The School of Hard Knocks

I was assigned to attend a training at a hotel about three hours drive from the campus, and I was happy to hear that the new sergeant would be attending with me. The new guy had come from another department and probably had more experience than I did but had encountered some roadblocks in his career, so he joined the university police. He had worked some of our special events and I got along with him well; he was a good guy and I was perfectly okay spending six hours in a car with him. We will call him Tom. To attend this training, we were going to drive down to the hotel during a work shift, in an unmarked police car. I wore my jeans and a t-shirt and sweatshirt with a cartoon character on the front; tucked my gun in the back of my waistband and my badge to my belt. Tom showed up in a short-sleeve polo and jeans; badge and gun in a fanny pack (back when they were popular). We were good to go.

I drove as we headed out of the station into rush hour traffic. It took us ten minutes to get one mile to the South Campus but we were joking around, having a good time, fat, dumb, and happy. We were stuck in traffic, inching forward, waiting for a couple of lights to change and then we would be clear and on our way. Tom, laughing at something I had said, turned and looked out the window. That’s when I heard the voice.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” It was the guy in the work truck in the next lane, literally screaming out the window.

Tom turned to look at me with a confused look on his face, then slowly looked back at the guy in the work truck. “What?”

“What the fuck are you looking at?” Screaming so loud, he’s almost unintelligible.

Tom looked over at me again, then, to my surprise, Tom turned and shouted, “I’m looking at you, asshole!”

With the guy in the work truck now in a shouting match with Tom and literally trying to climb out the window to fight with Tom, I reached up to grab the forward red light that folded into the ceiling of the car and pushed it down into the windshield. Tom watched me and looked surprised, like he had just remembered that we were on-duty cops.

“Oh yeah, that’s good,” Tom shouted.

Tom grabbed the radio and called in our car stop while I maneuvered behind the work truck and turned on the solid red light. The truck pulled over and the driver jumped out. We did too, hands on our guns. I ordered him to sit on the curb with his hands on his knees.

“I’m sorry, guys. If I’d known you were cops, I wouldn’t have bothered you guys.”

I looked at Tom and back to our guy on the curb. “And it would be perfectly okay for you to start a fight with regular people?”

Our motorist, Bob, was high on methamphetamine and driving on a suspended drivers license. Two patrol officers from the university arrived and took Bob to jail for DUI and suspended license and towed away his truck. Tom and I wrote our supplements and then got back in the car and continued on our way to the hotel. Training was…otherwise uneventful.

Nine months later, I was reading the local newspaper and saw Bob’s name. It turns out that Bob had a road rage problem with some gang members. They chased him all the way home and stabbed him to death on his front lawn.

Some lessons are harder learned than others.

The Thin Blue Line Between Confusion and Clarity

I joined California law enforcement when the basic policy for a pursuit was, “We will drive as fast as we have to, as far as we have to, to catch them.” However, after I nearly shit my pants in my first high-speed pursuit of a motorcycle (who got away by driving at 80 MPH the wrong way down a one-way street) I did everything I could to avoid pursuits. But around 2010, we hired a new Chief of Police who decided that high speed pursuits were a bad idea. He explained his perspective that a high-speed pursuit is the equivalent of deadly force based on the danger that bystanders were exposed to, and after listening to his explanation, I agreed. Aiming a two-thousand pound machine down a random street full of people can be nothing but disaster. Anyway, this Chief changed our policy to prohibit vehicle pursuits unless the suspects had committed a violent felony.

On one particular mid-afternoon, I was supervising a day shift and had stopped a couple of transients at the corner of 9th and William Streets. It was a simple alcohol infraction, so when my officers rolled by to check on me, I gave them a four fingered wave, indicating that I was “Code 4” or no further assistance needed. I completed my notes, chatting with the two homeless people when one of my officers (Tommy) radioed that he was being flagged down regarding a theft of beer from the liquor store at 8th and Williams Streets.

