Short Shorts IV

Running on Empty

I was a brand new officer and had just been released from training earlier that shift. I had notified my training officer that we had a medical call and he asked me why I was dawdling around the station and not responding to the call. I started to explain that I had come to get him when I realized that he wasn’t coming with me. I responded to a medical call all by myself for the first time. I then responded to another call, and another, and another, then patrolled around the jurisdiction for a couple of hours. I was free, seeing my reflection in store windows, waving to motorists and pedestrians. I was having a good day. Then I checked by gas gauge and realized that it was on empty.

I ran out of gas on my way back to the Corporation Yard where the gas pumps were. I pulled to the side of the road and (this is before cell phones) called dispatch on the radio, but I used our backup channel to do it secretly. I told the dispatcher that I had run out of gas and I needed her to call the Facilities staff to drive a can of gas out to me. She acknowledged, but I did not know that my sergeant was in dispatch when I called. He told my training officer to go find me.

My training officer pulled up behind me and I wanted to roll up the windows and lock the doors. He met me on the sidewalk and asked if he should stamp a big “Never mind” on my training release letter. He didn’t, but I never ran out of gas again.

Hittin’ And Runnin’

One of the most common police reports I took as a University police officer was property damage only, hit and run collisions in the parking garages. These collisions happen all the time; someone scrapes the car next to them as they pull into or out of parking spaces. But sometimes, something else happens.

I will arrive on the scene and the young person will explain that they just came out to their car and found this terrible dent and scrape on the side of their car. Their parents told them to get a police report for the insurance. I look at the location of the damage, usually over one of the rear wheel wells, and see that the dent is uniformly deep from top to bottom. Sometimes, there’s even flakes of concrete still sticking to the damage, or slivers of wood, or the transferred paint isn’t the right kind of paint. Either way, I ask the young person if they are certain that they want to make a hit and run collision report, because making a false police report is a crime. Sometimes, they insist and I tell them that I know what caused the damage, a pole or fence or wall, and all the air leaves their sails. Sometimes they admit it right away and I explain that I will write the true collision report, if they want. They usually want to check with their parents.

On one occasion, the young person and her mom came to the police station to make the report. I walked up with them both and saw a Mercedes convertible with a broken rear axle, flat tire, and serious damage to the area of the wheel well. Mom told me that her daughter had come out to check on the car that morning and found it in the parking space like this. I looked at the scene and then looked at the daughter and asked her if she wanted to tell her mother the truth.

The daughter said that she didn’t know what I was talking about. Mom asked what I meant. I pointed to a long drag mark in the concrete floor that led right up to the Mercedes’ broken axel. All three of us followed the drag mark, which was almost half an inch deep, for about fifty or sixty feet, until we reached a load-bearing, concrete support pole in the garage. A significant amount of concrete had been scraped from one corner.

I told the daughter that I had one question, “How did you get the car all the way to the parking space after hitting the pole?”

Stand And Deliver

I was working an overtime shift in the Communications Center, providing backup to the primary dispatcher, as we had our regular patrol staff working, a sporting event going on at the Stadium, and another special event going on downtown. For some reason, we had officers providing security to a massive, three-on-three basketball event, out on a two block stretch of a city street that had been closed to provide space for the courts and players. Four University police officers were assigned to provide security to the event and now, as the event pushed into the evening, were getting hungry.

The officers called dispatch and asked if we could order them a couple pizzas. The primary dispatcher, who regularly ordered pizza delivered to the Communications Center, said that she would make the arrangements. Now this was in the days prior to cell phones, apps and DoorDash, so she called her regular pizza restaurant (we will make up a name, we’ll call it Pizza Hut). She called Pizza Hut and ordered the two pizzas and asked that they be delivered to the intersection of Market St. and Park Ave., that there would be a police car there with police officers standing by.

“We don’t deliver to intersections,” the Pizza Hut employee told her.

“I understand, but this is for some police officers working an event. They can’t get away from their post.”

“Yeah, we still don’t deliver to intersections.” And they hung up.

The dispatcher looked at me surprised.

“How about Domino’s?” I offered. I had personally never ordered from Domino’s before, but, what the heck, it was worth a try.

The dispatcher looked in the phone book (a big paper book that listed the telephone numbers of almost everyone on thin yellow pages) and got the number for the local Domino’s.

“Hello, I’d like to order two pizzas to be delivered to some police officers working a special event at the intersection of Market St. and Park Ave.”

“Okay, and will you be paying by credit card or will the officers be paying at the delivery location?”

“The officers will be paying.”

“Okay, is there someone the driver should ask for?”

“No, whichever University police officer is standing by the police car at that location will take the delivery and pay for the pizzas.”

“Okay, let them know that it’ll be about twenty minutes.”

Thank you, Domino’s.

Slow And Unsteady

I stopped an older couple sitting on a bench on the west side of a University operated, city-owned theater. The two organizations had made this agreement to prevent the theater from going bankrupt. It was dark and late in the evening when I saw the two of them drinking beer in public, a misdemeanor on University-controlled property. I asked them for identification so that I could issue them warnings and check them for warrants. The woman provided her ID right away. The man said that he didn’t have anything with him. I ran the woman’s information and she came back with no wants. I advised her of the regulations, then obtained the man’s name and date of birth from him verbally. The woman asked if she could leave and appeared to be in a hurry. I told her she was free to go or she could wait for her friend if she wanted. She said she had places to be and scurried off.

