ms. McComb, his live-in girlfriend. He was off the booze and drugs, found a job and was attending anger management classes. How many times had I heard those lame lines before at sentencing hearings? And oh yes, he desperately loved Ms. McComb (who got her stitches out only last week), who was again happily living with her one true love, Mr. Wilson. Ain’t love grand? Love is a many-splintered thing. He even managed to cry a little, but the tears were far more because he got caught than for his girlfriend.

The judge gave him ten years probation with a variety of completely unreasonable requirements he couldn’t help but break: Obeying the law and not drinking or using drugs among them. I suppose it was a reasonable sentence. He had a ton of misdemeanor convictions, but this was his first felony.

What happened to Wilson? Within a few months--to no one’s surprise--he violated probation by getting stoned, roaring drunk and beating up his one true love. He became a guest of the state for the next five years and change.

She was there, bruised, freshly stitched, weeping and desperately clutching as the Sheriff’s van left, heading east for the Pen, carrying Terry Wilson. Love can be desperate indeed.

Posted by MikeM at 11:55 PM | Comments (8)

September 30, 2011

The Literature Corner: A Day Off

Dear Readers: As I noted when I began the Literature Corner awhile back, I couldn't promise a piece every week. I'm taking Saturday off to give everyone a bit more time with the two new Jose Guerena pieces.

Thanks, and with any luck, I'll see you back here next Saturday for another piece!

Posted by MikeM at 10:41 PM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2011

The Literature Corner: Attack Of The Tree Cop

Local and Federal law enforcers are supposed to be on the same side, but they virtually always have an uneasy relationship at best. On one hand the Feds, particularly the FBI, tend to look down on locals, considering them to be barely capable of coherent speech without drooling, particularly when compared with their buttoned down preppy magnificence. On the other, if they overplay their hand, locals can make things difficult.

Sometimes they even have some fun at the expense of the Feds, like the time a local skateboarder skated up to several cops carrying a loaded H&K MP5 submachine gun he found sitting unattended on the roof of an unmarked FBI car in the local Federal Building parking garage. The fun we had with that one is another story.

This story is about the time I found myself in the sights of Smokey The Bear-Like park ranger.

Attack of the Tree Cop

“They what?!” I said.

“The tree cops wanted to arrest us,” Andrews replied, a sly grin on his face.

“You’re kidding? For what?”

Andrews broke up: "for running a parade without a permit in a national park!"

"What?!" I said in amazement. "You're kidding, right?"

“Nope,” he replied, struggling to get his laughter under control.

“Where did they get the idea that we ran a parade without a permit? We didn’t do a parade.”

“I know. Apparently the federal law he’s talking about refers to parades and any other kind of un-permitted activity in the park. I don’t have any idea where he got the idea. The tree cop wouldn’t tell me.”

“Incredible!” I said, amazed. “You told him it was just two sweaty cops, right?”

“Yeah, I had a hell of a time convincing him that we didn’t do a parade. I’m still not sure he’s convinced, but he went away,” Andrews said, shaking his head.

“When did this happen?” I asked, and he launched into the story.

“Sgt. Andrews, there’s a park ranger at the front desk to see you,” the chief’s secretary said, her voice tinny over the intercom.

“A park ranger? Do you know what he wants?” Andrews asked, confused.

“Something about staging an event without a permit I think,” she replied.

“OK, send him down and I’ll meet him at the elevator.”


Staging an event without a permit? Oh well; I better see what he wants.

Andrews left the Patrol Division’s secure office suite and was waiting in the hallway when the elevator opened. The ranger was wearing his green and gray ranger outfit replete with a Smokey Bear hat. Only the rangers who took themselves really seriously regularly wore Smokey Bear hats. Most of them were more concerned with function than appearance--baseball caps did the trick--but not this guy; he didn’t look happy.

“Sgt. Andrews?” He asked.

“That’s me,” Andrews replied.

“Tom Andrews?” He asked again. The guy was suspicious about everything.

What’s this guy after? “That’s still me.”

“Is there some place we can talk,” the ranger asked. He furrowed his brow and ominously intoned, “privately?”

“Sure. C’mon back to my office,” Andrews replied, gesturing toward the secure door down the hall. Hmmm. Maybe he wants to talk about some national forest secrets. They sat down and Andrews closed the door. “What can I do for you?”

“Sgt. Andrews, it has come to the attention of the United States Park Service that on or about August 4th of this year, you conducted a race without permit in Custer State Park,” the Tree Cop said, obviously hoping that his brilliantly worded, unexpected accusation would immediately force Andrews to confess.

“I what?” Andrews stuttered, completely confused.

“On or about August 4th of this year, you conducted a parade without permit in Custer State Park,” Tree Cop repeated, slightly grinning this time; he thought he had Andrews. A tearful CSI-quality confession was surely only moments away.

“When did you say this happened?” Andrews asked.

“On or about August 4th!”

“Of this year? A parade?”

“Yes. It happened this year,” Tree Cop said, losing a little of his grin and trying to look authoritative and imposing despite being dressed like Smokey Bear.

“Custer State Park? Wait a minute, let me look at my calendar. . . “ Andrews said and began to page backward through his desk calendar. “September, August--here it is, the 4th. . .the 4th?! But that was when we... " Andrews began to laugh out loud. Tree Cop was stunned. The rampant lawbreaker, the desecrator of the sanctity of the parks he had come to collar, was laughing at him--out loud!

“This is no laughing matter!” Tree Cop said, the back of his neck reddening. “This is a serious violation of federal law, and I...”

“No, no, I’m not laughing at you, you don’t understand; I just...” Andrews said, trying desperately to control himself.

“Well? What about the parade?” Tree Cop demanded, drawing himself up in his chair and summoning every ounce of stalwart authority he could muster. He was amazed when Andrews broke up again.

“Wait a minute,” Andrews wheezed, trying to gain control of himself, “I’ll explain.”

It started at the beginning of the summer when I discovered that Andrews was a runner. The Black Hills was a runner’s paradise. Rolling hills, mountains 6000+ feet high, beautiful scenery, a miles long concrete bike path that paralleled the creek that ran through the center of town, even a nearby desert made it a great place to run. The town of 50,000 even had a specialized runner’s shop--called, surprisingly enough, “The Runner’s Shop”--that sponsored a yearly marathon as well as many shorter races throughout the year.

One of the first things I did after coming to town was map out several courses through the community with known mileages, all beginning and ending at the Police Department. I put together a three mile out and back course for the occasions when I had little time, and a very nice four mile circular course that wound through an expensive area of town with a wide, grassy central island, almost like a park; it was pretty easy on the feet. But the most challenging course was a seven mile route over Skyline Drive.

Skyline Drive was a small, ridge-like mountain that divided the center of town. A winding, scenic road twisted along its spine and had since the early days of the community. The view from the road was spectacular and only within the last few decades had pricey homes begun to creep toward the top of the ridge on the east side (the west side was mostly too steep). Skyline was great for the serious runner. It offered ridiculously steep climbs in lengths ranging from several hundred yards to a mile or more. My seven-mile course ran up the east side to the south end and northbound all along the spine, eventually descending back on the north end.

I introduced Tom to each of the routes and we ran them regularly. It always helps to run with someone of similar ability. On the days when you don’t feel like running at all, you can encourage each other. Some days you can easily conquer any run, but your partner lags and vice versa. And some days, the run just kicks your butt, but it's always more fun with a little friendly support and competition.

Eventually, our in town runs weren’t enough. We wanted to come up with something more challenging, something to help promote fitness in the force. That is always a problem in police work. The hours are long and irregular and the work, while not usually physically demanding, is emotionally exhausting. When they’re done with their shifts, most cops just want to go home and crash. The idea of going for a run, particularly in bad weather, isn’t high on the list of things to do. As a result, too many cops jump on the excess cholesterol bandwagon. They end up overweight, suffering from hypertension, high blood pressure, and any number of stress related illnesses. That’s what really is hard on cops, not chases, fights or the sundry ailments that afflict fictional cops. The cop/donut stereotype has some basis in fact, but that’s mostly because donut shops--unlike most other eateries--tend to be open for business 24/7, just like cops.

Many law enforcement agencies establish semi annual or annual physical fitness testing. Officers have to pass minimum standards to be fit for duty. In reality, these things usually apply only to the patrol force. Detectives, administrators and support people have more “juice” and find ways to avoid it. Our department was reasonably serious about it.
We came up with the idea of the Triple Peaks Club. We’d choose three mountains in the Hills and run up and down them. We put up a classy plaque with the names of everyone who joined (Andrews and I were the charter members), and we established rules. To gain membership, one had to run up and down each of the three mountains during the course of a single summer. Each candidate had to be accompanied on each run by a current member, and had to actually run at least 80% of the way up and down.

We chose Crow Peak near Spearfish, Bear Butte outside Sturgis (yes, that Sturgis--where all the bikers come every August) and Harney Peak in Custer State Park, the highest point in South Dakota. Each run followed an established hiking trail, but each had unique challenges.

Bear Butte was the shortest run, but in some ways, the toughest. It had the least elevation of the three peaks, but had many sharp switchbacks, a trail that was dangerously narrow in many places, and was very steep. There was nowhere to catch your breath. From the moment you began, it was steeply uphill virtually all the way. It took less than an hour from top to bottom, but that was an hour of near sprinting intensity effort.

Crow Peak was the next most difficult. Unlike Bear Butte, which was within easy sight of Crow Peak, it was a genuine mountain and quite a bit taller than the Butte. The trail was wider, the drop-offs not as sharp, and there were even some slightly downhill sections in the continual climb to the top. It was almost possible to catch your breath here and there. It took just under an hour to make the assent.

It was Harney Peak that nearly sent us to a federal country club prison. It is an ancient, rugged granite mountain in Custer State Park in the southern Black Hills and is the highest point in South Dakota at 7,242 feet, which is actually higher than any of the Appalachians. Perched atop its windy summit is a rough rock ranger station built during the days of the Works Project Administration. It hasn’t been occupied by rangers for decades, but the view remains thrilling. On a clear day, six states are visible. The ascent is relatively easy in the early stages, with very wide, groomed trails, but as the summit looms closer, the going is much like Bear Butte and requires a virtual sprint for the last half-mile.

Harney Peak takes as much as three hours round trip. The Lakota Sioux consider the peak to be the center of the universe. In fact, the final, touching and mystical scene in "Black Elk Speaks" by John G. Neihardt, the story of Sioux medicine man Black Elk, takes place on the summit. A sandy area near the summit is still used for Sioux ceremonies. Similar ceremonies regularly take place at Bear Butte. We even came up with an idea for a “Moon Dance,” which was sort of like the Sioux Sun Dance immortalized in the film “A Man Called Horse.” We’d attach old tires to our Gluteus Maximus with Eagle claws at the end of leather thongs and drag them along on our runs. Even though Tom was Sioux, we wimped out on that one--just not manly enough, I guess.

And so it was that on August 4, Tom and I began our assent of Harney Peak, the final jewel in the crown of the Triple Peaks club. The trailhead is at the north side of Sylvan Lake, which is aptly named. If you've seen "National Treasure 2: Book Of Secrets," you've seen Sylvan Lake. That's where Nicholas Cage ends up when he finds another treasure. And oh yes, it's not near Mt. Rushmore as the movie leads one to believe.

It was a demanding but fun run. On the way down, we were pelted with a hard rain, and we had to resist the almost overwhelming temptation to shout “Bear! Run for your lives!” to tourists ascending the trail as we barreled headlong downhill past them. But we made it and the Triple Peaks Club became a reality. Not many others eventually joined the club, but those who did had a real sense of accomplishment gained while seeing some of the best scenery in the Black Hills up close and personal (particularly if they, like I did, tripped and plowed a bit of that scenery with their faces while descending Harney Peak), and of course, anyone who could make the trip could easily pass the physical fitness exam.

“So this tree cop wouldn’t tell you where he got the idea?” I asked.

“No. He was really closed mouthed about that,” Tom said, shaking his head.

“That’s odd,” I said. “Only people at the PD and our families knew what we were doing. Do you suppose someone was trying to play a practical joke?”

“Who knows?” Tom replied.

“Another mystery of the universe I guess,” I said.

“Right. You up for Skyline today?”

“No sweat. After shift?”

“You’re on," Tom said. “Just remember to get your parade permit before we go.”

“And remember: only you can prevent tree cops," I added.

Posted by MikeM at 09:57 PM | Comments (2)

September 16, 2011

The Literature Corner: It's Not A Good Day To Die

Police officers are often called upon to do things they know may not be the smartest thing to do. Duty compels them, and in doing what may appear to be the right thing, what appears to be a kindness, they may do the opposite.

This true story illustrates that eternal contradiction of police work, a contradiction brought on by the fact that they have to deal with the human race.

It’s Not a Good Day to Die

I came to a complete stop as I hit the intersection. Four lanes every direction--the light was against me and even with my lights flashing and siren blaring, people weren’t catching on. Smart cops don’t blast through intersections; they make eye contact with every driver in sight and crawl through, just in case. If you get into an accident you have to stop, and you don’t help anyone if you get creamed on the way to an emergency.

I could see him clearly from two blocks away. He was sitting on the ledge of the tallest building in town--the ledge of choice for suicide gestures: The Hilton. It was only eight stories high, but that was five or so more than enough to do the trick. Great, just great. Probably just a suicide gesture. He’s half way over the ledge. Most don’t go that far. Not good. His uncoordinated, jerky movement suggested that he was major league drunk.

My backup was still about a mile off when I arrived. A hotel security guy was waiting at the elevator. He was apologetic. There had been maintenance work on a rooftop air conditioning unit and someone forgot to lockout the elevator roof access. Is this elevator slower than usual? Will he still be there when I get to the top?

He was. And he was standing on the roof, leaning against the four-foot high ledge. I managed to get within about 25 feet before he spotted me and clumsily oozed back onto the ledge, facing inward toward me. Great. I was right; he’s drunk as hell. Looks familiar...

“Joe; Joe Black Wolf; is that you?”

