Differently Abled

One of my pet peeves was people parking in the disabled spaces to use the ATMs on campus. The ATM building was at the edge of a parking lot and Parking Services even put in five spaces that were clearly marked as ATM Parking Only. But the disabled spaces were closer. On many occasions, I found vehicles parked sideways in two disabled spaces to access the ATMs, so convenient that the disabled spaces were available like that. Those people usually got parking tickets. Especially if there were available ATM spaces.

On two occasions, something unusual happened:

One. I saw the car parked sideways across two (possibly three) disabled parking spaces. I pulled to the side and got out and started writing the ticket ($351). The driver saw me, collected his money from the ATM and ran to his vehicle to drive away. Do people really think that makes a difference? Usually, we just mail the parking ticket to them, but I decided that it was a slow day, so I followed him. He drove into the neighborhoods nearby and tried to make a whole bunch of turns in the hopes that I would keep going and stop following him. I saw him park in an apartment complex and walk away (it was clear that he didn’t live there, he was just hoping that I would go away, now that he was a pedestrian). I parked, walked down to his car and placed the parking ticket on his windshield. I returned to my patrol car and started to drive away. The driver returned to his car and immediately ran up to me waving his parking ticket.

“Please, can you take this back? I don’t have this kind of money.”

“You were parked in two, possibly three disabled spaces, illegally.”

“Can you just write me a ticket for parking in two spaces, instead?”

“How about if I write you a disabled space ticket for each disabled space you occupied?”

“Oh. I’ll just take this one.”

Two. Again, a car was parked sideways across two disabled spaces, and again, the driver saw me, ran to his car and drove away. Deciding to mail the parking ticket to him, I asked dispatch for the registered owner’s address. The address was just a few blocks from campus, so I drove to the address, found the vehicle parked out front on the street, and I placed the ticket under the windshield wiper. I saw the driver peeking out at me through the window, but he never came out. I waved and drove away.

These were the only two instances where something out of the ordinary happened. More often, when the drivers would see me writing the tickets they would run back to the car and plead with me not to get a ticket. I would explain why I believed they deserved the ticket and then they would yell and shout, or tear up the ticket, or cry, or threaten to have my badge.

You know, the usual.

A Novel Approach to Training

There was a local “drunkard” that we dealt with on a regular basis. He had lost a foot at some time in the past, so he was in a wheelchair. We will call him Jacob. Nearly every time we saw Jacob, he was completely intoxicated, usually unable to even push his wheelchair forward. Unfortunately, we often had to take him to jail for drunk in public because he was just too far gone. There, he would sober up and be released without charges (time served, we called it) and he would return home near the campus by light rail.

At one point in my career, I was a training officer, and I had been assigned a police officer trainee who was at serious risk of failing out of training. One of his trademarks was that when the training officers would get fed up with his inability to make a decision and intervene, he would get frustrated and say, “But I was just about to do that.” So I began carrying a paperback book with me.

We responded to a call of an intoxicated person in the quad and when we arrived, it was Jacob. Jacob was unable to speak coherently and was in no condition to be on his own. The trainee began trying to interview Jacob, but Jacob wasn’t listening, he started to wheel away. The trainee began following Jacob around the quad, because Jacob was only going in circles. The trainee finally applied to brakes to Jacob’s wheelchair so that he couldn’t go anywhere. But now, the trainee didn’t know what to do with him. He didn’t know how to take a wheelchair bound man to jail or even place him in custody, although he was already technically detained. I started reading my book and forty-five minutes later, the trainee finally lost his cool and began screaming at Jacob, saying some very unkind things about drunks and transients.

I intervened. I explained to the trainee how to arrest a person in a wheelchair, to ask for another officer so that we could carefully and safely place him in the back of the car, load the wheelchair into the trunk, because the jail would take care of that, and not to shout at the suspect because the trainee was angry that he didn’t know what to do. We booked Jacob into county jail for drunk in public, but after that, I always had a paperback ready in my gear.

It Ain’t Checkers

I happened to be training a new officer. He was nearing the last phase of the training program, so at this point, he was responsible for initiating and handling his own calls, with me there to supervise if he needed help or guidance. This young officer was a bright, energetic, young man, whom we will call Hans. He was making good decisions and interacting with the community well and was even breaking some of his old bad habits that we were aware of, as he had been a student employee of the university police department, prior to getting hired as a police officer.

We responded to a call of a homeless person creating a disturbance at a student function. Unfortunately, the hazards of being a university in a downtown setting, includes interacting with the local community, including the unhoused. Some members of the university population are better prepared, psychologically, than others to interact with this particular segment of the population. And thus a call to the police department, because a homeless man was helping himself to food at a student group’s outdoor barbeque.