I asked dispatch to run the man’s information and dispatch told me that there were no records for the information that I had given them. Based on this, the man’s hesitations when providing me with the information, and the woman’s deep desire to be anywhere else, made me believe that the man had given me false information. I asked him if he had anything with his name on it in his pockets and he said he did not. I asked if I could check to see if he had anything in his pockets, meaning, could I search him? He removed the items from his back pocket and began to fumble with them. I saw a passport among the items. He repeated that he didn’t have anything with his name and date of birth on it.

I asked if I could see the passport. He handed it to me and I opened it and saw that the face in the photo was his, but that the name and date of birth were different than what he had given me. When I looked up at him, he took off running away from me, toward the north side of the building. Although “run” was not an apt description; it was more like a slow-motion jog, or a long-stepped shuffle. Either way, he moved slowly away from me.

“Mr. Flores, I have your passport,” I called after him, but he didn’t slow down, although, in his defense, any slowing would actually be stopping. I assumed he would hit the street on the other side of the building and continue northbound on the sidewalk. I walked back to my car, parked at the southeast corner of the building, figuring that I would get in my car and catch him a little further up the street or perhaps, just return to the station and request a warrant for his arrest. As I reached my car, I saw the man walking on the other side of the street as he turned eastbound onto the paseo between 3rd and 4th Streets, toward the main campus.

I jogged across the street to avoid being hit by traffic and strode up to him, walking alongside when I caught up.

“Mr. Flores, do you really think you are getting away from me tonight?” I asked, startling him with my presence.

“I have warrants,” he mumbled. “I’m supposed to see my grandson tonight. I just want to see my grandson.”

“Mr. Flores, it’s already midnight. What time are you supposed to see him?”

“I just can’t go to jail,” he implored, giving up on his imaginary grandson (well, I’m sure the grandson is real, but the appointment was surely imaginary).

“Unfortunately, that’s where you’re going,” I told him and asked him to stop. He refused. I grabbed his arm and he pulled from my grasp. He was in his early 60s, drunk, infirm, and not a threat. I was not going to fight with him over this, but he was definitely under arrest.

He took off again in his slow-motion jog and turned right at the street. I followed at a brisk walk and saw him duck into the doorway of an apartment complex. When he realized that I had seen him, he ran again (please remember that when I say ‘run’ I really mean traveling at a basic walking speed with a running motion) and crossed the busy street to end up on the University proper, running eastbound through the campus. Two of my uniformed student assistants saw him and blocked his path with their electric cart. Stupefied by their seemingly magical appearance, Flores turned and ran back toward me. To avoid the fight that I saw coming, and saw him losing, I drew my baton and swung it up toward the sky.

Flores slowly dropped to the grass and lay down, gasping for air. Once I had him handcuffed and in custody, I had dispatch check him for warrants and found multiple warrants for his arrest, mainly for drug violations. I also checked to see if he needed an ambulance. He said he did not.

“Are you sure?” I asked, not wanting him to die of a heart attack in the back seat of my patrol car.

Thus was completed the seven minute foot pursuit that only lasted three blocks and I didn’t even break a sweat. However, I didn’t breathe easy until we had cleared medical screening down at the jail.

Difficult Is As Difficult Does

I was a good employee. As opposed to a difficult employee. I had an employee that other employees complained about. He was a good cop, wasn’t afraid of the work, made his decisions and he backed them up. But he always had to be right. It is possible in our line of work to disagree on something and it’s even possible to be wrong. I’ve been wrong plenty of times. But this employee couldn’t be wrong and he couldn’t be disagreed with. Anytime another officer disagreed with him, it became an argument and sometimes, this officer was wrong and he couldn’t back down. That made him difficult. One morning, while we were managing some traffic control, he asked me, point blank, why other officers seemed to have a problem with him. I told him it was because he was difficult to work with and explained why. After thirty minutes of debate about whether or not I was right that he was a difficult employee, I stopped him. “This is why they have a problem with you.”

I followed the rules and did what I was told. I tried to recognize those leaders with whom you could respectfully disagree and those for whom you just kept your mouth shut. I played the long game. My reviews were good to exceptional (especially during those years in which my bosses required me to complete my own performance evaluations because, well I don’t have a good reason for them. Laziness?). But, I am a big believer in object lessons, and that includes when my managers, or the University, made decisions that I believed would cause unintended consequences, especially after my (in my mind) reasonable suggestion that their new (or old) policy was a bad idea. And in this way, I am a very difficult employee.

There was one (of many) times that the University administration tried to stop the police from driving on campus. A policy memo came out saying that we were not allowed to drive on campus during the day, unless it was a serious emergency (as opposed to a minor emergency?). One of my officers was dispatched to the Health Center, which was in the middle of campus, during lunch time, to place a student on a mental health hold (5150) and take them to Emergency Psychiatric Services. This was not an emergency, in fact, we often asked the Health Center staff to keep the person occupied if we were backed up on calls. So I notified one of the Captains that I would be walking to the Health Center to pick up a 5150 hold, place them in handcuffs, and walk them back to my car, parked at the edge of campus, more than a block away. At first, the Captain didn’t respond, other than to nod in acknowledgement, then he must have pictured a student in a fragile state of mental health, being walked publicly across campus, surrounded by his peers, and being placed, in handcuffs, in the back of a patrol car.

“Wait, what are you doing?”

“I’m not allowed to drive on campus.”

And he remembered the memo. “You can drive this time. We’ll change the policy.”

It takes a difficult employee to do that.

The police department also used to perform “Money Escorts.” Various departments around campus collected money and then called for a money escort to go to Student Services Center where bulk money was kept or to the bank for deposits. The purpose was to provide safety for the person handling the money. When one of my officers came in complaining that he had just done a money escort for a department that just had to deposit a couple of checks in an envelope, I checked our dispatch logs and saw that we were running as many as fifteen money escorts a week, with each one taking an officer out of service for as long as an hour to an hour and a half.