Tommy got back on the radio and put out a description of the suspect’s car and reported that they were headed northbound on 8th Street toward San Salvador Street. At this point, I was back in my car and driving northbound on 9th Street when I saw a car shoot through the stop signs at the intersection of 9th and San Salvador Streets. My first instinct when I saw this car was to hit the gas and turn on all my lights to go after him, however when I reached the intersection, I saw Tommy pull around the corner from 8th Street, slowly, without lights and siren, and then I realized that this was the people who had stolen the beer. I immediately pulled to the curb and turned off my lights to be clear that I was not in pursuit.

Tommy then radioed in that the suspects were turning southbound on 10th Street. But they didn’t. Entering the intersection on a red light at a high rate of speed, they hit a Cable TV van, sending it ass over teakettle down the street to where it ended up on its roof. The suspect car spun in circles, sending broken glass in all directions. Another of my officers (Tony) arrived on scene from another direction, and seeing the crash happened, called on the radio, “TC (traffic collision). TC at 10th and San Salvador. We need fire and ambulance at this location.”

I hit the gas and drove up on the suspect car as the suspects started to climb out. I pulled my handgun and keyed up my radio called, “10-96 (high risk pedestrian stop-send assistance) on two.” I then ordered the two men to stay in their car until Tommy and Tony arrived to handcuff the two men and place them in different cars. A fourth officer (Mike) arrived to check on the driver of the Cable TV van. Now my entire shift was stuck in an intersection because a couple of guys couldn’t be bothered to pay for a case of beer. But up until this moment, I didn’t think about my dispatcher and what he was going through.

Adam, in dispatch, had handled my pedestrian stop, but I hadn’t cleared that stop. Adam now believed that something had gone wrong with my pedestrian stop on 9th and Williams Streets and I needed assistance. And then the last radio traffic he had gotten from Tommy was that his suspects were headed southbound on 10th Street. Adam believed he was also managing a pursuit down 10th Street and that Tommy needed help for that. And then he believed that Tony had gotten into a collision trying to assist in Tommy’s pursuit.

It wasn’t until he began asking me how many city police officers I wanted to assist that I realized that something was wrong. Why do we need city police, we have everything covered. It took several exchanges between me and Adam for us to get on the same page as to what was going on.

So, a non-pursuit policy didn’t really help us on this occasion, but overall, it is still a good idea. Almost as good an idea to call in all your activity so that the dispatchers know what you’re doing.

The Mourning After

A lot of police officers are apprehensive of DUI arrests because they tend to involve a lot of paperwork for a fairly minor violation, and as I have said before, cops tend toward laziness. DUI arrests require a regular police report, a vehicle report for towing the car, a DMV form for suspending the driver’s license, the occasional accident report (three forms), a booking sheet, an arrest affidavit, and sometimes, a property form. And then there are the crime lab forms. God forbid the person refuses to give a breath or blood sample (urine samples are no longer an option) and you then have to write up a search warrant to take blood. DUI arrests can be a lot of work for a low-level violation, but DUIs cause massive carnage in our country every year. So far this year, we are at one DUI related death every 52 minutes in the United States, or about 10,000 per year (one third of all traffic fatalities). When I first became a police officer in 1990, DUI related fatalities exceeded 15,000 per year and reached almost half of all traffic fatalities. I have never had an ethical problem with making a lot of DUI arrests, plus, they tend to be fun.

When I make an arrest for a DUI and there are passengers in the car, I try to obtain identification for the passengers, as well. They are witnesses, after all. And it seemed to me that almost every middle-aged, upper middle- class male that I arrested for DUI had a female passenger. However, there is a box on the booking paperwork that asks for an emergency contact for the arrestee, just in case they become sick or injured while in custody. I would ask these men who to put in this box and invariably they would say, “My wife.”

“Is that the woman that was in the car with you?”

Wide-eyed shock in response. “Uh…no.”

“Okay. You realize that if you go to court on this, we are going to call her as a witness, right?”

Same deer in headlights expression. I never went to court on any of these cases.

Several times, everyone in the car was drunk, but intoxicated passengers would ask if they could drive the car so that it wouldn’t get towed. I would give them the breathalyzer which would show that they could not legally drive, and then I would tell them, “No.”