“I’m gonna jump you sum’bish. I’m gonna do it. I wanna jump,” he slurred in an excited voice.

It’s Joe. What is this? His fifth suicide gesture so far this year?

I decided to play dumb. It was about 4:30 PM, dark and overcast. A numbing wind pulsed over the roof, creaking and whistling eerily in the thicket of antennas and machinery. I’ll pretend I can’t hear him; with the wind, he might buy it. I cupped my ears and shrugged whenever he said something.

“Joe, I can’t hear you,” I yelled. ‘It’s the wind. Listen Joe, I’m just gonna come close enough so I can hear you. I promise I won’t come any closer, OK?”

“I’m gonna do it! You ain’t stoppin’ me!” Joe yelled and clumsily swung his legs over the top of the ledge, letting one dangle on each side. I was still about 15 feet from him when he yelled something angry and unintelligible and swung both legs over the ledge.

Geez...not now! The toe of Joe’s left shoe caught the ledge, and he pitched forward. My mind was racing. Any good cop tries to stay in what firearm guru Jeff Cooper calls “condition yellow.” A relaxed alertness, it demands some degree of constant concentration and always thinking ahead. You take in everything around you and ask “what if?” What if that guy walking toward me with his hand in his coat pulls a gun? What if that car that’s swerving a little toward the centerline crosses it in the next few seconds? What will I do? Where can I go? What if Joe is so drunk he kills himself accidentally?

Damn! No way can I get to him in time if he goes over. Man, this doesn’t look good, he’s almost lost it… Without thinking, I hustled within six feet of him before he somehow stopped falling and slowly righted himself. God looks out for cops and drunks, I guess. It all took no more than three seconds.

He eyeballed me to see what I was doing. He didn’t like me being that close, but I lucked out, at least for a few minutes. His near fall shook him up. Given his past history of suicide gestures, and his present fear of falling, I thought I had a reasonable chance to talk him down.

“Sum’bish! I ain’t takin’ this no more! You get back! I’m gonna do it! I don’ care!” And to illustrate his point, he began pushing himself over the ledge until he was sitting only about halfway on the ledge and halfway into the great beyond. He was even more shaky, a massive jolt of adrenaline mixing with the booze and whatever else he’d sucked down.

My deaf act wouldn’t work anymore. “Joe, relax man, I’m not gonna grab you. I just want to listen, OK? I promise, no closer. We’ll just talk.” I held my arms open, palms toward him (body language counts), and gently edged toward the ledge, keeping the same relative distance between us. I could always back off if I had to, but I didn’t want to surrender any ground. If I could distract him with talk, he might forget how close I was. If I had to make a dive for him, I wanted to be against the edge for support. Maybe, just maybe, his falling 180+ pounds wouldn’t drag me over with him. Maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have to release him to save myself. Maybe I wouldn’t watch him fall only to wake up in a gasping, soaking wet adrenaline rush, over and over for the rest of my life.

Another officer was trying to come up from behind Joe, but Joe had experience. He chose a part of the roof with a good view from all angles. There was no real cover for my partner. He glanced behind us and spotted the other cop. My heart leapt into my throat. Joe’s face got red, he began shaking and shifted his weight until just about all that kept him from doing a Superman was his shaky hands and the friction between the threadbare seat of his filthy jeans and the outside corner of the ledge. “You ain’t trickin’ me! I ain’t takin’ this! I’m gonna do it this time! I got nothin! I’m goin!”

“Joe! Listen to me!” He was seriously thinking about it. “Joe!” I shouted as loudly as I could in my most authoritative command voice. He winced and turned his head to look at me. “Joe, I’m gonna have him leave; look Joe. Watch; he’ll leave now.” I calmly but emphatically gestured for my partner to withdraw. He hesitated. Cops like to act, to be in control. If you’re not close enough to try to grab a jumper, you’ve got no control. He didn’t like what I was asking him to do, but he backed off.

“See Joe? He’s leaving. Like I said, I’m not going to grab you. Come on now, you’re awful close to falling. Come back on the ledge a little more. You can always jump later. What’s a little talk gonna hurt? Come on Joe, I’ve always been good to you, haven’t I?”

I barely knew Joe. I arrested him for having an open container about a year earlier. I treated him humanely, but we really had no relationship. I needed to try to create one, fast, even if it was only in his mind.

When my partner disappeared behind a huge air conditioner about 10 yards away, Joe turned his attention back to me and carefully, slowly, pulled himself back up until he was sitting fully on the ledge again. Another good sign. He was shaking like a palsied chicken. Not a good sign. He was so agitated and spastic he could go over accidentally.

“What’s up Joe? Why are you here?”

“I don’ care,” he slurred and sadly shook his head, mumbling incoherently.

“Joe, I care. What’s goin’ on?” Within the last few minutes, I managed, moving millimeters at a time, to ease within about five feet. I could jump him and stand a good chance of dumping him on the roof, flat on his back. Even if he did jump, I’d probably be able to grab enough of him or his clothing to hold him until my partner and the small crowd of security guys and hotel staff hovering at the rooftop door could get to me and help. Probably.

Joe started sobbing. Turns out his relatives had thrown him out. The Lakota have a tradition of taking care of their relatives, even distant relatives. If one shows up, drunk and sloppy at your door, it’s the worst kind of bad manners--maybe even a betrayal of your shared heritage--if you don’t give them a place to sleep and share what you have. Joe had even worn out that welcome, at least temporarily--quite an accomplishment.

I turned toward the ledge and appeared--to Joe--to be leaning on it, listening and nodding. Body language is important between men, and particularly to Indians. You don’t want to make too much eye contact, and you can’t expect every second to be filled with conversation. White folks get uncomfortable if the air between them isn’t thick with chat. Not so with Indians. So I waited, nodded, and appeared to be staring off into space, relaxed, comfortable. I could see him clearly out of the corner of my eye. My knees were slightly bent; I was ready to pounce on him.

Joe’s problems alternated between anger at his relatives for betraying their heritage and anger at himself for being a drunk. Joe didn’t like himself much, and he wasn’t doing any better with others. But as we talked, he swung one leg back over to the roof side of the ledge. Five minutes later, both legs were over the roof side.

He was facing me, and making more regular eye contact. I turned to face him, leaning on the ledge with my left elbow. To Joe, I was completely relaxed and no threat. Another few minutes, and Joe was standing on the roof, but both hands still clamped the ledge. He was letting me know that he was ready to climb back up. There was no way I’d allow that to happen, but he didn’t know it. I could have jumped him, wrestled him to the roof and ended it, but that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I had the time.

“Well Joe,” I asked, “whatcha wanna do?”

He was puzzled. I was giving him options. He had to think about that one awhile. “I dunno,” he finally said. He was looking for an out, a way to back down gracefully. I had to come up with one.

I don’t know why, but a line from the classic Dustin Hoffman western Little Big Man popped into my mind. I turned back toward the ledge and Joe did the same. People often unconsciously mimic each other’s body language. I gestured all around us at the overcast sky, the hazy Black Hills, and the growing swarm of evening traffic. “Joe, look at everything around you. The Hills, the sky; it’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

He nodded gravely.
“This is not a good day to die.”

Joe nodded emphatically and we turned away from the ledge together. Our minds were made up.

I took a step and put my left arm around his shoulders. Joe put his arm around my shoulders. He was big time relieved. In a traditional Western, we’d cut our thumbs, press them together, exchange some blood and become brothers for life. That was before AIDS--so much for brotherhood. “C’mon Joe. Let’s get outta here,” I said. Joe was smiling and nodded his assent.

I didn’t put my arm around him to be friendly. I wanted physical control in case he changed his mind. I could feel the slightest tension or change of intent. Without Joe feeling forced, I could gently guide him where I wanted him to go. And with my left side to him, my handgun was safely out of his reach. Cops always have to think about that.

We drove, conversing amiably, to the mental health lock up. Joe told me about the time his sister passed out in a low rent bar’s bathroom and nearly drowned before he found her and pulled her head out of the stool. Man! Them was good times, wasn’t they?

At the lockup I kept Joe occupied with chat and motion and coaxed him into removing everything he was wearing that might be dangerous. Then we sat together, cross-legged on the floor of his bare walled suicide watch cell, and I listened and nodded. It never hurts to build up some positive capital with your repeat customers. I was careful to sit just out of reach.

Thirty minutes later, Joe fell into a deep, boozy sleep, and I tucked him in--without a blanket--and left. He looked content--and deflated.

I did my job, but I felt no elation. Maybe I saved a life, but somehow I didn’t think I accomplished anything--postponed the inevitable, maybe.

Maybe it would have been a good day to die.

Posted by MikeM at 11:47 PM | Comments (8)

September 09, 2011

The Literature Corner: Time Management

Cops will tell you that the hardest part of being a police officer, the part that produces the most stress, is not dealing with the public, or even dealing with criminals, but dealing with other police officers, particularly supervisors.

This edition of the Literature Corner focuses on one of my experiences with a pre-historic cop.

Time Management

Sgt. Mike Pulaski was a dinosaur. He was one of the old breed. He first became a cop when one might deal with a drunk by driving him 20 miles into the country and letting him walk home, if they didn’t beat him senseless for annoying them in the first place. Another alternative might be beating them senseless and leaving them in a dumpster. He was pre-Miranda, and long before the time that criminals would happily sue any cop who hurt their feelings. In Pulaski’s day, criminals figured that getting roughed up by the police was just part of the cost of doing business. After all, they were ripping off society, they were predatory scum; didn’t society deserve to get a few licks in? They thought so, the police thought so, and so did most citizens. Then the 60’s and liberal Supreme Courts happened.

Pulaski managed to restrain those tendencies over the years, but he never managed to catch up with modern policing techniques, and wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer in the first place, so of course, he was promoted to sergeant-- middle management.

In police work, people are often promoted for reasons that have little or nothing to do with their ability to do the job. Have an officer who is dangerous? Can’t do his job properly? Is he the Chief’s buddy? Is he a good old boy? Just feel sorry for him in general? Promote him! That way he can’t do any immediate harm. The Peter Principle--people rising to the level of their own incompetence--is alive and well in law enforcement.

Pulaski had been a supervisor in Detectives for many years, and finally, they had enough of him. In most police organizations, becoming a detective is a promotion relative to the patrol force. Detectives are considered to be sort of super cops, supreme beings whose abilities far outstrip those of normal mortals. As such, they have many special perks and privileges and freedoms not accorded the patrol troops. Unlimited coffee breaks, for example. Another of those perks is the juice to get rid of people they don’t want. And so it was that after many years in a comfortable, relatively work-free environment, Sgt. Mike Pulaski came to be a shift supervisor on my shift, working for a Lieutenant who was many years younger.

Pulaski’s reputation preceded him, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Most of the guys and girls were. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that the Detectives were wise indeed, and that we were in trouble.

Pulaski didn’t have a clue. He had no idea of patrol procedures, of safety tactics, of, well, just about everything necessary to be an effective cop, to say nothing of a capable supervisor of cops. At the same time, he wasn’t at all afraid to issue orders that were contrary to proper procedures or common sense. He wasn’t the slightest interested in learning anything either. He had two years to retirement, and he saw no point in changing the formulas that made him such a stunning success for his entire career.

It was at once frustrating, dangerous, comical and sad. You want an example? Shortly after he came to the shift it was evaluation time, and he and my other Sgt. and Lt. were conducting my evaluation. Toward the end of the chat, after he made a completely bizarre observation about my performance, so off the mark it was virtually in another language. We were all stunned. He somehow picked up on the silence, and said: “we’re aware of what we think we see.” He sat back, nodded, and crossed his arms in satisfaction. After a beat, the other Sgt. and the Lt. were staring, open mouthed at him, but I just grinned slightly, nodded politely and said, “of course you are.” No sense trying to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Pulaski was also a pretty stern moralist, a fundamentalist Christian. Though he did radically alter those views after having an affair, getting caught, and getting divorced after decades of marriage. Patrol work does offer certain--opportunities--and Pulaski ended up taking advantage of them. He was far from alone.

Pulaski called me into his office one relatively slow Sunday night after he’d been on the shift about four months. “I think you might have a problem, but I’m not sure you have a problem. You might not have a problem at all, but I’d like your help in solving this problem that you might not have.”

I was momentarily unsure if he was kidding, but he wasn't. He was being very sincere and had no idea that he was making no sense at all--he never did. I decided to play along. “Uh, sure Sarge. No problem. What’s the--uh-- problem?” He was starting to make me do it!

He explained that he noticed (he was aware of what he thought he saw) that I had a great deal of overtime lately. That, to him, indicated that I had a “time management problem.” In his simplistic universe, I simply wasn’t getting my reports written on time, so I ended up having to write them after the shift was over, hence, overtime.

Overtime is a love/hate thing in police work. It’s a constant bane for everyone. Administrators can virtually never hire all the troops they need to really do the job, so police forces are always short handed. This can sometimes be dangerous, and it’s always annoying. The troops have to do far more work than is safe or reasonable to do, so they’re always racking up overtime, often writing the reports they didn’t have time to do during their shift, running from call to call, after the shift ended.

On one hand, the troops love the OT because getting one and a half times their normal pay really helps pad the paycheck. On the other hand, police work is very stressful and tiring, and most cops don’t like to hang around for additional shifts--not on a regular basis anyway--or to do paperwork. Most cops really hate paperwork.

Administrators have limited budgets and are always being pressured to keep overtime at a minimum by the same people who deny them enough bodies to do the job in the first place. So administrators are always running around complaining about all the overtime, issuing orders to their subordinates about eliminating unnecessary overtime, while at the same time knowing that they shouldn’t be complaining and they can’t really cut down on the overtime. They also fight about compensatory time--work extra today, get that time off tomorrow, or at some time in the future--because it’s even worse than overtime. How can you let someone off when that will make a shift even weaker, which will only increase overtime? Still, it was often done.

I pressed Pulaski a bit and found out that he noticed that on the previous shift, I had very little overtime, but on this shift--the afternoon shift--I had a great deal of overtime. I was amazed, but I just nodded and promised to do my best to deal with the problem I might not have. No sense annoying this particular pig.