So I started answering up to take the money escort calls. On bicycle patrol. Our policy said that we would supply an officer for safety, not a police car for ease of convenience. When I began arriving at money escort calls with a bicycle, the first response was usually:

“But our employee can’t keep up with you.”

“No problem, I’ll walk the bicycle. I’ll go at the employee’s speed.”

Most departments simply thanked me and said that they would take care of it without me. The Housing Services employee was ecstatic as she enjoyed the walk to the bank and back, but her bosses didn’t and after a few weeks, stopped calling us. One department called and I showed up, standing beside my bicycle, holding it by the handlebars, in their front lobby.

“Yes, officer, how can we help you?”

“Hi. I’m your money escort.” I was met with several confused looks.

Finally, a man stepped forward. “Um. We need an officer with a car.”

“Sorry, I’m the only one available. We provide an officer for safety, not a car for convenience.”

“But my employee isn’t wearing the right kind of shoes to walk all the way to the bank.”

“Do you have another employee who is properly dressed to perform their job?”

That was probably too far, and I assumed would result in a complaint, but it stumped them.

“You know what? I’ll just take her,” the man said.

And money escorts became a thing of the past. Sometimes a difficult employee is necessary to move evolution along.

And then sometimes, it backfires on me. One of our Captains created little 3×5 card, “How Have We Served You?” surveys with postage paid. He came to briefing and asked us to start handing out the cards. Now, I knew that he intended for us to only hand those out to people that we provided some service to, such as a safety escort, or took a police report, or provided an unlock, something like that. He wanted something that he could show the University how well liked we were by the people we interacted with.

The officers hated it; it didn’t feel like police work. I didn’t really care either way. I understood what the Captain was trying to do and I understood why the officers hated it.

So I started handing them out to EVERYBODY.

If I wrote you a citation, I handed you a survey with your copy of the citation. “Please let my bosses know how I performed my work today. Thank you.”

If I arrested you, I placed a survey in your booking bag with all your personal property. “Hey I put a customer service survey in with your property. If you could take the time to fill it out and mail it to my bosses so that they know I’m out doing my job, I’d appreciate it.”

I went through dozens and dozens of customer service surveys.

And then I got called to the Captain’s office.

“Wes, who are you handing the surveys out to?”

“Anyone I come in contact with. Is there a concern?”

“Are you handing them out to suspects?”

“Yes.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because a customer service survey should be for all the people we provide service to.”

“Well, we’ve gotten these in for you. They are all positive.” And he showed me photocopies of the completed surveys. “With comments like, ‘He didn’t beat me like the (city) police do.’ And “He was very professional, even when I lost my temper and called him names.’ And ‘He’s my favorite, because of all the times I’ve been arrested, he always talks to me like a person.’”

Clearly someone I had arrested multiple times. Unfortunately, that didn’t narrow it down much. Although I would have probably bought that person some lunch the next time I arrested them, if I knew who they were.

So I hadn’t used the surveys in the way the Captain had intended, but the people I gave them to didn’t respond in the way I had expected. I had expected a lot of angry customer service surveys. It didn’t happen.

So the Captain and I stared at each other smiling. Neither had won, but neither had lost. Ultimately, the surveys when away when the Post Office notified us that they couldn’t deliver 3×5 cards and postcard size was too large for officer’s pockets. So the surveys went the way of the Dodo bird, notwithstanding a difficult employee.

Am I still able to be a difficult employee? Probably. Better check with my wife.

The Weight of the Badge

I took a couple of weeks away from the blog, mostly because I didn’t have anything appropriate to post for 9/11 and because I have been otherwise occupied caring for my wife after a surgery. Those are my excuses and I’m sticking to them. But I decided I’d better get back to the four or five people that actually read this blog. Thank you, by the way. Anyway, there are times that are more difficult than others to do the right thing.

As a University police officer, I was taught that citations are part of the educational process. If I discuss the violation with the motorist and it appears that they understand what the violation was and why they had been stopped, that was a warning. If they did not appear to understand that they had committed a violation and just wanted to argue with me, clearly, a judge would be the next appropriate level of instruction. Off-duty police officers, in my experience, tend to know how to respond to a stop; they admit their error, apologize for the violation, apologize for wasting my time, and then provide their driver license, registration, and insurance. Usually, their driver license is near their police ID, so I can see it. Would I have given them a citation if they were not police? Probably not.

However, on a particular morning, I stopped a car driving 45 MPH in a 25 MPH zone, in an area where many students lived and was a significant pedestrian crossing area. As I approached the car, the driver put his hand out the window holding a badge on a belt clip. At first, I thought it must be someone that I knew playing a joke on me. When I realized that this was not someone I knew, as a supervisor, I was immediately offended that he believed that this would cause me to simply turn around and go back to my car and that he thought simply holding his badge out the window was an appropriate response. He was young, probably very new, and smiled at me, smugly, as I walked up. I asked for his driver license and other documents. He told me that the badge was all I needed. I took it from his hand and saw that it was from a nearby suburban department, that I knew would not tolerate this kind of behavior. I removed the badge from the belt clip and returned the belt clip. I kept the badge and told him he was free to leave.