But sometimes, when trying to give people a break, we would allow them to call a sober person to come pick up them and the car. The sober person would arrive, we would hand them the keys to the car and then drive away. But we aren’t stupid, we would have an officer waiting around the corner, and when the car went by with one of the drunken passengers behind the wheel, we have now made two DUI arrests from the same car. And this time we towed it away.

There were times during night shift where I would just park at the edge of campus and keep an eye on the riff-raff visiting the nearby Jack in the Box restaurant which was open 24 hours. On one occasion, while I was parked there, I saw all the cars stop for a red light and then go on the green. Except for one car. It just sat there in the lane. The driver opened her door and fell out onto the asphalt, picked herself up and staggered around the car. I watched the passenger slide into the driver’s seat and promptly pass out while the original driver struggled to open the passenger side door which may have been locked.

I had seen enough. I pulled onto the roadway and blocked the car with my car, just in case the new driver woke up and I called for backup. The first driver had crumpled to the ground beside the passenger door, so I placed her in handcuffs and walked her to the curb, then went back and hooked up the new driver and walked her up to the curb.

Now, for me, this is the funny part of the story. I was working this shift to cover another supervisor who was on vacation. When the two officers from the shift arrived, I asked one of them to tow the car and the other one to take the two prisoners and put them in the holding cells at the police station. These two officers then began peppering me with questions as to my observations, my probable cause, the charges that I placed them under arrest for. I was confused. Did they not think that I knew how to make a DUI arrest? Were they questioning my abilities, thinking perhaps I had lost my mind? I told them, “Hey, just tow the car and take the two prisoners to the station.”

They stared at me for several seconds, then the more senior officer began telling the younger officer, “So, you’re going to write in your report that the sergeant made the car stop…”

I laughed. Loud. It was funny. I realized that they were so used to their regular supervisor making arrests and then giving them the report that they thought I was having them do all the work. “No, no, no,” I said. “I’m writing the report. Everything. Just tow the car and park the two of them in the holding cells.”

They both looked very relieved and took care of my requests. And just to be clear, I only made one DUI arrest, the second “driver” I arrested for drunk in public, since she didn’t actually do any driving.

Now, there were always the DUI drivers who were driving down the Light Rail Train tracks instead of the roadway, or the multiple people I arrested while I was on bicycle patrol, but the women who offered sexual favors in exchange for being released were a fairly regular occurrence. One woman, who had been driving like a pinball careening off the concrete support columns of a university parking garage, looked around at the officer that had stopped her, me (the backup officer), the four police cadets and two parking officers and offered to give the primary officer a blowjob if he could just let her go. He shook his head and then looked at me and said, “It couldn’t possibly occur to her that this might work unless it’s worked before.”

I had one shift where I had a civilian ride-along in the car with me, when I pulled over a car for driving 80 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. When the car stopped, we both watched the driver and passenger switch places. This was another occasion where I had the passenger arrested for drunk in public, because he could barely give us his name. But the driver, a young woman with a thick, Irish accent, ended up in the back of my car, arrested for DUI. On the way to jail, she asked, “Can’t I just give you a blowjob and you let me go?”

I laughed. “Why would you even ask that when I have a civilian ride-along in the car?”

“That’s okay, I’ll blow him, too.”

My ride-along looked at me with a questioning look. I shook my head. No one is getting a blowjob.

Finally, there was the young woman, who while in the back of the car, kept asking very personal questions about me. I kept my answers very vague. When we arrived down at the jail, the correctional officer began speaking to my prisoner and asked her, “So, how’s your night going?” (That must be a joke for the COs).

She sighed. “I finally meet a really nice guy, and he takes me to jail.”

Now, even if I found her attractive, what kind of foundation would that establish for a relationship? Eeeek.

Every year, the county where I worked engaged in a type of DUI reduction program called “Avoid the 13.” This was for the original thirteen police agencies involved in the program, but by the time I had become a police officer, the program had actually grown to seventeen agencies, including my university police department. I took part as often as I could and received awards for making more than five DUI arrests during the 22-day program.