What Pulaski was missing was the fundamental nature of police shift work. The day shift, from 6:00 AM until 2:00 PM, was not generally too busy. Even with a number of calls that required reports, the average officer usually had enough time to sit and write them in the field without generating much overtime. The afternoon shift, from 2:00 PM until 10:00 PM, was the busiest shift by far. Officers tended to literally dash from call to call with no time to write. Particularly if they took a report or made an arrest late in the shift, overtime was a foregone conclusion. Everyone knew they’d likely be hanging around after shift whether they wanted to or not. Finally, the midnight shift, from 10:00 PM until 6:00 AM, was busier than the day shift but commonly not as busy at the afternoon shift. Usually, after 3:00 AM, things quieted down a little and officers could get their reports done, but not always.

Pulaski was too dense to realize that it was only normal to have little overtime on the day shift--the shift we’d finished only a few weeks before--a great deal of overtime on the afternoon shift, and somewhat less overtime on the midnight shift, therefore I had a time management problem.

I chatted with my Lieutenant about it. “He said you had what?”

“A time management problem, but he wasn’t sure I had it and wanted my help in solving the problem I might not have at all.”

He broke up.

“Hey, it’s not THAT funny. He’s serious!”

“Yeah, I know,” the L-T said. “But you’ve got to admit, it’s original!”

“Original. Great. So what do you suggest I do?”

“Well,” he said, drying his eyes, “you’re not sucking up any illegitimate OT are you?”

“Nah. You know that.”

“OK then. Let’s just wait and see what happens, but keep me posted.”

“No sweat.”

“And watch that time management problem, will you?”

“Har, har.”

As I expected, my OT dropped off a bit on the midnight shift (we changed each month), and dropped to essentially nothing on the day shift. Pulaski called me in and congratulated me on solving my time management problem. I thanked him for the opportunity to improve myself. Oink, oink.

From that day forward, the L-T turned my "time management problem" into a department legend, one of those little things that crops up over and over for comic relief. Cops need a lot of that.

Posted by MikeM at 11:03 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2011

The Literature Corner: I Used To Be A Marine

“Car 3, two-two,” the dispatcher--radio call sign “two-two”--droned.

Without conscious thought, I lifted the microphone to my lips. “Car 3,” I replied.

“Stockman’s Bar; Omaha and Maple. Henry Running Elk needs to go to Detox.”

“Enroute,” I replied, almost simultaneously replacing the mic in its holder and turning the corner to reverse my track. All of the patrons of the Stockman’s were always incredibly drunk. Whew. If the Stockman’s wants Henry to go to Detox, he must be unbelievably blitzed. It wasn’t exactly a Parisian sidewalk cafe frequented by the wealthy and avant-garde. Its patrons were Bohemian in shabby dress and poverty only.

It was only 2230 on Sunday night. I hadn’t been on the street ten minutes and the cycle was already starting. My mini-Blazer didn’t smell good. Another semi-wild black haired regular on the way to Detox on the previous shift was gracious enough to empty the contents of his shriveled stomach in the back seat, and even though the officer/recipient of that little present did her best to clean it up, the odor--as always--lingered. Hmmm. Ripple Blanc, late June I should think. An amusing and delicate bouquet, yet not too pretentious. That’s what you get when you buy your wine in a gallon jug.

As I slid out of my car, I reached for my hat but decided to leave it. The Chief is a hat fanatic. The preservation of life itself pales in comparison to the wearing of hats. My wife thinks my hat makes me look like the Nazis in Casa Blanca. Besides, every time I have to run, or struggle with someone, the damned thing falls off and gets stomped into road kill.

I push the door open, and just like in a movie western, heads swivel and all eyes lock on me. My eyes adjust to the dim, smoky atmosphere. The bartender nods and points to the stool at the end of the bar. It’s a ritual we’ve performed hundreds of times. Henry has degenerated to the point that it’s hard to tell where he ends and the stool begins.

Henry’s pals, well on the way to oblivion, nod and smile. They’re all my regular customers. They know that I’ll be back for some of them later, and if not tonight, soon. We all know the drill, and mostly, they play by the rules with a sense of amiable detachment. They know I’m not there for them. They’re content.

They’re the staggering wounded. Tripped up by life, they’re just too pickled to die, at least not right away. Their average, everyday B.A.C must hover around 0.30--three times the legal limit for DUI. At that level they’re all numb smiles, but to the casual observer, normal, perhaps even sober.

“Henry,” I say softly, gently shaking him. No response. “Henry. C’mon Henry, we’re going to take a ride.” Nothing. He’s face down in a pool of his own saliva.

Geez, but he’s awfully still. He couldn’t be. . .? I check his carotid pulse. . .nah. Not dead, but he’s probably a 0.42. After awhile, most cops can judge B.A.C (Blood Alcohol Content) levels with a good degree of accuracy. For some reason, I’m very accurate--I win nearly all the hospital emergency room betting pools.

I try a pressure point at the jaw line under his right ear. For virtually anyone, it’s incredibly painful and compels them to move immediately. Henry doesn’t even flinch. I try my favorite wrist lock. Designed to make anyone pop to their tip toes and beg to do as you ask, it only provokes a mild, annoyed grunt. Henry raises his head just long enough to snort and rocket an asteroid-sized booger into the pool of saliva on the bar.

He’s another dragger. Most cops aren’t injured in shootouts or fights. They suffer back injuries hauling the Henrys of the world. I call for backup and when he arrives, all I have to do is nod toward Henry and he knows.

Henry was a big, strong guy once upon a time. A Marine. He always tells you that, and he was too. A few years back, one of the guys checked it out. He did three tours in Vietnam; got loads of decorations. He was a real high-speed, low-drag kind of guy. But that was then and this is now. Years of an all-alcohol diet have withered his body, maybe his soul.

Henry’s a particularly ripe dishrag as we slither him off the stool and carry/drag him out of the bar to the boozy cheers and applause of the onlookers. I smile, nod to acknowledge their appreciation of my work, and bid them adieu. It never hurts to build a little good will with your regulars.

Fresh air feels and smells good. We pour Henry into the back seat of my once-pristine Blazer and chat for a few minutes about how much Henry has deteriorated since we saw him last. Last week wasn’t it? I suggest that he’ll probably not survive to see next summer. My partner nods his agreement. We’ll meet at Detox. Henry will doubtless be limp as a dishrag there too.

I’m almost at Detox when the moist, warm stench of kidney- filtered cheap wine fills the truck. Thanks a bunch Henry. I’ll never get the smell out. I wonder if Henry will notice he wet himself when he wakes up, or is that--like being constantly drunk--just part of his everyday cycle of life?

We ease Henry onto the bench and call for the staff. While we’re waiting, Henry snorts and hacks to semi-consciousness and rises ponderously to his feet. Only one eye is even partially open, veins blazing fire engine red. Snot runs freely into his scraggly mustache, and drool hangs like a dirty icicle from his rubbery, numb lower lip.

Even before he moves, something in Henry’s posture tells me it’s coming, so I only have to shift my weight slightly to the side. He’s still pretty fast. I have the choice of dodging or catching, not both. Henry’s right hand, only partially a fist, wobbles past my head with all the intensity and grace of a Gooney bird on landing approach.

As momentum carries him past me and he falls, in the curiously disjointed slow motion of the lifelong alcoholic, toward the tile floor, Henry mumbles sadly. Unintelligible to anyone who hasn’t spent years hearing his language--the language of brains irretrievably damaged by booze--I get it. He hits face first, makes a wet, sloppy splat, and is down and out for the count.

“I know Henry,” I say softly, “You used to be a Marine.”

Posted by MikeM at 03:44 AM | Comments (4)

August 26, 2011

The Literature Corner: Home Run!

This edition of The Literature Corner is a charming true tale of alcoholism, stupidity, love gone wrong, drooling and baseball, not necessarily in that order. Featuring an abused woman, the police do their best to be knights in shining armor. Unfortunately, in the real world, not every damsel wants to be rescued, and the armor is always a bit tarnished.

Home Run!

The neighbors called the fight in. Considering the neighborhood, it must have been really good. The average fight wouldn’t have drawn a glance and certainly not a call to the police.

My back up arrived just as I pulled up, several houses down the street. TV cops drive around with a partner--two cops in a single car--but in reality, most cops patrol alone. It doesn’t offer many possibilities for dramatic, dysfunctional interpersonal relationships and snappy dialogue, but it’s more efficient in a real world of strained budgets and insufficient manpower.

We hopped out on foot and carefully maneuvered toward the house. It was a run down shack built into the side of a hill with a ground floor and a basement. The lights blazed from every window, but it didn’t look like anyone was moving.

As we drew nearer the back, basement door, I noticed that it was half open, light streaming into the trash-strewn backyard. Just as Steve and I took up positions on both sides of the door, it banged open and someone stumbled out, scaring the spit out of both of us. Fortunately, he couldn’t see us--coming out of a brightly lit house into a dark backyard his night vision was shot--and he wasn’t looking for us anyway. He stumbled several steps into the yard, clumsily unzipped his fly and with a big sigh, began to water the lawn. Steve looked at me and grinned as we both relaxed. He had no idea we were there; we had the tactical advantage.

After a very long and noisy hosing--he must have had plenty to drink--he started to zip up and suddenly screamed, a long, wailing, high-pitched little girl scream. He was caught in the zipper! He started hopping around, yelping and gyrating wildly as though he was on fire, and I suppose at least one part of him was. With considerable difficulty, Steve and I stifled laughter. We didn’t want him to spot us quite yet.

With a loud sigh of relief, he abruptly stopped hopping around. He spent a few minutes examining and petting the subject of his concerns and when, after putting things away, he finally turned around, we were standing between him and the open door. He let out another girly scream and jumped about five feet straight up into the air. Gotcha! Heh-heh!

“Wha, wha, wha?” he exclaimed as he touched down, his eyes wide open and unfocused, his chin on his chest.

“Hi there. Police Department. We got a call about a problem. What’s up?” I spoke slowly. He was amazingly drunk.

“Up? Whas up?”

“Yeah, what’s up? Do you live here?”

“Here?” He wasn’t getting any smarter.

“Hey, this is Tony--Tony Carter, isn’t it?” My partner said. Tony smiled stupidly.

“OK,” I said, “Tony’s not gonna be much help. Let’s knock and see what happens.” My partner nodded and knocked loudly on the back door.

Someone inside yelled “C’mon in.” That almost always happens, and provides a convenient--and legitimate--excuse for the police to come into a house. “Well your Honor, we knocked at the door and hearing someone inside ask us to enter, we did.” The police have no more restriction in that than an average citizen. If Joe Average can legally walk up to a given door, knock, and be invited inside, so can the Police.

We smiled at each other, and guiding Tony in front of us, walked in. The back door opened into a sort of utility room, with a trashed washing machine and a possibly functional dryer against one wall and a badly rusted and obviously leaky water heater against the other. The floor of the room was actually ankle deep in various kinds of trash: old clothes, fast food wrappers, beer bottles, you name it, it was there, and so was the smell. Nothing like decaying goodies of all kinds to add to the ambiance.

We walked into the main basement room. There was a sofa against one wall, and a love seat against the other. Both pieces of furniture were so ragged and threadbare, with so many cigarette burns and other holes in the fabric it was hard to tell what color they were, or might have originally been. I didn’t want to even think about what the various stains might be. On the unpainted concrete floor a torn and equally threadbare rug was bunched.

Asleep on the sofa was Susan Taylor. Susan was a stone alcoholic. She was in her early 40’s but looked 70. She was so skinny she was almost skeletal. Sprawled on the love seat--actually, it was more of a lust seat those days--was Tom Sobinski, another member of the local alcoholic set. Only 26, Tom looked at least twenty years older. Empty beer bottles surrounded him. Though he was at least semiconscious, he was drooling like mad and making no attempt to stop.

But what really caught my attention was the huge, red and rapidly swelling knot on the forehead of Vicki Campbell, who was sitting on the floor, her filthy and torn jeans-clad legs spread wide, her arms hanging limp, her back against the couch. If we were in a cartoon, stars and little chirping birdies would have been rapidly circling her head. She quietly muttered “uh, uh, uh,” and tried--unsuccessfully--to focus her eyes on me.

I knelt down and spoke to her. “Vicki. Vicki! Can you hear me? Do you know where you are?”

She just kept grunting, though she did make an effort to turn her face toward my voice. She was incredibly drunk, just like the rest of them. There must have been at least 50 freshly emptied beer cans and bottles littering the tiny basement room. I flashed the beam of my flashlight across her eyes. Her pupils, which were the same size, constricted--rather slowly--but they constricted. That was a good sign. Pupils that aren’t the same size and that don’t react to light are usually a sign of a serious concussion, maybe even brain damage.

“Vicki, do you want an ambulance? Should I call an ambulance? Do you want to see a doctor?”

“NO!” Vicki suddenly came to life. “No docker,” she mumbled.

That took care of that. We don’t call ambulances for people like Vicki unless they have an obviously life threatening injury, and even so, they can refuse to be treated. You can’t force people to accept medical treatment. In any case, she wasn’t going to pay for treatment. I decided to make one more try. “Vicki, are you sure? That looks pretty bad. We can call an ambulance.”

“No docker, she slurred.”

“Yeah, no docker,” Tom added from the lust seat.

“Vicki, how’d you get that knot on your forehead? What happened?” I asked.

“Got hit,” she slurred, and passed out.

“Why don’t you take Tom and Susan upstairs and see what they can tell you. I’m going to have a little chat with Tony,” I said to my partner. We both understood that he was the most likely suspect.

“Right,” he said and helped them stumble up the stairs.

By then, Tony had slumped on the lust seat and was grinning like an idiot. “OK Tony, have you been here all night?”

Still grinning, Tony replied, “yeah, dude!”

“OK then. What happened to Vicki?”