He demanded the badge back as it was his property and he would arrest me for theft (at this time, I realized that he didn’t know that university police, in California, are State police with full law enforcement authority). I told him that the badge belonged to the (we will call it) Junction City police department and that I was going to return it to the Chief of Police with a letter explaining how I came to be in possession of it. I could see from his face that he was now near panic, that this was not how he had imagined this incident would go and was trying to decide how best to address this situation. He started to exit the vehicle and I shut the car door on him. HARD. I asked him how bad he wanted this incident to go, because he was either going to drive away, go to jail, or go to the hospital. His decision. He thought very hard for about thirty seconds, which is a long time in Hell. He decided to drive away.

I mailed the badge back to the Chief of Police with a very polite letter, like I said I would. I received a nice letter in return from a department commander letting me know that the officer’s version of events was wildly different and that he was released on probation following a brief investigation. Seems to me that it was for the best.

The Telemarketer Rings Five Times

I completely understand that people have jobs to do, including telemarketers. However, I don’t like scammers or rude people calling me.

I was scammed, and they got me, once about 20 years ago. I answered my flip phone and a young woman on the other end of the line said that she was from Sears and wanted to confirm that I had purchased several very expensive cameras, totaling over $3,000. I told her that I did not make such a purchase and she sighed and said that she didn’t think so, so she was going to transfer me to the security team. I was all in. She transferred me and the phone tree machine asked for me to enter my credit card number. I did so. About thirty seconds later, a man got on the line and started talking to me about the fraud and I answered his questions. And then, when he must have gotten all the information he needed from me, the line disconnected. At that moment, I realized that I had been scammed and called the number on the back of my Sears credit card.

The Sears Card customer service person answered the phone. With significant urgency, I said, “I need to cancel my card!”

I heard computer keyboard tapping. With the same level of urgency, the young man said, “It’s cancelled. What happened?”

I explained that I had gotten scammed and told him what happened and he said that with the cancelling of the card, there would be no problems, and then he sent out new cards. Whew.

But that was scammers and regular old telemarketers are just people trying to do their jobs and make a living. I accept that and generally, I am polite with telemarketers. I don’t call them names, I don’t say mean things to them, and I don’t just hang up on them. That’s rude.

“Thank you so much for your call, but I’m not interested in your product/program/vacation right now. You have a good day, though.”

One evening, many years ago, I was sitting in the family room, watching TV with the wife and kids, when my cell phone rang. The young woman asked for me by name and began her sales pitch. I used my regular “Thank you so much” line and expected her to hang up. She didn’t. I repeated that I was uninterested and thanked her for her time. I told her that I was hanging up, now. I hung up the phone.

A few seconds later, my cell phone rang. I answered it, thinking, Wow, busy night, tonight.

“Hello, Mr. Blalock. I’m so sorry that we were interrupted, somehow, the line disconnected.” Same young woman.

“Nope. I thanked you politely and ended the call. I’m going to do it again, right now. Bye-bye.” And I hung up.

A few seconds later, my cell rang. My wife, who had been listening, looked at me with crazy eyes. “Is that the same person?”

It was the same number. I answered the phone, unsure how best to handle this.

“Mr. Blalock, my apologies, sir. There seems to be something wrong with my phone line. We keep disconnecting.”

“There is nothing wrong with the phone lines. I’m not interested in your program and I’m not interested in listening to your sales pitch. I have hung up on you twice now. I’m going to hand up on you a third and last time.” And I hung up.

My wife nodded in approval. But we hadn’t yet turned our attention back to our television show when my cell phone rang. My wife’s mouth hung open in shock. I stood up and walked into another room and closed the door.

I answered the phone and yes, it was the same young woman. When she got back into her sales pitch, I asked her a very impolite question, implying that I would be interested in her product if she performed some sex acts with me. I expected her to hang up. She did not. She tried to deflect, but I persevered. As she continued, so did I. I became very graphic and obscene, in a struggle to make her be the one to hang up.

Yes, I know that sounds stupid, but I had been challenged. My hanging up had not worked.

I tried to express every sexual deviation that I could think of, trying to shock and horrify her, still trying to get her to hang up, but she forged ahead. I began to run out of horrible things to say. Finally, she hung up.  

I turned and started to leave the room, the battle completed. I may not have won, because every battle leaves casualties on both sides, but it could be called a draw. And my cell phone rang.

Seriously?

I answered, cautiously.

“Mr. Blalock?” A man.

“Yes, this is he.”

“I’m a supervisor here at the call center and I heard what you said on the phone to our staff member.”

Good for him, standing up for his employee.

“And sir, we’re going to have to call the police to report your making an obscene phone call.”

Ha!

“Oh, what State are you in?” I asked.

“Why does that matter?”

“You’re right.” I told him. “It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I am in California and in California, the crime of making an obscene phone call requires one very important element. Make a call. I didn’t make a call. I answered one. Therefore, in California, I have committed no crime. So are we finally done here? Or are you going to give me a blowjob?”

And he hung up the phone.

That felt like victory.

The Troubles With A Gemini

Some people are their own worst enemies. No matter what bad situation they find themselves, they can always choose the best way to make it so, so much worse. Let’s take the case of Don South (Not his real name, but not because I’m trying to protect his privacy, I just don’t remember). 

Whenever the university hosted large concerts, a certain number of police officers were hired to provide security and various other functions, one of those functions being outside the venue itself, in the parking garages and on the grounds of the campus, stopping fights, enforcing drug and alcohol violations, and contacting and dissuading concert merchandise bootleggers.

During one particular event, there were about eight officers working the event and only two officers assigned to patrol, including me. And since I was the senior officer on the patrol shift, that made me Watch Commander and although that sounds important, it really just means that I’m the lucky one who has to wake up a Lieutenant in the middle of the night if an important decision needed to be made. Anyway, I was the Watch Commander, supervising the only other officer on patrol.