On one particular DUI patrol shift, where my whole assignment was to make DUI arrests, I made my first arrest at just about 9:30 PM, after stopping a car for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. During my investigation, I determined that the suspect had just come from a Christmas party at a local restaurant, which happened to be situated between the university and the freeway. When I was done booking this prisoner into jail, I returned to campus just after 11:30 PM. As I was driving back to the police station, I stopped another car driving the wrong way on a one-way street. This turned out to be my second DUI arrest of the night, and it happened to come from the same Christmas party. I finished booking that prisoner and drove back toward the police station at about 1:30 AM the next morning, when, as you might have guessed, I stopped a car for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. This was my third and final DUI arrest of the shift, and it also came from the same Christmas party.

I don’t know if they were all using Apple Maps or if the restaurant gave bad directions to the freeway, or if the Beat Gods had simply felt that I was worthy of this honor. Either way, it worked out for everybody. I got to set a record and all those people got home alive, just later than they had expected.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Stay Safe.

When We Listen To Our Injuries

I haven’t posted in a few weeks, but not because I didn’t have enough material to write about, but because we had a lot of events during the last couple of months, including my father’s 90th birthday and my granddaughter’s first birthday. That and I found myself feeling very lazy. But after a slight miscalculation this morning that allowed my pinky toe to fail to navigate a piece of furniture, resulting in a blinding pain, followed by swelling and redness, I decided today to talk about some of my work related injuries.

In no particular order, I’ll start in the middle of my career. During training, I was practicing a forward roll, something that I used to do with some frequency when I took Karate lessons, so I was very comfortable with them. Maybe too comfortable. I rolled forward and realized immediately that I had done something wrong, my shoulder struck incorrectly and I felt a significant pressure near the socket. I popped up and looked around, embarrassed at my failure and checked to see if anyone had been watching me. No one looking. Okay, I’m good. And then I checked in with my Acromioclavicular Joint, because it was telling me, “No. We are NOT good.”

I took a deep breath and thought, well, can I make it through the rest of training, then go home and Motrin up to take care of it? I thought maybe I could, but then my Acromioclavicular Joint said, “Fuck No! We can’t do that. We need help, now.”

I told the instructor, one of my junior officers, that I had hurt myself and gave him the information he needed to fill out the Workers Comp forms, embarrassed the whole time. Then I gathered my things and asked dispatch over the phone to send me a student assistant in a Cushman cart to bring me to the Student Health Center, where we were supposed to go for work related injuries, unless it was an emergency. And I was still telling myself that this was not an emergency.  

I had to wait for about 40 minutes for my ride, because someone else on campus was having a real medical emergency and the fire department and county paramedics needed to be flagged in. While I was waiting, I continued to argue with my Acromioclavicular Joint about whether or not I should have had dispatch call the fire department and county paramedics for me and the amazing and building pain in my shoulder. Instead I persevered, and went to the Student Health Center where they told me that I needed an Xray, but that they didn’t have a technician, so I drove myself to the emergency room at my regular hospital.

At the emergency room, I received (in this order) an Xray, opioids, an opportunity to call a family member to come pick me up, a slight adjustment to the ligaments in my shoulder (Thank God for the opioids), and an arm sling.

I should have just called for an ambulance.

But when I was a young officer, back when skateboarding was a crime (is it still?), I was on bicycle patrol on midnight shift. I had noticed early on in the shift that one of my brake cables had slipped from the bracket that held it in place and so I just put it back, like nothing. Then I continued with my shift. Several hours later, I warned some skateboarders that skateboarding was not allowed on campus and that they had to go elsewhere. I rode away, but when I circled back about twenty minutes later, they were still in the same place, SKATEBOARDING.

Please keep in mind that I was young then, and Contempt of Cop was a serious violation. The older I got, the less serious that particular violation became (as I became smarter). So anyway, I had only seen one young man who was still skateboarding so I rode over to stop and detain him and probably write him a citation. But instead of stopping, he committed another violation of Contempt of Cop and he began to run away (remember that this was what I wanted in the first place). So like any good greyhound, when the rabbit runs, I chased.

The skateboarder ran in circles, jumped a hedge, crossed a busy street, and ran through an apartment complex parking lot. And I kept right up with him, until the parking lot. I saw that I was going to hit one of those little concrete stops at the top of the parking space, so I hit the brakes. At that moment, I realized that the brake cable had slipped the bracket again, and therefore, could not compress the brakes on the front tire. I was going to crash.