Tony swung his arms as though he was knocking a ball over the fence, made a pretty good impression of the “ping” sound an aluminum softball bat nailing a ball makes, and exclaimed “home run, dude!”

“Home run? You mean she got hit in the head with a bat?”

He nodded happily. “That’s it Dude! Home run!” Tony giggled in a high-pitched little-girl voice choked off by a Great Dane sized hacking fit.

“OK Tony,” I said, “who hit her?”

“I did, dude! Best homer I every hit!” He was really pleased with himself.

“What's that again, Tony?” I asked. This was great! He was confessing to aggravated assault, maybe even attempted murder. He began to ramble on incoherently about Vicki making him mad. After about five minutes, I came away with the impression that he hit her because she didn’t like parakeets, or maybe Pabst beer, possibly underwear or aliens or aliens in somebody's underwear, or she was just ticking him off in general, but it was hard to tell. “OK Tony, where’s the bat?”

“Out back, dude.”

“You threw it out there after you hit her?”

“Thas it, dude!”

“Why did you throw it out back?”

“Home run, dude!” He replied grinning like the village idiot. I just looked at him, impassively, waiting. People tend to fill empty air with talk, so after a brief pause he added “I didn’ want her hittin’ me with it, dude.”

Just then, Steve came back downstairs. “What did you get?” I asked.

“Well, according to Tom, Vicki and Tony are kind of a couple--at least for tonight--and were going at each other over something. Tom said he thinks Tony hit Vicki with something.”

“How about Susan?”

“Nah. She passed out as soon as we got upstairs. She’s not going to add anything tonight. Oh yeah; Tom said he was glad Tony shut Vicki up because she was gettin’ on his nerves.”

“Swell. Tony said he hit her with a bat and tossed it out back. Would you go check on that?”

“No sweat,” Steve said and headed out the door. I kept an eye on Tony, who was muttering some kind of melody to himself and still grinning and drooling. Steve came back a few minutes later holding an aluminum baseball bat.

“Take a look at this,” He said, handing me the bat.

“Oh man,” I said. There was a significant dent in the sweet spot. “Where was it?

“About 20 feet straight out the back door,” Steve replied.

I held up the bat. “Is this the bat, Tony?”

“That’s the one, dude. Home Run!” he happily exclaimed, making another batting motion.

I nodded and made a slight cuffing gesture with my right hand, indicating that I was going to handcuff Tony. Steve nodded and took the bat and we took up positions on either side of him.

“OK Tony, stand up,” I said.

He shakily got to his feet, and I spun him around and cuffed him. “You’re under arrest, Tony.”

“Oh man, dude. I knew you wuz gonna do that!”

“Tony, you could have killed her. You shouldn’t do that.”

“Hey, she deserved it dude. Besides, ‘was the best hit I ever made! Home run!”

Vicki wasn’t responding to any of it. She was still asleep. Steve took Tony to his car and I checked on her again. Her eyes were still OK, and she was breathing regularly. I made a note to have the next shift check in on her, stuck around long enough to do a set of photos of the crime scene and the back yard, and headed in to tell Steve the charges for Tony.

The prosecutor settled on aggravated assault. It’s a felony, but not as serious as attempted murder. Tony couldn’t bond out, so he ended up sitting in jail until the preliminary hearing a month later. That isn’t as bad as it sounds. He sobered up and got decent food and regular showers for the first time in years.

There’s always a preliminary hearing for felony charges. A preliminary is sort of a mini-trial where the judge determines whether there is enough evidence to warrant a complete trial. Of course the defendant--Tony in this case--can always waive the preliminary and even plead guilty at any time, but his public defender decided to go the whole route this time. It was a good strategy that paid off.

Why did it pay off? He was counting on Vicki being drunk, or just not caring, and not showing up. He was right. She didn’t.

And unlike in the movies or on TV, that was the end of that case. The judge dismissed the charges and freed Tony. There was no point in trying to round up Vicki. Even if we did arrest her and drag her into court, no jury would convict on the word of an alcoholic who had to be arrested to get her to come to court. After all, if she cared so little about it, why should they? Also unlike TV or the movies, it happened all the time.

For the public defender--and Tony--I guess it really was a home run.

Posted by MikeM at 11:53 PM | Comments (1)

August 20, 2011

The Literature Corner: I Ain't No Crim'nul...

For this edition of the Literature Corner, I present a tale shamelessly modeled on Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." This particular true story took place during the years that I worked as a division commander in charge of just about everything no one else wanted to do, including evidence, vehicle maintenance, animal control, radio maintenance, a variety of other tasks, and also managed a small jail used primarily for short term incarceration. One night, a very drunk, very lonesome all hat and no cattle cowboy was a guest in my establishment…

I Ain't No Crim'nul…

“No!” The rodeo clown cried. “Don’t do it Billy Bob! The Crusher killed the last 20 cowboys tried to ride him! You’re doomed, doomed I tell yuh! Get off ‘fore it’s too late!”

Billy Bob snarled in defiance and swung his leg over the enormous back of the black bull. He could feel the incredible, animal power rumbling beneath the coarse hide as the Crusher snorted and fiercely pawed the loosely packed Earth. He wrapped the leather strap tightly around his right hand, locking himself in place. “Get out of the way, you fool!” he snapped.

“I’m tellin’ yuh, don’t do it. Ain’t nobody kin ride the Crusher!”

“I can,” Billy Bob spat, a confident smile playing across his weathered, yet ruggedly handsome face as he glanced toward the stands and saw Sally Mae Roughrider, the Rodeo Queen, bouncing up and down in nervous anticipation, concern furrowing her pretty brow, her wavy, long blonde hair shining in the high noon sun. Billy Bob touched the tips of the fingers of his left hand to the brim of his hat in a jaunty, fearless salute. She nearly dissolved, so taken was she by his attentions, by the slight gesture of recognition.

“Billy Bob! No...”

The buzzer blared and the gate exploded outward...

“ more cowboy. You’ve had enough. Why don’t you head on home?”

The bartender stood, wiping a glass, looking down into the puffy, reddened face of the young oil field roughneck in a complete cowboy outfit: Shiny boots, freshly pressed, skin tight boot cut jeans--razor sharp creases down the legs, a belt with his name on the back complete with a buckle big enough to serve as a dinner plate. A neatly pressed western shirt and a black Stetson completed his ensemble. He looked the part.

“’Nuff? Nuff? I ain’t started yet!” The cowboy waved his arms wildly and looked around, his eyes unfocused and empty. “I ain’t...started...” his voice trailed off and his head slowly sagged onto the top of the bar.

“I ain’t started yet,” the sheriff said coldly to the cowardly Mayor of the little cow town.

“But Sheriff,” the Mayor whined, “you’ve already arrested every outlaw in the territory, and killed twenty more just last week. Nobody will think the less of you if you don’t face down Johnny Dingo and his gang!”

“Like I said: I ain’t started yet.”

“Sheriff, it’s five ‘till high noon. There’s still time. You can just ride out. The train won’t be here for five more minutes. Save yourself!”

The sheriff spun the cylinder of his Colt .45 revolver, listening to the metallic clicking. Six cartridges; six outlaws. He snapped the loading gate shut and twirled the glistening handgun expertly into its low slung holster. “There’s some things a man’s gotta do, Mayor,” the Sheriff drawled. He plucked the silver star from his chest and polished it, rubbing it on his shirt. As he pinned it back into place, the door burst open.

“Oh Bart, Bart, don’t do it!” It was Betsy Sue, the young and beautiful owner of the saloon. She rushed, weeping, into the Sheriff’s manly arms. “I don’t know what I’d do without you! You can’t win Bart; you can’t win!” She dissolved into a torrent of tears, staining her pale, white cheeks.

“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” the Sheriff muttered quietly. He picked Betsy Sue up and placed her gently in the chair behind his desk as she wept convulsively and clutched at him. In the distance, he heard the shrill wail of the rapidly approaching train whistle.

The door burst open again. It was little Billy, the orphaned shoeshine boy. “Bart, don’t go Bart! What will I do without you?” Billy wrapped his scrawny arms around Bart’s leg.

“Some day you’ll understand, Billy,” Bart drawled. The Mayor pulled Billy from Bart and held him as he struggled to grasp the stalwart lawman, tears running down his narrow face.

“Woof! Woof!” barked Bart’s faithful dog Lightning, his tail wagging nervously.

Bart pulled open the door, a steely glint in his pale blue eyes, his gun hand rock steady...

“Bart!” Billy cried, “ Come back Bart, come back...”

“Yeah, he’s comin’ back now,” the bartender said, pointing toward the cowboy whose left cheek was covered with beer from the puddle on the bar top.

“OK, we got him,” the police officers said.

“Thanks for comin’ so quickly.”

“No problem. We were only a few blocks away when we got the call. Do you know this guy’s name?”

“Nah. I’ve seen him in here once before I think, but I don’t know him.”

“OK. Hey fella, Police Department. Police officers.” The officers each took an arm and stood him up. He struggled back to full consciousness, his eyes heavy lidded, beer dripping off his face onto his new western shirt.

“Police? I ain’t no crim’nul; turrrrrrrrrrrn me loose!” he muttered, slurring badly as he stumbled and nearly fell.

The officers caught his falling, urban-cowboyed bulk and pulled him back to his feet. “I know, but you’re drunk. You’re comin’ with us. We’re going to take you somewhere where you can sleep it off. C’mon.” The officers led him toward the door. Falling asleep, he stumbled and tripped, but just before he passed out completely, he mumbled, “I ain’t no crim’nul...”

“I know Tex. I wish I could turn you loose… “ The Warden stood with the Preacher at the door of the cell at the end of death row, “…but it’s time.”

“The Governor?” Tex asked.

“I’m sorry Tex. No word,” the Warden whispered, brushing a tear from his eye.

Tex nodded and rose from the cot. He squared his shoulders and cleared his throat. He walked purposefully out of the cell and began his final walk down that long hallway. Nobody would ever say that he, Tex McCorkle, cowboy, didn’t face his fate with courage and grit. Why, Tex McCorkle laughed in the face of death!

“It’s time to make your peace, Tex,” the preacher said.

“Too late for that, preacher,” Tex said defiantly. “I’ll see you in Hell!”

“Do you have any last words, Tex?” the Warden asked.

“I didn’t do it. I ain’t no crim’nul,” Tex said simply, without sorrow or regret.

“I know it, Tex. I know it,” the warden said, shaking his head sadly. “The trial was a farce. You wuz railroaded. But I’m bound by law to carry out my duty.”

“Ain’t yer fault Warden,” Tex said. Beyond the door at the end of the hall, the crack of the trap door flapping open and the sandbag snapping the rope taut as it fell through echoed in the narrow hallway. “I ain’t no crim’nul...”

“Has he been doing that all night?” The morning shift Sergeant asked as he put his briefcase down on the desktop.

“...turrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrn me loose!”

The midnight shift Sergeant chuckled. “Yeah, all night, about every 30 seconds like clockwork. Kind of mournful, isn’t it?”

“I’d say so. It’s a wonder anybody else in the jail got any sleep.”

“We lucked out there. Midnight shift snagged two more, but they bonded out shortly after they were processed. He’s been by himself for the last five hours.”

“OK then.” The morning Sergeant glanced at the booking sheet. “He’s in just for being drunk. He’s a roughneck for Halliburton, huh? Anything else I should know about?”

“Nah. It was pretty quiet last night. If you’re ready, I think I’ll head home.”

“No sweat. You Sir, are relieved.”

“Thanks. See you tomorrow.”

“Sounds good.”

And as the night shift supervisor pushed open the door, down that long hallway, from the depths of death row, came Tex McCorkle, cowboy’s, lonely, plaintive moan: “I ain’t no crim’nul; turrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrn me loose!”

Posted by MikeM at 12:59 AM | Comments (4)

August 12, 2011

The Literature Corner for August 13, 2011: The Bixby Letter

The Literature Corner for August 13, 2011: The Bixby Letter

Continuing with the theme established in The Literature Corner for last week, I present another of the essential letters of America. As I wrote last week, there are some writings, some documents that should be well known by every American, yet are too often ignored in favor of "celebrating diversity" and multi-cultural consciousness raising. The result, all too often, is Americans graduating from high school and even college with no idea of the depth and meaning of our foundational documents, and of the stature and character of those who wrote them. Substituted instead are the self-referential writings of people of far, far less importance and import than the author of the simple letter that is today's offering.

The Bixby Letter was written by Abraham Lincoln in 1864, and wide-spread interest in it was rekindled by its reading in the movie Saving Private Ryan. The original is lost, but in 2008, a Texas museum found what may be an authentic government copy of the letter. Go here for a story on that document and for history on the original.

In these simple, heartfelt lines, written in a time when correspondence was handwritten, providing ample time for reflection, it is both touching in its genuine sympathy and thrilling in what it reveals about its author. It is impossible to read this letter without understanding that you are reading the thoughts, hopes, and sorrows of a truly great man, one of the indispensable men that seems to appear in America's darkest hours, when they are needed most.

If you've never read the letter, now you have the chance to be sure that your children read it, and understand the immeasurable sacrifices made by so many for the idea of America. There are times when a speech or letter is simply perfect for the occasion. It is not possible to do better. This is such a letter. God grant that we may again find such a leader.

Executive Mansion
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

To Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Mass.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A Lincoln.

Posted by MikeM at 08:17 PM | Comments (4)

August 06, 2011

The Literature Corner: My Very Dear Sarah

08-06-11: My Very Dear Sarah

This edition of the Literature Corner is devoted to one of the greatest and most touching artifacts of the Civil War: The letter of Union Major Sullivan Ballou to his wife, Sarah. Ballou was killed on July 28, 1861, but wrote a letter to Sarah on July 14, a letter that reveals his premonition of his impending death. It first came to the attention of most Americans when it was featured in Ken Burn's brilliant documentary on the Civil War.

Ballou was a lawyer. He volunteered for service. He left behind Sarah and his two youngs sons, Edgar and Willie. He was only 32 when he died.