One of the event officers had stopped a bootlegger in the parking garage and asked for backup. Since I was close, I walked over to help out and found the officer, Bob Nope, obtaining identifying information from the man, whom we call Don South, today. But when Bob ran the guy’s name for warrants and identification, nothing came up. That suggested to us that someone was lying about their name. Bob told me that he had seen Don put something down in the bushes, so I went to check. Now, please keep in mind that at this point, the worst that was going to happen, in our minds, was that he was going to get a citation for illegal commercial sales on university property, but most likely, he was going to be released after we identified him.

I found a small duffel bag and brought it over to where Don was still lying to Bob.

“Is this yours?” I asked.

“No, I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Okay. I put it down and opened it up.

“Hey,” he shouted, suddenly upset. “You can’t open that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it isn’t yours, you need a warrant.”

“Um, it’s found property. I have to search it to make a diligent attempt to find an owner. Maybe the owner has their name and contact information inside.”

Don just fumed while I searched and Bob continued to ask him questions about his identity. Inside the duffel, I found bootleg concert t-shirts, lots of them. And then, at the bottom of the bag, I found an airline ticket for the next day. In the name of Ned North (again, I just don’t remember the name). I held up the airline ticket.

“See?” I said. “Now I can contact the owner.”

“That’s mine,” he said.

“I thought that you’d never seen this bag before.”

“I haven’t. I just know that’s my airline ticket.”

I looked at the name on the airline ticket. “What’s your name again?”

He looked up at Bob and Bob smiled at him, waiting to see if he told the truth or lied. Don scowled.  “Don South.”

“So it isn’t yours,” I told him. He remained silent.

I took the airline ticket and tucked it back into the duffel, zipped up the bag, and began walking back to the police station.

“Hey!” Don shouted. “That’s my airline ticket. You have to give me back my ticket.”

I kept walking and Bob kept filling out his Field Interview card, a 3×5 card with all of the personal information he told us. As I made my way back to the police station, I heard Bob on the radio say that he had taken a police report and issued Don a Notice of Withdrawal of Consent to Remain on Campus. (Aside: For those that are unfamiliar with this term, educational institution police in California have a law that allows us to bar someone from campus for two weeks. Essentially, we are like the old town, Hollywood sheriffs who can tell people to be out of town by sundown. Only for us, we can “direct” people to leave the campus and not return for two weeks.)

So I got back to the police station and booked the duffel bag into property, awaiting someone named “Ned North” to come pick up the t-shirts and airline ticket. Did I mention that the airline ticket was for the next morning at 10:00 A.M.ish?

Anyway, I went into the dispatch center and another event officer called on the radio and told me that Don had walked across the street, to the 7 Eleven, which was off-campus and was currently using a pay phone there. (Aside #2: A pay phone is a landline, fixed into a metal box that took coins to make it work. They were very common in their day.) The officer said that on the scanner, the city police had dispatched some officers on a robbery because I guy dressed like a cop had stolen the reporting party’s airplane ticket. About five minutes later, event officers radioed that two City police officers had rolled up and were talking to Don in the 7 Eleven parking lot.

The dispatcher answered the phone and then handed the phone to me.

“Blalock.”

Event officer. “Hey, we went over and talked to the city guys and explained what had happened so they are talking to him now.” I thanked the officer for the update.

The dispatcher answered the phone and then handed the phone to me. “For the Watch Commander.”

“This is the Watch Commander,” I said. “How can I help you?”

“Yeah, so I was stopped by one of your cops earlier and he took my airplane ticket and I need to get it back.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m the officer that took the airplane ticket, but it couldn’t possibly have been yours. It wasn’t in your name and it was in a bag that you had never seen before.”

“I want to talk to the Watch Commander!” he shouted.

“I am the Watch Commander,” I replied.

“NO YOU’RE NOT!” he screamed and the phone disconnected.

Event officer on the radio. “PacBell is going to have to repair that phone, now. He slammed that down really hard.” Pause. “The city cops are talking to him again.” Longer pause. “Okay. The city guys are leaving and he’s walking away.”

And then it seemed we were done with the great airline ticket caper. The concert continued and as the activity died down, some of the event officers were cleared to go home. Bob was one of those officers and he was at the dispatch window, checking in his equipment. I was briefing the Watch Commander for the next shift, as my shift was ending and I was also getting ready to go home. I heard a commotion and some shouting outside the office and stepped out to see what was going on.

And there at the entrance to the police station, Bob was arresting Don South. Bob put him in handcuffs and loaded him into a holding cell. As Bob came out, I asked, “What the hell?”

Bob shook his head. “Apparently, after he found out that you were the Watch Commander, the city cops told him to come in and talk to the next shift Watch Commander. But he forgot he had been banned from campus. When he walked up, I hooked him up.”

I finished up my work, dressed down into my street clothes, gathered my things, and started out the front door to go home, about 1:00 AM. Bob was still filling out his booking paperwork, so I leaned into the holding area and told Don, “Good night.” And I went home, him screaming at me the whole time.

A couple of weeks later, I was down at jail, booking a suspect in, and stopped off to talk to a friend at the release review desk. (Aside #3: Court staff here review the booking paperwork and determine if someone can be released on their own recognizance or if they had to be held for an appearance with a judge.) So my friend asked if I was involved with Don South’s arrest. I told him I was and this is the story he told me.