I hit the parking stop and flew over my handlebars, but kept a hold on my grips. The bicycle and I rolled ass over teakettle and when I got back onto my feet, I popped up and started chasing my suspect on foot. But after taking a few steps, I realized that I was probably injured and that I should really check on that. I called my sergeant and he picked me up and brought me and my now broken bicycle back to the police station.

We locked up my gun belt and other gear and then checked out how the dirt on my arms and shoulders showed how I had perfectly rolled, never hitting my head. (See I did know how to do it properly at one time). But my left leg was swelling and in some reasonable pain, so the sergeant made the decision that I would go to the emergency room.

At the emergency room, I learned that I had ruptured my saphenous vein, the largest vein returning blood to the heart from the leg. Doctors monitored me for several hours before they decided that the vein was repairing itself and I didn’t need emergency surgery to prevent me from bleeding out. Oh, and also, based on the location of the injury, the doctor also evaluated whether or not I had injured my scrotum. That wasn’t embarrassing at all.

But this wasn’t just bad for me, because this was in the days before cell phones. The sergeant asked the dispatcher to call my wife and let her know what was happening. Not only did no one have cell phones, this was still early in my marriage, and we could only afford one car, and it was parked in front of the police station. Lee, the dispatcher, was all business and calling my wife was just a thing on his checklist. He called my wife, at just after midnight, waking her up, and said, “Mia, this is Lee at UPD. Wes was in a bicycle accident and had to be taken to the emergency room. He’ll call you when he’s done.”

And then he hung up.

And I was off work for six weeks.

But once I had an injury that I refused to acknowledge was a work injury. The injury occurred on campus, during my shift, while I was in uniform, but my stupidity was so great that I didn’t want anyone to know about it. Beyond the witnesses that I had no choice but to trust.

At this time, I was a patrol supervisor, nearing fifty, and retirement, but I liked to show the young officers that I could keep up with them. On one particular shift, as we neared the end of our day, two of my young officers decided to see who was a faster runner and were going to have a quick sprint in the auto bay where the police cars were parked. I told these two young officers that I wanted to show them that they were both slow. We walked to one end of the auto bay while a dispatcher stood at our starting line.

And when the dispatcher said, “Go,” we ran.

I immediately passed one of the young officers and was gaining on the other, pumping my legs hard, when my right leg simply stopped functioning. I tried to bring my right leg forward to put it underneath me as I rushed ahead, but it wasn’t there, and so I fell. I landed hard on my knees and elbows on the concrete, tearing holes in my uniform shirt and pants, and I slid to a stop. Suddenly, everyone wanted to help out the old guy who had just fallen down and couldn’t get up. Embarrassed, I stood up and realized by the swelling and pain in the back of my right thigh, that I had pulled a hamstring and my knees were bleeding.

My senior officer asked if I wanted her to get the Workers Comp forms for a workplace injury. No way! I will not make a written record of this lunacy. (Well, I have now, but we are well past that now.)

I told her that I was not going to tell my bosses that I had seriously injured myself by horsing around with my younger officers, although I hoped that my example would caution them about engaging in such activity in the future. (What a good supervisor I was.) I told her that I was going to wait for the next shift’s briefing to start, then go up to the locker room and change, and then go home. I would see a doctor in the morning.

The next day, sitting in the minor injury clinic, the doctor evaluated my injury and then asked me, “Was this a work related injury?”

“My injury had nothing to do with my actual work.” There we go.

And speaking of funny doctors, there was a time when I injured my calf responding to a call on foot. The doctor explained that this kind of injury was common for people in my line of work who are sedentary for a significant amount of time and then suddenly get up and engage in rigorous activity.

I smiled. “That’s great,” I said. “I thought it was going to be a sign that I am woefully out of shape.”

“Oh, no,” he said, straight-faced. Then he pointed at my middle and said, “That gut is a sign that you are woefully out of shape.”

Thank you, thank you very much.

I’m still not sure if I’m actually listening.

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.