The letter speaks not only of Ballou's love for his wife in intimately touching, timeless ways, but of his love for his country, for principles and ideals beyond himself, ideals worth far more than the life of any one man. It is in this letter that we see the soul of America. We see what countless Americans have seen, what they have always understood, and what they have always been willing to fight and die to preserve. We see what Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg address: "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

There are some documents, some writings that every American must know. This letter is among them, and if you were not previously aware of it, you now have the chance, the obligation to ensure that your children know it, and that they know what it means. In this simple, heartfelt letter, we have the answer to those who believe—including our President—that America and Americans—are nothing special. Major Sullivan Ballou reveals the depth and majesty of his soul, of the souls of Americans, and of the shallowness of those who would deny it.

Whenever I read this letter, I weep. I weep for the loss of one of the best of us and for those who have paid the ultimate price that I may live in comfort and freedom. I weep for the purity and intensity of his love for Sarah, and pray that my love for my wife might be so sincere and worthy. I weep that any American would be so base as to not understand Ballou or to ridicule his love of country and his countrymen. And I weep as I fear that too many of us may no longer care to understand this letter and men like Ballou. I pray I am wrong.

I am, however, comforted by one unshakable belief: I know that Major Ballou did meet Sarah and Edgar and Willie again, and that it was a meeting joyous and fulfilling beyond our imaginations. They deserved it, and the just and merciful God provided it.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days -- perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure -- and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done.

If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter.

I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing -- perfectly willing -- to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows -- when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children -- is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles I have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us.

I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me -- perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been!

How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours -- always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood.
Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters.

Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them.

O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.


Posted by MikeM at 12:22 AM | Comments (2)

July 29, 2011

The Literature Corner: 1-800...

This Literature Corner for this week is a tale of the sometimes dysfunctional relationship between patrol officers and dispatchers, and a case of divine, comic inspiration.


I was finishing up the last set of bench press reps in the weight room before beginning another patrol shift when that annoying commercial popped up on the TV again. It was the hearing aid commercial with the tag line “call 1-800-MIRACLE EAR.” I winced as the announcer droned the tag line for at least the 20th time in 30 seconds. I groaned the bar up and into place and shut the TV down. No one minded.

Early on it was obvious that it was going to be a really annoying shift. The Dispatch Center was training new dispatchers again—still--and it was as though they--and the cops on the street--were in alternate universes. Tempers were flaring and the only thing keeping the beleaguered cops from hustling into Dispatch with murder on their minds was that it was a day shift and it wasn’t too busy, so we didn’t have to rely too much upon Dispatch.

Dispatchers are literally the lifeline for cops and the public, particularly for police forces without mobile data terminals (MDTs--computers). Good dispatchers have a sense of what’s happening out there in the real world and can anticipate what an officer might need next. They can do more than one thing at once, can prioritize calls, are calm, efficient and professional and are a joy to work with. Poor dispatchers can’t do any of those things well, and some not at all. They range from annoying to actually dangerous.

Because dispatch pay is even worse than police pay (hard to imagine but true), and because the work is very stressful, people don’t tend to stay in the job for very long. And as with most of the rest of the world, the best dispatchers are chased out by the mediocre. Only the truly horrendous tend to ever be fired, and usually only after their inability causes injury or it becomes painfully obvious--so obvious that it can’t be ignored--that it will, and soon.

A slow dispatcher can blow cases, even put officers at risk. Sometimes, dispatching issues are literally life and death. Police lore is full of true stories of dispatchers receiving panicked calls from citizens whose homes were being burglarized, only to have the dispatchers forget or assign a low call priority, leaving victims to fend for themselves. Sometimes the victims are beaten, raped, even murdered. Talk about your basic public relations nightmare!

Tom Turnwait wasn’t having a good day. Tom was a former Marine and a funny guy. A relatively new cop, Tom pretty much took things in stride. But for some reason, the dispatcher was extraordinarily slow in responding to every request Tom made. We all noticed it, but because dispatchers were hired and fired by another local governmental entity, we had no real control over them. The result was often citizens calling in and reporting police officers pulled over at the roadside, their faces bright red, their eyes bulging out and clouds of steam jetting from their ears, just like in the cartoons.

Tom finally had enough when he made a traffic stop.

“Dispatch; Car 8,” Tom said. No answer.

“Dispatch; Car 8,” Tom repeated calmly. STILL no answer.

“Dispatch; CAR 8,” Tom said again, aggravation creeping into his voice. No matter what they were doing, every cop in town was now listening more closely to the exchange.

DISPATCH; CAR 8!” Tom was really annoyed, and with justification. He had pulled over a traffic violator and it would be unsafe for him to leave his car and approach theirs without Dispatch copying down his location and the plate number of the violator. If Tom got shot, we’d have no idea where he was or who might have shot him. But if he waited too long, the violator would probably get out of their car and approach him. Not a good thing. Cops need to control their environment, and timing is a large part of that control.

“Car 8; Car 10,” I said. “Go ahead, I’ll cover you.”

“Thanks Car 10,” Tom said, obviously relieved but still pretty upset. He gave me the location and license plate information and I copied it down on the notepad I kept on the top of the visor above my head. Because every other cop was convinced that the dispatcher didn’t have a clue and wouldn’t get one anytime soon, they would also copy it down in case Tom yelled for help or didn’t check in within a few minutes. In case of trouble, Dispatch sure couldn’t tell us where he was. In a few minutes, Tom tried again.

“Dispatch; Car 8; registration check,” Tom said, his voice back to normal. No answer.

“DISPATCH; CAR 8; REGISTRATION CHECK!” Tom was really hot. Finally, they caught on.

“Uh, go ahead Car 8...”

Tom read the license plate number, speaking very slowly and distinctly. By now,
every cop in town was paying close attention to the exchange. Most were shaking their heads in disgust. Tom finished reading the plate number.

“Uh, could you repeat that Car 8?” The dispatcher said.

Tom repeated it clearly, slowly, chewing each consonant and vowel, “2 Adam Boy, 3-6-9.” Strangely, his voice was normal again.

“Car 8, was that 2 Adam Boy 2-6-7?”

“2 Adam Boy 3-6-9,” Tom said, his voice absolutely calm, steady and crystal clear.

“2 Adam Dog, 2-6-5?” Repeated the clueless dispatcher.

“2 Aaaadummm Boeeee thuh-reeeee sicksssssssss nnniiiiiiuuuuuunnnnnnn,” Tom said, exaggerating each sound.

“Car 8, could you repeat that?” The hapless dispatcher said. I was staring at my radio speaker in amazement. That’s when Tom received a burst of divine inspiration.

“Dispatch; Car 8; ready to copy a phone number?” Tom asked, supernaturally calm.

“Go ahead Car 8.” Amazing; they got it!

Absolutely deadpan, Tom said: “1-800-Miracle Ear.”

“Uh, could you repeat that Car 8?”

All across town, bewildered citizens were treated to the spectacle of policemen abruptly pulling to the curb and literally laughing until they cried. The shift supervisor ordered Tom to meet him at the station, but he didn’t give him too much trouble. After all, it was divinely inspired. How do you blame a guy for that? Tom was our hero for weeks.

Posted by MikeM at 10:42 PM | Comments (5)

July 23, 2011

Literature Corner: You're a F****** Hero!

For this edition of the Literature Corner, we present a tale of booze, possible rape, and, well, booze. We also introduce readers to the gritty reality of the legal system where no good deed goes unpunished, the guilty often get away with it and the real victims are the public.

Language Warning: Police officers often pick up some of the habits and language of the street. After I left police work, I had to watch myself lest some of the more colorful expressions accidentally leak out into the English classroom. But it makes no sense to have cops talking like 19th century British librarians, so I've compromised a bit. I suspect you'll survive it.

072311: You're A F****** Hero!

Commendations are odd things in law enforcement. In many ways, they serve the same purpose as medals in the military: they’re supposed to encourage and reward exceptional performance and devotion to duty, even heroism. Hand them out to the average and they lose their value. Some big police organizations hand out actual metal medals, but for many, a written commendation serves the same purpose.

I’ve seen a few justifiably awarded commendations, but many are handed out for dubious heroism. There was the case of the officer who was commended for finding a lost infant. In reality, he literally grabbed the kid out of the arms of the officer who actually found her and rushed to the parent’s front door to play the hero. The street guys knew he did that kind of thing all the time. The brass thought he was grand. Then there was the case of the officer who got a commendation just because he was doing a pretty decent job in general (the chief really liked him)!

The weather was odd--not quite one thing or another. It was near 0° and very humid. The wind chill was at least 15° below, but the humidity, oddly, made it feel much warmer. When the occasional gusts of wind passed, a frigid mist immediately followed. It was the kind of deceptive weather that sometimes kills unwary drunks. So I was patrolling the downtown alleys looking for people who couldn’t or wouldn’t look out for themselves.

On the midnight shift, the downtown patrol district was always busy, mostly due to drunks, idiots and idiot drunks. The district was smaller in area than all of the other districts, but had a higher concentration of bars, restaurants, 24 hour quick shops and other night life attractions than just about anyplace in town. Throw in the Civic Center, several major and minor motels, quite a bit of low rent housing and the river that ran through the heart of town, and things were always interesting.

It was about 0130--the bars closed at 0200--and my much-abused van creaked with annoyance as I drove up the steep ramp from the street into the alley behind the Oasis Lounge in the heart of downtown. Civilian police agencies are much like the military. Both have a strict rank structure. Both have a love of uniforms and shiny goodies to hang on them, and both have a kind of irrational, institutional rigidity. The higher cops climb on the rank ladder, the greater love they tend to have for uniforms and shiny baubles. Rigid
hierarchies tend to have reasons for what they do, but sometimes the reasons make no sense. Forcing people to unwaveringly follow rules no matter the circumstance is foolish and sometimes dangerous.

And so it was that the officer who patrolled the downtown district was stuck driving a full sized van. But not just any van, a van with expanded metal grating over the windows--inside--to keep angry drunks from smashing the glass. Why a full sized van? The primary, rigidly hierarchical reason was that it was easier to toss large numbers of drunks into a full sized van than a more maneuverable mini van. This made a sort of sense, even if no one could remember ever carrying more than two or three drunks at a time. The secondary, and institutionally the more important, reason was that it had always been done that way.

What did not make any sense was that the expanded metal wasn’t easily removable. To clean the inside of the windows, it was necessary to remove handfuls of huge sheet metal screws only to try to replace them in the holes in the thin body sheet metal that had long ago been stripped. It didn’t make sense to even try to clean the windows, which got dirtier and dirtier. Not only that, the grating really cut down on the driver’s ability to see. The brilliance of putting the least maneuverable vehicle possible, with the worst driver visibility and a plethora of blind spots, in the highest traffic area in town was a disgusting, dangerous irony to the cops who had to drive the ugly beast, but sheer beauty to administrators who saw the vehicle as a rolling police billboard. And besides, it had always been done that way! Nobody remembered exactly why.

As the suspension of the van finally settled down, I crept down the alley, taking the time to really see, not just to look. As the rear of the Oasis Lounge appeared I noticed two people at the back wall of the bar, near the closed door. They were moving very slowly and were oblivious to me, so I stopped and watched. It’s always smart to observe animals in their natural habitat for a time before interacting with them.

"What the...?" I thought. "Nah, they can’t be..." but they were. She was on her back on the frozen ground, her pants and underwear down around her ankles. He was just rising and was clumsily trying to tuck various personal items back into his ragged and filthy jeans. I hopped out of the van and walked slowly toward them, watching carefully for any sign of weapons or hostility. There were two possibilities: these folks were exploring the joys of true love in an arctic environment, or I had stumbled onto a rape just after the festivities ceased. I called for backup--just in case it wasn’t true, icy love.

I recognized them. He was Willy Williams, 50-something and a stone alcoholic. He probably hadn’t seen a dentist in the last 30 years, and his teeth--not to mention his breath--eloquently testified to that fact. He hadn’t shaved in weeks, and he was badly underdressed for the weather with only jeans, a t-shirt and a pull over sweatshirt. All of these items were, of course, ragged and dirty, covered with stains of, well, stains of just about anything. I was glad that it was so cold; at least I couldn’t smell him--much. How did I know how Willy smelled? He hung out at the Oasis--he was one of my regular customers.

She was Louise Haggerty, also a dedicated alcoholic. She was about Willy’s age and had been divorced and remarried--at least twice--to another alcoholic who was nowhere in sight. Louise might have been pretty once, but not for a long time. For all she knew, muscle tone was a song by the Village People. Her skin hung on her saggy frame like a wet washcloth. Street cops often get the opportunity to see people naked, but the overwhelming majority are best left unseen. Doctors are right; most people look a lot better with their clothes on.

Louise and Willy were homeless in the sense that neither of them had a place of their own, but they always managed to find somewhere to sleep and hang out when they weren’t at the Oasis, which was whenever it was open. That’s how it was with most of the technically “homeless.”

Seeing the two of them together, particularly in this situation, worried me. I’d never seen them hanging together, and I had no reason to think they were an item. Rape was looking more and more likely, if for no reason other than both of their pants were still somewhere between their ankles and waists. They were Olympic class drunk.

“Willy; what’s up?” I asked, standing just out of arm’s reach. People aren't always as drunk as they look at first glance.

“Unnngh, snort,” Willy replied without looking up. He was working very hard to pull up and fasten his jeans and it was taking all of his seriously limited concentration and coordination. He wasn’t making it; I wasn’t about to help. A long streamer of drool ran over his limp lower lip and oozed onto his sleeve.

“Willy! What’s going on? What are you and Louise doing?” Willy looked upward in my general direction. His half closed eyes weren’t about to focus on me. “Police, Willy. I’m the Police. What’d you do; what happened to Louise?”

Willy stared over my left shoulder and grinned like the village idiot. “Weez? I don’ do no ding dawk--Weez? Smuffin’ smark. . .” Willy replied and returned his attention to his zipper, which was obviously technology far beyond his present abilities.

For a moment I wasn’t sure if he was just playing drunk, or if he was actually as drunk as he seemed, but he suddenly hacked and snorted, his eyes rolled back in his head--just like in slapstick comedies--and Willy went face down in the gravel before I could catch him.