So Don got fingerprinted as soon as he was booked. Standard practice. So within twenty minutes of booking, they knew he was Ned North and not Don South. They also new that Ned North had a $50k warrant for his arrest in Orange County. But Ned was still claiming to be Don. At his first judge appearance, the judge asked Ned for his true name and Ned still claimed to be Don. The judge sent him back to holding without any other questions. After a few days and a couple more tries by the judge, Ned admitted his true name, when he realized that he was fooling no one. And Orange county sent a bus up to get him.

So the truth hurts for a little while, but lies hurt forever. Or at lease for several days longer than it has to.

Dealer Or No Dealer

When people think of drug dealers, they tend to think of the kinds of people they see on crime shows, gang members, bikers, underworld types, but those are not the kinds of people that I ended up arresting for dealing drugs in my career. The very first person I arrested for dealing drugs, I stopped for a simple traffic violation. At about 1 A.M., I stopped a guy for no bicycle headlight. As he rode up onto the sidewalk and dismounted his bicycle, I watched him set a small toolbag down on the ground and then stand up and wait for me. We conducted our bicycle stop and when his ID came back clear, I told him he could go. He hopped back on the bicycle and started to ride away when I called out to him.

“Hey, you forgot your bag.”

He looked at me, blankly. “That’s not mine. I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

I had been a police officer for less than a year, but even I knew that this was a clue. I stopped him again, grabbed the bag, and opened it. Inside was an entire pharmacy. If he had just picked up the bag and rode away, he would have been on his way, instead he went to jail.

Some people ask the police for help when they probably shouldn’t. I was at the police station when a student came up and asked if we were able to access the University Dining Commons which had closed, but the university police have keys to everything. The student was very nervous and near panic that he had left his backpack inside and he said that he couldn’t wait until the morning. Already a little suspicious, another officer and I went to the Dining Commons and found our way inside the office to see if the student’s backpack was there. We found a backpack and opened it up to see if there was something inside that said that the backpack belonged to this particular student. Unfortunately, the only things we found inside were illegal drugs and boxes of baggies. The fact that he also had a list of names led us to believe that the student had been possibly selling illegal drugs.

We returned to the police station, where the student had begun to have second thoughts and was trying to leave, while another officer tried to convince him to stay. I held up his backpack and asked him, “Is this yours?”

He must have assumed because I was asking and the backpack was all zipped up, that he was safe, but as soon as he identified it as his, he was on his way to jail.

Another time, one of my officers, Hans, told me that every shift, before he gets into his patrol car, he walks around it and makes sure that all the lights work and that nothing is broken and that he would think that drug dealers would do the same, to avoid getting pulled over. Instead, he stopped a student who was driving a car with an expired registration. When Hans approached the driver, he saw that the driver had a lock box on the passenger seat and was very nervous. Hans asked for the driver’s license and when the driver opened his wallet to take out his driver license, Hans saw a second driver license in another pocket. He asked for the second driver license, as well. The second license was a fake that made the driver over 21 years old. Hans arrested him for possession of a fake ID.

Once Hans had the driver in the back seat of the patrol car, Hans used the key on the driver’s key chain to open the lock box and discovered this particular student’s pharmacy, including a customer record on a notebook inside. At the time of this arrest, police were allowed to search cell phones incident to arrest, just like other spaces in the car, so Hans opened the driver’s cell phone and began looking at his text messages. And there, having been sent just minutes before, was the perfect message that our dealer had sent to his girlfriend. “We should quit school and do this full time. We are so smart, we will never get caught.” And then he went to jail. I hope he stayed in school because this career track wasn’t going to work for him.

And finally, I was working dayshift, but nightshift was short-staffed, so I had agreed to come in at 3 A.M. At 3:05 A.M., I walked out of the police station and into the parking garage. I happened to see three young men exit one of the stairwells and stop when they saw me, then they looked up into the stairwell. So as they walked away, I went into the stairwell and started climbing. I wanted to see what they had been looking for. Glancing down, I saw that the three young men had been walking slowly away and that at least one of them was using a cell phone. When I neared the roof, I heard a phone ringing above me, and a small group of male voices.

“Why do they keep calling?” one of the voices asked.

I reached the level where three young men were sitting.

“I think they’re trying to warn you that I’m coming,” I said, amused at the shock on their faces.

Sitting beside one of the young men was a large plastic container, perhaps the kind you would find filled with cheesepuffs at Walmart, but this one was filled with marijuana. I arrested the young man for possession of marijuana for sales, which was still a felony at the time of this incident. During later questioning, I asked him why he was selling drugs and he said that he didn’t have enough money to pay for anything other than tuition and books, and so he needed to sell pot to have spending money.

The next day, now that I was working my dayshift, I walked out of the police station and saw my arrestee, clearly out on bail, and a woman walking toward the entrance.

“That’s him,” my arrestee told the woman while pointing at me.

“How can I help you?”

“Are you the officer that arrested my son last night?”

“I am.” Here it comes, I thought.

“What happened?”

“I’m sorry, your son is an adult. I can’t give you any non-public information without his approval.”

She turned to her son. “Give him permission to talk to me.”

My arrestee looked defeated. “It’s okay to tell her what happened.”

So I did, including the fact that he had to sell drugs because he didn’t have any spending money.

“You don’t have enough money?” she asked him, obviously rhetorically. “YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY? How do you not have enough money? I gave you $200 last week for spending money. What happened to that?”

I didn’t hear his answer, as his mother had released me at that point, assuring me that he would not be selling drugs any more. And that he might never be allowed out of the house again.

There are obviously people who think that selling drugs is the way easy money. I don’t care how smart they think they are, they probably aren’t. And unless they are operating a legal dispensary, they probably won’t make any money in the long run. Attorneys are expensive. Morticians more so.

Good luck.

Coppus Interruptus

One of the hazards of police work, and police work on a college campus in particular, is catching people having sex. There are police officers that love to catch people having sex and there are police officers that hate catching people having sex and there is the full spectrum of emotions in between, but either way, there is no hope of NOT catching someone having sex, at some point. And it never looks like the high quality porn that you might have bought at the AVN Expo in Vegas, it looks much more like the porn that you stumble across in the middle of the night on a weird internet search that you never tell anyone about because you are too embarrassed to let anyone know that you actually saw that. In my career, I have caught college couples, strangers, hookers, cheaters, married couples, and people just about to break up, right after getting caught by the police.

There was the time I was driving in the parking garage late at night when I saw the only car parked on the upper floor, it’s windows open, and then a hand comes up and drops a condom onto the concrete parking space. I stopped my car (which I was surprised they didn’t hear-police cars are not quiet), got out, and walked up to the car. Inside I found a young couple in their early twenties, in various stages of undress, and a small pile of used condoms on the ground outside the passenger side window. Impressive. I asked them both to step out of the car, get dressed, and provide me with some ID. When I looked at the ID, I saw that her last name was Singh and his last name was Gonzalez, and I had a conversation with the two of them that confirmed that neither of their families would accept that they were dating a Sikh/Mexican so they were seeing each other in secret. And clearly saving up. I explained how dangerous it was for them to be in such a vulnerable position while in a public area where criminals frequent and sent them on their way. The young woman stood there shaking. “Are you going to call my parents?” Call her parents? She was 22 years old. “No. You’re an adult. And adults can pay for motel rooms.”

Or the time that I was walking through a different parking garage, during a holiday closure, so there should have been no one inside. On the fifth floor, I saw a single car with fogged up windows. I walked up to the car, thinking that the occupants were “hot-boxing,” smoking pot and keeping the smoke inside to enhance their experience, but when I opened the car door, I instead found a young couple having sex (It was unlocked. If you are going to be having sex in a car, lock the doors). Unfortunately, for me and them, she was 16 and he was 20. I had to call her parents and determine if I was just sending them home or was I arresting the young man for statutory rape. Her father, while certainly angry, told me to have the young man bring her home, and he would have a conversation with his daughter’s boyfriend when they got there.

After sending them on their way, and me not having to write any reports, I took the nearest stairs to the next floor, where I immediately found a man leaning back against a pickup truck while a young woman on her knees was performing orally on him. They stopped as I walked toward them. He was close to my age, somewhere in his late 40s and she was in her early 20s, so my first thought was that he had hired a prostitute, but it turned out that he was an unrelated “uncle,” a friend of the family, and no, her family was unaware that their relationship had taken a turn. Yes, it was creepy.

And then, we opened a brand new, joint, University-City library. Nine stories of educational support. No one would have sex in a library, right? Haha. Of course they would. Within the first week, one of the security officers called me into the control room, where he was watching the security cameras, and show me a woman giving a man a blowjob in one of the glass elevators. I contacted the couple on the fourth floor and explained what we had seen and warned them about their illegal activity. The security staff showed me the video of how angry she was with her boyfriend after I walked away. Later, at a weekly security meeting with library executives, I shared this incident with them. Part of me wanted to shock them and part of me wanted to show them what was actually going on in their building. In the awkward silence that followed my announcement, one of the University Library executives, a woman in her 60s, with her hair pulled up into a gray bun, said, “Well, it was lunchtime. She was probably hungry.” Now, who was shocked?

In an area where we frequently caught prostitutes parking their johns and doing their jobs, I found a car whose license plate had a confidentiality flag registered to the County Sheriff’s Office (meaning that the owner worked for the Sheriff’s Office). I was emotionally preparing myself for an uncomfortable confrontation with an off-duty deputy when I contacted the driver, but he did not look like a deputy. The passenger definitely looked like a working girl and I got ID from both of them. I asked the guy who was busy trying to zip up his pants, “Who owns the car?”

His eyes got wide. “My girlfriend.”

“And what does she do for the Sheriff’s Office?” And now his mouth matched his eyes.

“She’s a dispatcher.”

I asked my dispatcher to send a deputy to my location and to give them the license plate. Once the deputy arrived and realized what was going on, the boyfriend got to walk away without a citation. But he also had to walk all the way home, about a forty-minute drive away. I sometimes wonder if he got home before all his stuff was packed into hefty bags and left on the front lawn.

So these are some of the more memorable incidents, however it doesn’t include all the times that I discovered someone masturbating at the library, or the couple of times that I found prostitutes plying their wares hidden in a small conference room in the library, or all the students I found in classrooms and offices that they thought no one would enter, or everyone in their cars that don’t think or don’t care that anyone else can see them. Either way, it’s never as fun as you think it will be and it certainly isn’t pretty.

As Sick As Your Secrets

I was working during a concert being held on campus, and during such events, we often have lots of people hanging out, drinking alcohol, smoking pot, doing other drugs, etc. in our parking garages. This tends to make the students and staff who are not attending the concert, concerned for their safety. So we do a lot of foot patrols and we issue a lot of tickets. It is a very effective tool of the trade that when one person is seen receiving a ticket, many others decide it is time to go to the venue and not hang out in the parking garage.

I saw one young man drinking a can of beer (drinking alcoholic beverages on campus is a misdemeanor) so I approached him and asked him for ID. He was with his friends so he smiled broadly and told me that he had forgotten to bring it with him.

“Okay, so what’s your name?”