My backup arrived just in time to see Willy bounce and lay still. I told her we might have a rape and had her watch Willy, who wasn’t moving, but was drooling like mad. I ordered an ambulance. I walked over to Louise, who was just barely conscious. Her eyes were unfocused and glassy, and she would occasionally grunt and jerkily move her forearms and fingers, apparently trying to reach her pants. She didn’t have a prayer.

“Louise? Louise! Police. I’m the Police. What happened? Are you OK? What did Willy do?” I asked. She didn’t respond at all. She was even more drunk than Willy--if that was possible.

“Hey Sue,” I called to my backup. “Would you…?” I nodded toward Louise and her pants.

“Oh man,” Sue said, shaking her head in disgust as she pulled on some latex gloves.

“I’ll keep an eye on Willy,” I said, smiling lamely. Unless safety is an issue, male officers do their best to avoid touching women. Whenever female officers are available they do the honors, so Sue knew what she had to do. We were both used to dealing with all kinds of human messes, but you never enjoy it.

Sue wrestled the panties and pants into place. Louise just kept grunting and jerking a little this way and that. She was completely out of it.

“Gross! You owe me one,” Sue exclaimed, dubiously regarding the palms of her gloves.

“My pleasure,” I replied.

“It sure isn't mine. What’s the story again?” Sue asked, gingerly removing and wadding up the gloves.

“Not much. I pulled up just as he was getting to his feet. She hasn’t moved and he went gravel diving just as you showed up.”

“Either of them say anything?” Sue asked.

“Nah. They’re really drunk, even for them. I’m worried about Louise. Her alcohol level might be toxic. I think I’ll go get some blankets out of the van…” and I was interrupted by the rattling rumble of the diesel powered ambulance turning into the alley. Seconds later, they pulled up and we directed them as they backed up toward Willy and Louise, the back up alarm blaring. Those things are really annoying. I suppose that’s the point.

Candy, the paramedic driving the rig, climbed down and smiled. “What’s up? Dispatch said something about a rape victim?”

Cops and paramedics generally have good relationships. They all know each other and each other’s reputations. They know their jobs and how to help each other, when necessary, and when to back away.

I explained what I’d seen. “Willy went face down before I could catch him, and we’re going to have to do a rape kit on Louise no matter what. We need to transport them both to the ER in any case. We’ll get Willy checked out and take him to Detox later. We’ll have you do the kit on Louise and see what happens after that; OK?”

“No prob. Give us a hand getting these two on gurneys, will you?”

We quickly loaded them up. I was a little worried about frostbite. I had no idea how long the two of them had been outside and they weren’t talking. I mentioned it to Candy.

Sue called the crime scene guys. She’d stick around until they arrived. I hopped into the warm ambulance. Willy was strapped down and Steve, the other paramedic, was cleaning up several scrapes on his face. He was still out cold.

“What do you think?” Steve asked. “I’d guess he’s a 3-8.” Steve was guessing that Willy was nearly four times the legal intoxication limit for driving.

“Nah. 4-3, easy,” I replied.

“We’ll see.” Steve laughed and wiped up a streamer of drool oozing from the left side of Willy’s mouth. The hospital did blood alcohol levels on everyone who might have been drinking, which caused Emergency Room BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) betting pools--a quarter a guess, winner take all.

“Hey, look at this,” Candy said, motioning for me. Candy gently touched her latex gloved fingertip to Louise’s open, unfocused eyeball. Amazing. Human beings have a built- in protective eye reflex. Move anything too close and the reflex takes over, blinking, moving the head, anything to avoid damage. But Louise’s nervous system was so suppressed even that reflex wasn’t working. That was something you didn’t see every day.

“4-5?” Steve asked.

“5-4,” I replied. Steve shook his head and laughed. Candy was too busy working on Louise to pay much attention.

At around 5-0--sometimes less--alcohol can be fatal. To the average person, the occasional drinker, that amount of alcohol in the blood can kill, first time, every time. But highly trained experienced alcoholics at the peak of their conditioning can handle it--usually. After all, if your normal, everyday blood alcohol content is at least three times the legal limit, a 5-0 is just a deeper than usual buzz. They’d both live, and anyway, the booze had damaged their brains decades ago. Still, this level of intoxication wasn’t helping the few brain cells they had left.

I had problems: I needed to interview both of them. One problem was that even if Willy confessed to rape, his BAC was going to be so high that any competent defense attorney would argue that he had no idea which planet he was on, let alone what he was confessing to. On the other hand, if I didn’t talk to him soon, when he sobered up, he might honestly have no memory at all of what happened; blackouts are common in Willy’s drinking league. To interview him, I would have to Mirandize him. After all, he was in my custody--no way was he going home--and I was going to ask him questions aimed at getting him to confess to a felony. Even if he waived his rights (surprisingly, most folks do), any defense attorney would argue that he was so drunk he couldn’t knowingly and intelligently waive them, and he’d probably be right.

Most people badly misunderstand Miranda. TV and movies imply that if a police officer fails to read some moron his “rights” (under the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court Miranda v Arizona decision) the bad guy walks. The truth is that officers have to read Miranda to bad guys only when the bad guy is in custody, and the officer wants to use whatever the bad guy says against him in court. It’s called “custodial interrogation.” That was the case with Willy. If a bad guy refuses to talk or lawyers up, that’s the end of that conversation. If the magic two criteria apply and an officer doesn’t Mirandize, all that happens is that the bad guy’s confession can’t be used in court. If there is other evidence they can still be convicted. If all the evidence the police have is the bad guy’s statement, they’ll have problems anyway.

My other problem was Louise. She was so drunk that she might not be able to speak at all. She might not be capable of knowingly consenting to anything, and anything she did tell me would be suspect. Would she remember anything when she was semi-sober sometime in the next couple of days? Would she even care? Sadly, so many drunks like Louise have almost no sense of self worth. They figure that whatever happens to them is just the way of things. They deserve it; they got it; who cares? They don’t.

Louise could mumble and grunt, but she couldn’t string together a coherent sentence. I was able to get her to nod “yes” when I asked about the rape kit--who knows to what she thought she was nodding? So the ER nurses went to work while I talked to Willy.

Willy might have been major league drunk, but he had been playing the cops and bad guys game for a long, long time. He only answered a few general questions, admitted nothing, and lawyered up. Willy wasn’t really hurt from gravel diving, so we took him to Detox where he’d be forced to sober up.

A few hours later, Louise was transferred to Detox too. They’d make her take a shower (drunks hate that--I’m not sure why; sensory overload maybe?) and they’d wash and dry her clothing, even give her new clothing if the old stuff fell apart as it often does, and give her a clean, warm bed and some good, solid food instead of her usual all-liquid diet.

After the shift, I wrote the report and handed it in. I was working on a burglary report when my shift supervisor, Sgt. Edwards, came in smiling, my report in hand.

“I read your report about Louise and Willy. You’re a f****** hero!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, sure. Thanks,” I mumbled, my face buried in a mountain of paperwork.

“I’m not kiddin’,” Edwards said. “If you hadn’t been patrolling that alley, Louise would have frozen to death. You’re a f******hero! I’m gonna write you a commendation!” Edwards was happy. He had only recently been promoted and was still trying to impress the troops. That wouldn’t last long.

The next morning, a couple detectives talked with Louise. She was still drunk, but sober enough to deny that anything happened. Who knows why? Maybe she honestly didn’t remember. Maybe she thought she was in love with Willy. Maybe she was trying to get back at her old man. Or maybe it really was consensual--as consensual as any agreement between two popsicle-like nearly dead-drunks can be. No witness/victim, no rape. The evidence in the rape kit could only confirm that they had sexual contact, not that it wasn’t voluntary. They didn’t even bother to talk to Willy. Even if by some miracle he did confess, no witness/victim, no rape.

It sounds callous, but the reality of court, unlike TV or movie reality, is that some people are bad witnesses, and juries don’t like or believe bad witnesses. This is particularly true when the defendant is facing serious time for a serious crime. Most jurors are decent people and want to be sure they’re not sending someone up without good reason. Even if she had been raped, Louise would have been a lousy witness. Most likely, she would have forgotten all about the court date, gotten drunk and failed to show up. That’s common too. Then you end up having to arrest your victim for failing to appear in court. Juries just love victims--nicely decked out in neatly pressed prison orange jumpsuits--that have to be arrested to get their buns into court.

I did get the commendation, but I’m still not sure finding two should-have-been-dead drunks in an alley qualifies as f****** heroism.

Posted by MikeM at 12:02 AM | Comments (1)

July 15, 2011

Born Free

For this third installment of our Literature Corner, we present a tale of humor in uniform. It has been said that police work is 98% boredom and 2% sheer terror. This is essentially true, but there is also humor to be had. Police officers learn that life is truly stranger than fiction. Mark Twain was correct when he said "Fiction is obliged to stick with possibilities; truth isn't." Most police officers will spend an entire career without having to fire their weapon in the line of duty. Even fewer will find themselves face to face with a vulture in a bedroom. This story, "Born Free," recounts just that tale.

Born Free

It was 0300 and because things had slowed down, I had the rare luxury of being in the office working on a DUI report rather than doing it somewhere in my car when my shift supervisor, Sgt. Steve Kirshner, poked his head in and asked: “what do you know about vultures?”

“Vultures? You mean the fly-around-up-in-the-sky-in-westerns type vultures?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied. Kirshner didn’t like kids or animals and he didn’t care that much for adults either.

“A little, I guess. Why do you ask?”

“There’s one caught in a house out west and we gotta go get it out.” Kirschner wasn’t happy about it at all.

“Why isn’t Animal Control handling this?” I asked.

“Called ‘em. They said they have no idea what to do with a vulture,” he replied in frustration, “said they don’t have the right equipment; they wouldn’t come out.”

I started laughing. “Figures. OK, let’s go, but we’ll have to stop and pick up a vulture capture kit.” This was going to be good!

“A vulture capture kit?”

“Yeah. Just stop by the loading dock at Timmon’s Furniture downtown. Head through the alley.” At Timmon’s I quickly fabricated and loaded our kit and we headed west. Kirschner filled in as many details as he knew, and as he did, I laughed until I cried.

It was 0230 and John Williams III couldn’t sleep. He was restless and thirsty, so in his underwear, he stumbled out of bed and padded sleepily into the kitchen, closing his eyes too late against the sudden brilliance of the light bulb inside the fridge. He fumbled for the orange juice, closed the door and was just beginning to take a drink when the glass screen door of the second floor balcony in the living room only 15 feet away shattered with a resounding crash. The intruder, entangled in the curtains, was noisily thrashing about.

Williams, adrenaline suddenly kicking in, his night vision compromised, his chest coated with cold orange juice, grabbed a nearby broom and began to swing it wildly back and forth, yelling obscenities at the top of his lungs: “You **&^%%!!” I’m gonna kick your **&&^^$$3#! ARGGGGHHH!!! HELP! HELP!”

It only took a few moments for the other sleepy but alarmed residents of the Williams household to stumble out of bed and rush to the living room where someone flipped on the lights, stopping Williams in mid-swing/cuss. There was nothing in front of him! Surprised, he frantically looked all around, the broom cocked and ready to deliver a death sweep.

Everyone’s eyes simultaneously locked on the intruder at Williams’ feet. Everyone simultaneously screamed “ AAAAAAH!” The intruder, a terrified vulture who had just managed to disentangle himself from the curtains, immediately responded, “BLEARGGHHHH!” and hacked a partially digested rabbit carcass onto the clean carpet.

Doing what vultures do, the panicked bird tried to fly out of there, but ended up circling the living room. The Williams clan, equally panicked by the huge bird noisily flapping and squawking around the room, convinced that it was about to swoop down and attack, ran in circles, screaming wildly. Eventually, the vulture flew down a hallway,
landed and hopped through the open door of a bedroom. Someone gathered the presence of mind to slam the door shut and made a panicky 911 call.

“I hate *&%%$#** animals!” Kirschner muttered in fine W.C. Fields style, “##*$%&^**$ vulture!”

I wiped away tears. The closer we came to the residence, the more agitated Kirschner became. When we pulled into the driveway, he was sweating and swearing under his breath. It was all I could do to keep from doubling over with laughter. He really didn’t want to go into the house, but as Navy SEAL Dick Marchinko says, “you don’t gotta like it; you just gotta do it.”

One of our patrol cars was already there. “Who’s handling this?” I asked.

“Big Eagle,” Kirschner grumbled, too upset to appreciate the irony.

I almost fell over. Could it be more perfect? Tim Big Eagle handling a vulture call!

We knocked on the door and Big Eagle answered, a big grin on his face. The family was sitting in the living room. They looked absolutely shell shocked. The screen door and the curtains were shredded and an incredibly vile stench permeated the room.

“Wow! What’s the smell?” I asked Big Eagle.

He grinned and told me the whole story including the rabbit hacking. “They already cleaned up the glass--and the rabbit--but it didn’t help the smell much.”

“No kidding,” I replied. “Where’s the vulture?”

“End of the hallway,” Big Eagle gestured, “bedroom on the right.”

I cracked the door and looked in. Sure enough, there he was on the floor against the far wall. His head cocked to one side at the sight of me, and his little beady black vulture eyes peered at me curiously. He looked just like a vulture was supposed to look. He was a big bird, almost three feet high, and handsome in a raggedy, efficient sort of way. I guess it was a he. I wasn’t going to get close enough to check, and I had no idea how to tell the difference anyway. I closed the door and walked back to the living room.

“Well, it’s a vulture all right,” I said deadpan in my best Joe Friday, just-give-me-the-facts, Ma’am, voice. Big Eagle nodded, desperately trying to suppress a grin.

“What are you going to do?” A pretty and very distraught woman in a nightgown asked.