“Ummmm. Troy Lindsay.”

“And your date of birth?”

“Ummmmmmmmmmm. May 3rd, 1980.”

“Okay, and what year did you graduate high school?”

Dead silence. His face got red and I could see his eyes trying to perform the appropriate addition and subtraction, which had been fogged over by a couple of cans of beer. “Nobody remembers that!” he sputtered out.

I placed him in handcuffs (to keep him from running away-I was old and fat even then and chasing people is not my thing) and sat him on the ground as he was technically under arrest for drinking alcoholic beverages on campus.

“Does this help you remember your name and date of birth?”

Also, at this point, his “friends” left to go to the concert.

He provided his true name and date of birth and I issued him a citation for minor in possession of alcohol (he was just 18) and the false information. When we were done, he took his citation and apologized, saying he just wasn’t thinking.

Fast forward about twelve years and I was attending an awards ceremony for police officers who had demonstrated excellence in DUI arrests. An officer from another agency approached me, his award in his hand.

“Sgt. Blalock, it’s good to see you again.” It was Ofc. “Lindsay.”

“It’s good to see you, too,” and I used his real name (okay, it was on his name tag).

Lindsay introduced me to his Chief of Police, who happened to walk up and I introduced myself and said, “Yes, I’m the one who arrested him.”

Lindsay’s face reddened and he looked very serious. “You didn’t have to throw me under the bus with my Chief,” he whispered.

Flashback: About seven years before this, I met with a background investigator for this other agency. He asked me about Lindsay’s arrest and what my thoughts were on whether or not he should be a police officer. Sitting in my office, I thought about it and asked, “Well, what was his response when you asked him about it?”

The background investigator consulted his notes and said, “He said that he had been really stupid and after having a couple of beers, had compounded one bad decision with another. He said that your interaction with him, treating him politely and as an adult who simply made a bad decision later made him think he wanted to have career in law enforcement.”

I smiled. “I don’t think he could have answered that any better, do you?”

Back to This Day: The Chief leaned forward and whispered, “We wouldn’t have hired you without his recommendation. It’s a public record, not a secret.”

A Night At The Theater

It was a little after 11:00 PM on a cool, November evening. The University operated a theater a few blocks from campus, in the downtown core, and I had decided to make a trip over there and circle the building as part of my patrol pattern that evening. Oh, by the way, I was on a mountain bike at the time. I contacted a homeless person who had camped out in front of the doors to the theater, issued her a new court date for a warrant she had, and then asked if she needed directions to a shelter. She thanked me for the new court date and declined the shelter, packed up her stuff, and walked away.

As I slipped my gear into my bag and began to ride back toward campus, I heard voices shouting behind me. I saw two young men walking quickly in my direction and two other men shouting at them, trying to start a fight, circling them like sharks. I rode my bike over to put myself in between the two groups to separate them. But the aggressors refused to be slowed, they simply walked around me and continued to taunt the other two men who purposely tried to ignore them and their taunts. Clearly, this was going to be more work than just chasing away the aggressors and letting everyone go on their way.

I hopped off my bicycle to physically stop the two instigators and find out what was going on. During this time, I did not hear on my scanner that there were a group of three men running around downtown, physically attacking people. I did not hear that the last attack was only half a block from my current position, just minutes before. I reached out to grab one of the men by the arm, while keeping the second man in my field of vision. I did not see the third man run up behind me from the shadows and punch me in the side of the head.

The first blow actually struck my bicycle helmet, but it was jarring. The only thing my brain could equate it with was when I was in a car accident as a teenager. My brain told me that I had just been hit by a car. I turned and was immediately struck in the face, repeatedly. My confusion turned to anger. While taking blows to the face, I reached down with my left hand and keyed up my microphone. I told dispatch that I needed Code 3 backup at the theater. I said this calmly and clearly, although my speech was interspersed with blows to my cheek and jaw. With my right hand, I grabbed the handle of my firearm, but thought, “I’m not there, yet.” I instead drew my baton. After taking perhaps a dozen blows to the face and head, I grabbed my attacker’s shirt and ordered him to the ground.

Now that I was armed and giving orders, he tried to get out of my grip and fell to the ground, pulling out of his shirt. I ordered him to stay down, but when he to get up, I had to use the baton to keep him from continuing to attack me. One of the other aggressors came toward me to help his friend, I ordered him to stay back and when he continued toward me, I used the baton on him as well. Then all three ran away. One of my officers drove up across the sidewalk and chased down the primary attacker, using a TASER to take him into custody.  Another officer arrived in time to catch the other two instigators.

Before the ambulances arrived to take us all to the hospital, I went to speak to the primary attacker. With blood pouring down my face and my lips and jaw swollen, and my teeth completely out of alignment, we made I contact. I was 51 years old at the time, and easily fifty pounds lighter than this young man of about 20, and while I was working on a bicycle, I was not an athlete in any way shape or form.

“When you get down to the jail, and you decide to brag about how you attacked a cop, remember this. You attacked a little, old man, from behind, took him by surprise, and you couldn’t even knock him down. Brag about that.”

I was then taken to the emergency room by ambulance where I was X-Rayed and MRIed and then referred to a couple of specialists. Diagnosed with injury caused TMJ, my jaw will only worsen over time. A few months later, I lost a front tooth and had to get an implant put in, following a surgery called an apicoectomy, a result of being punched in the face. While I did not have to pay for any of my medical bills, my final Workers Comp costs were about $75,000. And my injuries were relatively minor.

And why did all this happen? Those three men were just out to have a good time.

Apparently, they had a very good time.