“Not to worry Ma’am,” I said jauntily in my best Lone Ranger tone. “We brought our vulture capture kit. I’ll go get it.” As I went out the front door, I could hear Big Eagle assuring the Williams family that I knew what I was doing, even though he had no idea whether I did or not. When I returned with the kit--a large cardboard box and a flat piece of cardboard big enough to cover the open end of the box--Big Eagle’s face fell. He was certain I didn’t have a clue! The family was astonished. Apparently they were expecting some sort of hi-tech, nuclear powered, laser night vision, Ghost Busters device. After all, didn’t the police handle this sort of thing all the time?

I huddled with Big Eagle and Kirschner. “Okay, we’ll go into the room and shut the door. I’ll put the box over the vulture, we’ll slide the piece of cardboard underneath it, carry him outside and let him go,” I said.

“I ain’t goin’ in there!” Kirschner exclaimed.

“Neither am I,” Big Eagle added, shaking his head emphatically.

I broke up. Big Eagle wasn’t nearly as freaked out as Kirschner, but he wasn’t wild about confronting the vulture either. Kirschner ordered Big Eagle to do it, and we gathered up the kit. Our procession down the hallway consisted of me, then Big Eagle--each of us carrying a part of the capture kit--followed by Kirschner, and the entire family timidly keeping a discrete distance.

“OK Sarge. Close the door when we get in. You just keep an eye on the door and we’ll yell when we’re ready for you to open it,” I said.

Kirschner nodded nervously; “%$##@@*& vulture,” he muttered.

I opened the door. The vulture was still where I last saw him. He wasn’t nearly as agitated as Kirschner and Big Eagle. We slipped into the room and Kirschner closed the door with a bang. Big Eagle grabbed the doorknob and found that Kirschner was holding it shut!

“Why don’t you pick up that blanket on the floor? You might get a chance to toss it over him,” I said. Big Eagle gladly grabbed it, holding it and the piece of flat cardboard defensively in front of him. The bedroom wasn’t very big and there was a large waterbed frame in pieces on the floor. That complicated things. There were only two spots with enough open floor space to allow us to put the box over the vulture and slide the piece of cardboard underneath, and he wasn’t in either of them.

I approached the bird, holding the box in front of me, and he suddenly and noisily flapped up, landing on the other side of the room. Big Eagle let out a gasp and recoiled, and I could hear everyone in the hallway tittering nervously.

“He’s too close to that chair. You lift the waterbed headboard out of the way, and I’ll be able to put the box on him,” I said to Big Eagle. He wasn’t anxious to drop the relative protection of the blanket and cardboard, but he reluctantly complied and took hold of the heavy wooden headboard at my feet. “OK; lift it now,” I said.

When Big Eagle lifted the headboard, the startled vulture flapped into the air again. Big Eagle freaked and dropped the headboard, right on my shins! I yelled in surprise, and Kirschner and the family, thinking that the vulture was eating us, began to yell too. Kirschner renewed his grip on the doorknob. Explosives wouldn’t have dislodged him.

The vulture settled in an open spot by the door. I limped over, cursing under my breath, and gently set the box down, neatly covering him. Big Eagle handed me the flat piece of cardboard and I gently slid it under the box. The vulture cooperated, hopping onto the cardboard sheet. As I suspected, the darkness in the box calmed him and he didn’t move or make a sound.

It took us a little while to convince Kirschner to release the doorknob. Evidently he thought the vulture had eaten us and was mimicking our voices, tricking him into opening the door(!?) so he could eat him too! Finally, he relented and at the sight of the box,
retreated to the living room.

Big Eagle and I carried the box down the hallway, scattering the Williams family, and made our way to the back yard. Big Eagle retreated to a safe distance, and I lifted the box away. The vulture looked over his little vulture shoulder, gave me a baleful, beady-eyed vulture stare and took off. As he slowly gained altitude, his huge wings flapped noisily and loudly, forcefully beating the air. He flew between two trees, brushing the branches, and was gone. I couldn’t help myself. I broke into the first verse of “Born Free:”

Born freeeee!
As free as the wind blows,
As free as the grass grooooowwwws,
Born freee to follow your heart!

Big Eagle looked at me as if I just arrived from Mars. Some people have no sense of irony.

We walked back through the house carrying the capture kit. The family thanked us profusely, and I couldn’t keep from laughing as I acknowledged their thanks and left, glad that the smell was in their home and not mine. It took all my strength not to say, “My job here is done. I’m needed elsewhere now,” like the Lone Ranger (“Who was that masked man?”).

Big Eagle met me later and told me that as I was leaving, laughing myself silly, Williams told him, “That officer sure enjoys his work!”
So I did.

Posted by MikeM at 11:53 PM | Comments (6)

July 08, 2011

The Plan

For the second installment of our Literature Corner, presented for your approval—as Rod Serling often said—is a tale that will be familiar to police officers everywhere. For most police officers, working with the public is a piece of cake. Even working with bad guys is no problem. The real difficulty comes from having to deal with their own, particularly administrators who seem to have no idea of the realities of police work. This true story—names changed to protect the innocent—illustrates the problem.

The Plan

We--fifteen very bored patrol cops--were sitting in one of our periodic training sessions: absolute death for people who are doers, not sitters. Unlike many police departments, ours actually had periodic in-house training, which was the good news. The bad news is that much of it was awful; 30 minutes of actual material stretched to cover eight hours. Cops hate having their time wasted. To keep from crippling our shifts, we repeated the same training over four or five days, pulling different cops off the street each day. I was stuck in the first day’s training session. The session was a bit different from the usual-- not that it was better.

The guy conducting the training was our Chief of Staff. What’s a “Chief of Staff?” Our Chief was absolutely power hungry. He knocked off--politically speaking--the previous chief and seized his job, and he was determined that no one would do the same to him, so he abolished the position of Assistant Chief and anointed a Chief of Staff. The difference was that the COS was a civilian--an academic--not a certified cop, so he couldn’t threaten the Chief. As he couldn’t, by law, assume any law enforcement duties, none of us really had any idea what he did, mostly studies, we assumed. But he sometimes did training, which usually consisted of explaining to us why the Chief’s latest initiative was the most magnificent idea ever conceived by God (that’s what the Chief called himself. I’m not kidding). He was new, seemed like a decent guy, and looked every bit the academic. No one would mistake him for a cop.

That’s when he introduced The Plan. The topic of the day was Fetal Alcohol Syndrome--FAS. FAS is an acronym for a group of nasty birth defects caused when a mother drinks during pregnancy. Particularly if mom is an alcoholic, baby can be severely affected. There are physical and mental manifestations of FAS, and most FAS babies eventually end up in the welfare and criminal justice systems because of their gullibility, inability to hold a job and lack of inhibitions. FAS was a genuine problem in our city which had a large Indian population. Because alcoholism was rampant in the Indian community, FAS was pretty common. To be sure, FAS affected whites too, but most FAS babies ended up being Indian. No question, FAS was expensive and nasty and we dealt with its consequences daily.

We called Indians Indians. I tried being what I thought was culturally sensitive when I first went to work there, but Indians kept giving me a hard time for calling them “Native Americans.” Each time I’d ask them what they wanted to be called, and they said--to a man (and a woman)--”I’m an Indian.” So Indians they were.

Anyway, the COS was really pleased with himself. Apparently part of his job was to come up with brilliant solutions to societal problems that could be solved only by police officers, which means patrol cops for the most part (that’s who the public most often sees).

FAS was certainly a problem, and a potentially public relations (PR) friendly, diverse, culturally sensitive, politically correct (PC) problem too.

The COS latched onto FAS and enlisted some Public Health nurses to provide video and Power Point background information for us. And then, at the moment of maximum tension, when every fiber of our beings was screaming in anticipation and anguish “please tell us what we may do to combat this scourge!”...well, actually at about the point I had to rap the head of the cop next to me to wake him up before he started snoring louder (we finished a midnight shift only two hours earlier), the COS laid it all out for us.

“As you’ve just seen, the only way to deal with FAS is through early identification and prevention, and no one is more likely to come into contact with women at risk for FAS than patrol officers, so we’ve developed this information card which has information about FAS on this side (he displayed it like a smiling, sequin-clad, TV game show model), and contact information for Public Health (the nurses dutifully smiled) on the other side.”

I could see the train wreck coming and was about to speak up, but he was so caught up in the beauty of it all, in the brilliance of the solution he birthed, that he wouldn’t have seen a charging elephant if they’d been in a tanning booth together.

“We’ll distribute these cards to you and whenever you come into contact with a woman at risk for FAS, you should approach her, speak with her, give her a card and encourage her to call Public Health.”

I couldn’t resist: “So what do you want us to say to them, exactly?”

The rest of the cops were perking up a bit, sensing a fight in the making. The COS was just delighted! He thought I was a convert to the one true way in the making, so he announced that he would be delighted to “model” the correct approach. “Model,” is, of course, academicese for “show you what to do.” He enlisted one of the nurses to play the role of the potential FAS mother, and he played the thoughtful, socially conscious, community spirited cop.

“Hello. I’m Officer Friendly Concerned, and I’d like to talk with you about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is preventable...”

That’s when about half the cops in the room, me included, said in unison “You want me to do what?!” He launched into his “modeling” again until I interrupted him.

“No, no, you don’t understand; we can’t do that.”

“Of course you can...” he said, getting red in the face.

“No, we can’t. It will blow up in our faces.”

He was confused now, and getting a bit hot. He didn’t much like being contradicted by a mere street cop (you had to model for them, for Pete’s sake!), but wasn’t sure what I was saying. “What do you mean?”

“OK, correct me if I’m wrong, but in order to prevent FAS, mom has to stop drinking very early in pregnancy, in fact, it’s best if she doesn’t drink at all when she’s pregnant, right?”

“That’s correct,” he said, and the nurses nodded too.

“So that means that we could be talking to potentially every woman of child bearing age we come across.”

“Of course not,” he intoned, shaking his head at the foolishness of the assertion. “You wouldn’t talk to every woman; you’d have to be discriminating.”

“OK then. So we talk to every woman who looks like she might be pregnant or who we think might become pregnant?”

“Well...” He knew I had him there, but he wasn’t giving up easily, “ have to use your good judgment. You’ll know who to talk with.”

“Of course. So what happens when a male cop approaches a woman who looks a little pregnant and it turns out she’s not pregnant, just overweight?”

“Well, uh...” the COS stammered. The nurses were nodding in horror at that one.

“And if we ignore women who look a little pregnant and only talk to those who look a bunch pregnant...”

The COS jumped in amid the chuckles of the cops who were having visions of outraged women delivering stinging slaps to their faces. “Absolutely not! In order to prevent FAS, you must stop the alcohol intake very early in pregnancy, even before pregnancy if possible. You must approach women who you reasonably believe to be at high risk for FAS.” By now, even the nurses were seeing the obvious flaws in this grand scheme.

“Right. I understand that. But you’ve just said that our target group is virtually every woman of childbearing age...”

“Well, again,” he broke in, “you have to be discriminating...”

“Exactly! That’s just what we’ll be accused of doing!”

“What do you mean?” He was really getting confused and frustrated.

“OK, let’s be honest here. If we do this, if we are discriminating as you suggest, we’re going to be singling out mostly Indian women, particularly Indian women who look like they might be pregnant--or maybe just overweight--often in bars. They’re going to yell racism so fast and loud hearing protectors won’t help us. It’ll probably make the national news. I can just see you now with some New York news anchor ambushing you on the front steps of the police building, sticking a microphone in your face demanding that you explain why you’re a pregnant woman-insulting, anti-Indian racist. They’ll probably put your name and the title ‘racist hick’ in big, glowing letters under your image.”

“But this is not racist!,” he insisted.

“Yeah, we know that. But they’re going to say it just the same, and no matter what we say, we’re not going to be able to defend ourselves.” All of the cops were playing scenarios in their minds and, seeing the impending disaster, were nodding furiously. “It’s going to be a PR disaster.” I sat back and watched the fireworks as the rest of the cops let the COS have it. He was getting redder and redder and more upset as he heard the cops pour more and more fire into the culturally sensitive target he erected.

“Now wait a minute!” He intoned. “Wouldn’t you rather be accused of doing something positive rather than doing nothing?”

I popped back into the exchange. “Sure we would, but it’s not that simple. This is not the sort of thing you want cops to do, trust me. This is an absolute loser for us, and it won’t do a thing to prevent FAS.”

Well I’d done it. I now officially had the COS ticked off at me, and I’d barely met the guy. He was ticked off at the others too, but because I inadvertently led the charge, he’d never forget it.

He wasn’t convinced, and was still determined to go ahead with his bold and well meaning PR disaster of a plan. Until, that is, he faced three more days of outraged cops explaining why they were the last people who should do that sort of thing, particularly in our community. They all immediately understood why it wouldn’t be a smart thing to do, yet the thought had never occurred to him. That’s the difference between real world experience and academic theory. They aren’t always at opposite ends of the spectrum, but in this case they sure were. The cops were right of course, and even if he didn’t accept that, he realized they’d give the appearance of obeying orders, but wouldn’t actually risk offending any possibly pregnant women. The Plan disappeared and was never mentioned again. No one ever found out what happened to all the cards he bought.

Posted by MikeM at 11:16 PM | Comments (4)

July 01, 2011

I Couldn't Get Him To Shut Up

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the first post in our Literature Corner. I can’t guarantee that we’ll post a story every Saturday, but we will do it as regularly as possible.

The stories about my police experience are true. I have changed the names to avoid embarrassing anyone, and in that spirit, I have occasionally slightly altered a detail or two, but they’re presented almost exactly as they occurred.

The first story is about something very common for police officers: a DUI arrest. Police officers will tell you that a large part of their business is related to the use and abuse of alcohol. Sometimes drunk drivers are pretty funny. More often, they’re stupid, smelly, dangerous and sometimes, deadly. This story is about one of the funny ones that by the grace of God. somehow missed killing himself and a variety of others.

I Couldn’t Get Him To Shut Up

I finally found the guy about 20 minutes after I got the call of a drunk driver. The Dispatcher told me that the drunk was being followed by an off duty volunteer fireman who first spotted the drunk driving on the wrong side of the road. Better yet, it was the middle of the afternoon. Most DUI arrests take place at night. Anyone this drunk during the day had to be a serious alcoholic, very, very unlucky, or both.

The fireman had a portable radio and was reporting his position as he followed the drunk, who was doing his best to try to hit everything in sight, and that was the problem. Not the fireman, not even necessarily the drunk, but the dispatchers, who were relaying the fireman’s directions at least five minutes late.

I showed up at the “Waterin’ Hole,” a biker bar, where Dispatch told me the drunk was stopped in the parking lot. There was no one there but a few bikers lazily sipping beer on the patio. They told me that they saw the drunk, being followed by a guy in a red pickup, but they were heading south at least five minutes earlier!

I told Dispatch that their information was behind reality, but they never got it right. I ended up racing here and there, only to find no one present when I arrived. Finally, I got a break. The drunk parked in front of a house in a residential neighborhood and was trying to get in. The off duty fireman blocked the drunk’s car with his pickup so he couldn’t take off.

When I finally arrived, I was more than a little dismayed to learn from the fireman that they had been there at least ten minutes. He told me it was a miracle the drunk hadn’t hit anything or anybody. As I watched the drunk I apologized and explained why I was so tardy.

The drunk driver was Jim Reinhart. He was 26, a sales rep. for a local company, and about 5’6” with a small build. He was profoundly drunk. Reinhart was on the porch of a small home, stumbling and swaying and clumsily trying to pull open the locked door.

I approached him and smiled. “Hey there Sir; how are you doing?” He didn’t acknowledge me, but continued to clumsily jerk on the doorknob. “Sir? Police officer (as if my uniform wouldn’t make that obvious)! What are you doing?” Again no response. “Sir! Is this your home? Do you live here?”

He slowly lifted his head--as though it was very heavy--and mumbled something unintelligible. “What was that? Is this where you live Sir?”

“ house...” and his voice trailed off to nothing. He stared blankly. His eyes were watering and glassy. He was broadly swaying in irregular circles. Even though I was about six feet from him, I could easily smell the beer he had been drinking.

“OK. May I see your driver’s license please Sir?” He tried to reach into his left rear jean pocket with his right hand and began to turn circles like a tail-chasing dog. After a couple rotations I was afraid he’d fall off the porch and hurt himself, so I stopped him and told him that his wallet was in his right pocket. He grinned stupidly and jerked it out, accidentally zinging it past my left ear and onto the lawn behind me.

“Whoaaaa,” he said, and stumbled toward me. I stepped aside and let him continue. It’s always a good idea to let drunk drivers demonstrate just how drunk they are. He stopped in front of the wallet and began, in excruciating slow motion, to reach for it, but he only bent forward at the waist, keeping his legs rigidly straight. When he leaned too far forward, he toppled clumsily over onto the grass and began laughing uncontrollably.

The fireman and I couldn’t help laughing along. “OK Sir, what’s your name?”

“I’m Jim!” He exclaimed, laughing merrily.

“OK Jim, how about that license?” He took just about everything out of his wallet and began to drop it all around him. He handled and looked at his license and dropped it at least three times, fumbling with other cards and papers. I picked it up and read his address. “2119 Lakeview. Is that your address Jim?”

“Yup!” Jim laughed.

“But Jim, this house is 3204 Maple.” He just looked stupidly at me. “OK Jim, there are a few little things I’d like you to do for me. OK?”

Jim was still laughing as I helped him up. “OK” he said, slurring badly.

It was time for field sobriety “tests.” Most people have no idea what they are, but they think they’re purposely difficult so that the police can arrest everyone in sight, as in Steve Martin’s “The Man With Two Brains.” Stopped by the Swedish Police, Martin does a series of exercises such as walking on his hands and hopping on one leg while juggling and singing at the same time. Hilarious, but not quite right.

Words are important. I always called them “maneuvers” or “exercises,” never tests. Defense attorneys actually buy books on how to defend drunk drivers. One favorite defense trick is to have an officer go over each part of each exercise and then break it up into fractions and ask, “so Officer, my client did four out of five parts of the first test correctly, didn’t he? Wouldn’t that be 80% accuracy, and wouldn’t that be a passing grade on any test, anywhere?”

This usually leaves hapless officers sputtering and is pretty convincing to a jury. So I never use the word “tests,” and if a defense attorney tries that old trick, I explain that I’m asking their client to do simple maneuvers or exercises that any sober person can easily do, not to rack up a score as with a test, but to have the maximum chance to be fair to their client by observing as much of their behavior as I reasonably can. That has the advantage of being true, and juries like it.

We only got through three of them; I usually have drunks do five. First I asked Jim to walk on an imaginary straight line on the sidewalk. He was to walk five steps away from me, touching heel to toe on each step, turn while staying on the line, and walk back five more steps and stop. I demonstrated it for him, exactly as I wanted him to do it. “OK Jim; think you can do that one?”

“Sure” Jim said and started off. He was literally all over the sidewalk, tripping, nearly falling, and so unsteady I had to stop him after a few steps out of fear he’d fall and hurt himself. He didn’t come close to doing as I asked.

Next, I asked him to touch the tips of his fingers to the tip of his thumb, from his first to little fingers in order, and count “1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2, 1” as he touched. I demonstrated exactly what I wanted him to do and told him to start. He held up his right hand and stared at it for about a minute, acting as if he had never seen it before. He eventually stabbed jerkily at his fingers with his thumb, mumbling random numbers, and never making a solid touch. Suddenly, with no warning at all, he lost his balance and fell over backward, flat on his back on the lawn, just like one of those models in the Lipton Tea commercials, still trying to touch his fingers to his thumb on the way down. I was worried that he was hurt, but he burst into laughter again. He was still having a great time!

Finally, I asked him to count upwards as far as he could by threes, demonstrating to 12. That was all, just counting, nothing else.

He giggled and began, slowly, clumsily moving his fingers as he spoke as if counting on them. “Three....three...five, two, seven, three...three...nine, twelve, two...”

That was more than enough evidence, particularly since the fireman was watching too, so I stopped Jim. He was just delighted to be arrested and jabbered happily as I handcuffed him and helped him into the back of my car.

The fireman’s story was great stuff. He told me that he was driving home after an errand in town when he spotted Jim coming toward him fully on the wrong side of the road--on the sidewalk! Oh, that was good. That observaton alone made it unlikely that the case would go to trial. People just love firemen, and no defense attorney in his right mind would want a jury to hear that. It was going to be plea bargain time.

The fireman realized that Jim was major league dangerous, and as he had his fire radio with him, decided to follow him. Jim was all over the road, nearly hitting several cars head on, and was traveling from 10 to 60 MPH through residential neighborhoods. He even spent some time in a ditch, motoring merrily along for several hundred yards. He ended up following Jim for more than five miles until Jim finally stopped and I eventually showed up.

FAST-FORWARD TWO MONTHS. THE SCENE: Jim’s preliminary hearing. Defense attorneys will usually waive the preliminary if they’re planning a plea bargain, but some do it anyway, hoping to find something they might use at a trial.

“And did you have a conversation while you were on the way to the jail with the defendant, Officer?” The prosecutor was leading me through the case. We already covered the chase and exercises.

“Yes, I did Sir.”

“What was that conversation?”

“I asked if he’d like me to call someone to get his car. He provided the name of a relative who did eventually take it.”

“And what else did you discuss?”

“As we began to drive to the Jail, Mr. Reinhart told me that he was ‘drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk.’ He also said that he was ‘drunk on my butt.’ He told me that he couldn’t figure out why the road was on the left, but he finally realized he was driving on the sidewalk. He also told me that he was sorry for ‘running over that mailbox.’”

“And did he run over a mailbox?”

“Yes Sir. I retraced his path and found a smashed mailbox at 8th and Main. I found the door of the mailbox lodged in the grill of his car and paint transfer from the mailbox on the grill, bumper and undercarriage of the car.”

“Officer, for clarification, this wasn’t just a private mailbox, was it?”

“No Sir. It was a U.S. Postal Service mailbox, one of the big red and blue ones.” Jim’s defense attorney looked sick.

The prosecutor grinned. “I see. And did you notice anything else about Mr. Reinhart’s vehicle?”

“Yes. Hitting the mailbox damaged his vehicle. I found its muffler and a two foot section of exhaust pipe stuck on the smashed mailbox. The mailbox was bolted to a concrete pad.”

“What happened next?”

“Mr. Reinhart kept talking about his alcoholism. He said that he was a life long alcoholic and that he had fallen ‘off the wagon,’ and that he was going to kill himself with his drinking. He told me that he was ‘out of control.’ He said he began drinking in junior high and was an alcoholic by the time he was fifteen. He told me that he already had five DUI convictions. He said that he had at least ten beers and a quart of ‘Jim Beam’ before he left home.”

“I see. Thank you Officer. Your witness.”

“Mr. Collins?” The judge motioned for the new, inexperienced public defender to begin his questioning. Collins had a kind of sly grin on his face. He thought he had an issue; he was going to get me on Miranda.

Miranda is very misunderstood. Common knowledge, gathered from TV and the movies, suggests that if a cop fails to “Mirandize” a bad guy, the bad guy walks. Wrong. In reality, Miranda applies only in cases of custodial interrogation. If the bad guy is in custody and the police are asking questions with the hope of implicating him in a crime, they need to read his rights under the Supreme Court’s 1968 Miranda decision. If they don’t, or the bad guy refuses to talk with them and they continue anyway, they can’t use what he says against him in court. It’s no get out of jail free card; if there is other evidence, he can still be convicted. Of course, if the bad guy wants to talk or volunteers information all bets are off.

Collins thought I didn’t Mirandize, and he was right. He thought he’d be able to get Reinhart’s very damaging statements excluded at the trial that he was now happily contemplating, visions of brilliant legal maneuvering dancing in his oh-so-new litigator’s brain. Reinhart had so many misdemeanor DUI’s that this one would be a felony, and he was going to spend some real time behind bars if convicted.

Even with the overwhelming evidence against him (he took a blood test--it was more than three times the legal limit), it might be worth it to try the case instead of doing a plea bargain. Who knows? Maybe Reinhart would get lucky, draw a stupid jury, and be acquitted.

Collins went for the jugular. “Tell me Officer, did you Mirandize Mr. Reinhart before the conversation you described?”

“No Sir.”

Collins could barely control his smirk. He thought he had me for sure. All he had to do was run headlong through the door he just opened. “So when you asked him questions, he hadn’t been advised of his rights under Miranda?” He shot a knowing look at the judge.

“I didn’t ask him any questions, Sir.”

“What?! You what...?” His face turned white and his jaw dropped wide open. The judge and prosecutor were stifling laughter. Collins was confused. Was I trying to trick him? It dawned on me that he was the victim of a common attorney affliction: I Don’t Bother to Read Reports Syndrome.

Every movie prosecutor and defense attorney carefully prepares each case. They’re aware of the tiniest detail. In the real world, this doesn’t hold true. Cops and judges learn through experience that painstaking preparation and voluminous knowledge tend to be rare qualities. It was obvious that Collins had not read the report thoroughly. I did not write about giving Jim Miranda, and when he saw that missing, he thought he had me and stopped.

But wait a minute! If they don’t read the reports--the literal record of who said what and who did what to whom--won’t they tend to look kind of stupid? Absolutely! But the truth is that one DUI case is much like another, and public employees like prosecutors and public defenders are very overworked. So they sometimes merely skim a report just before walking into court, or even read it on the fly just before asking questions, right there in the courtroom. Sometimes that works; sometimes it explodes in their faces. Collins was about to be blown up, cartoon-style.

It was even worse because Collins violated, and was about to again violate, one of the cardinal rules of courtroom practice: Never ask a question of a witness in open court unless absolutely certain of the answer. Collins blew it once when he thought he was sure of my answer, but didn’t understand the case sufficiently to ask the question. Now he had to do it again. If he didn’t ask the logical follow up question, the prosecutor would, following him through the door Collins blundered into opening. Still, he tried to make the best of it.

“Officer, you did not write in your report that you read Miranda to my client. You didn’t read my client Miranda at all, did you?”

“No sir,” I replied, being careful not to grin.

“But you did ask my client questions, didn’t you?” He was beginning to think he might just pull a rabbit out of his hat.

“No Sir, I didn’t, except of course his name and things like that.”

“Well, if you didn’t ask questions, how could you have a conversation?” Even as he asked the question, the look on his face told me he just realized he shouldn’t have asked.

“It wasn’t really much of a conversation, Sir. I just couldn’t get him to shut up.”

Collins watched his brilliant defense fly out the window. His looked absolutely sick. He knew I was telling the truth and that he just walked himself right off the plank. “He started talking the minute he sat down in my car and just kept rattling on and on and on. At first, I just listened and made notes about what he was saying, but after awhile he became really annoying and I repeatedly tried to get him to stop. I told him that he’d be better off if he didn’t say anything at all. I almost begged him, but he just kept talking and talking. He was still talking as I turned him over to the jail staff.”

“No further questions, your Honor,” Collins mumbled. He looked as if he—instead of Jim--had just been sentenced to life.

The judge was smiling broadly. “Redirect?” He asked the prosecutor.

He was grinning too. “No your Honor. The State rests.”

Reinhart was bound over for trial. It was no surprise when he took a plea bargain and did a year and change in jail for his sixth DUI conviction. I never found out if that experience helped shut him up.

Posted by MikeM at 08:44 PM | Comments (7)

June 30, 2011

Literature Corner

As regular readers know, I spent most of my young adult life working as a police officer. Since leaving police work for reality, I've been writing short stories about my experiences in that field. Who knows? Perhaps someday I'll see about getting them published in book form.

For the time being, Bob and I thought you might enjoy finding out the reality, both humorous and tragic, of police work. So beginning Saturday, July 2, we'll begin our "Literature Corner." I can't promise to publish a new story every Saturday, but we'll do it on a fairly regular business.

I'm looking forward to your comments, as always. See you Saturday!

Posted by MikeM at 09:46 PM | Comments (0)