We arrived and Hans spoke to the president of the student organization who wanted the homeless man to leave their barbeque area.

“What is he doing?” Hans asked.

“He’s standing in line and getting food and talking to the students.”

“And your event is students only?”

“Oh, no. We’re open to the public. We want people to learn about our group.”

I could feel Hans trying to organize his thoughts as he paused. “But not him.”

The student also paused as he realized what he had said. “Uh…yeah.”

Hans asked the homeless man to step away from the event to have a talk with him.

I recognized the interloper as a black man, we will call Mr. Thompson, whom I had several contacts over the years and when he looked over at me, we nodded at each other in recognition. Hans explained to Mr. Thompson that the student group was asking that he be removed from their event. Hans also explained that, since Mr. Thompson was not causing any kind of disturbance, we had no authority to remove him from an event open to the public, especially since it was in an outdoor, park-like area of the campus. And then Hans asked Mr. Thompson if he would mind leaving the area, if Hans fixed him a plate of food from the barbeque. Mr. Thompson said that would be acceptable to him.

Hans then asked me if I could stand with Mr. Thompson while he went and put together a plate of food and after I agreed, off he went.

Mr. Thompson and I spoke cordially for several minutes, like co-workers who don’t get to interact very often. Finally, Mr. Thompson fixed me with a serious eye.

“That new kid,” he said. “Is he in training?”

“Yes, he is,” I agreed.

“Hmmmm,” Mr. Thompson thought aloud. “Do you want me to fuck with him?”

Having members of the community purposely antagonize a trainee police officer can also be problematic and create problems. There are always unpredictable things that can happen and get people into trouble inadvertently. So I should take the cautious route.

“Yes,” I said. “All you want.”

Hans returned presently with a large paper plate filled with barbequed meats, potato salad, chips, cookies, and some kind of cheese and cracker appetizer. “Okay, Mr. Thompson….”

And then Mr. Thompson went off, as though someone had just flipped a switch. At a high volume, Mr. Thompson accused Hans of racism, classism, discrimination against the homeless, just being mean, and having nothing better to do than to violate Mr. Thompson’s rights. Through it all, I watched as Hans’ face reddened and the hand holding the plate of food began to shake.

Finally, Hans asked loudly, “Do you want the food or not?”

Mr. Thompson flipped the switch back off and accepted the plate of food with a gracious smile and a “Yes, thank you.”

Then he turned to me and said, “Yeah, he’s going to do real well. He’s a good kid.”

Mr. Thompson left the area, eating his plate of food. Then I saw that Hans was staring at me as he realized that I had been in on it.

“What? It was training.”

Can’t You Smell That Smell?

When I was a young police officer, I was sent to check on a homeless person who was reported to have died on a bench outside the theater arts building. I found him lying on the bench, but saw, almost immediately, that he was breathing.

Whew.

I woke him and asked him how he was doing and we had a short discussion, mostly so that I could determine what to do with him. I asked him where he was planning to go next and he said that he had had to sit down because his feet were hurting. I said, “Oh, what’s wrong with your feet?”

“I don’t know.”

I saw that there was a blackish fluid leaking from his shoe, so I encouraged him to take his shoe off so that we could see if he needed medical attention for his feet. I had to help him get the shoe off, because he was having difficulty, but I was wearing gloves so I didn’t think there would be a problem.

The smell hit me as if it was a physical force and almost knocked me down. My eyes watered and I gagged. His foot was bright pink with black nails and had a blackish liquid oozing from cracks in his heel. I excused myself and walked to a spot about thirty feet away, five feet past the end of the odor, and called for paramedics to respond. As my brain began to receive oxygen again, I realized that the man was probably diabetic and his feet had filled with gangrene from some infection that he had never sought help for.

When the paramedics arrived, they asked where the patient was and I pointed. They looked at me oddly, like, “Why are you standing way over here?”

They started walking toward the man, but reached an invisible line that stopped them in their tracks. They looked back at me again, this time like “You could have warned us,” and went back to the ambulance to get masks and something that they sprayed in them, then went to work.

Ultimately, the man was taken to the county hospital, but I found him on campus just a couple of weeks later. I asked him how his trip to the Emergency Room had gone. He was very agitated and explained,

They were going to cut my legs off, so I left!

You didn’t let them treat you? I asked.

Hell, no! Didn’t you hear me? They were going to cut my legs off! (Released against medical advice.)

The transit police found him a couple of weeks later, dead on a bus bench.

Now, anytime I smell something significantly bad, I have flashbacks to him.

I Will Turn This Car Around

I was driving my minivan, with my wife in the passenger seat and my high school-aged daughter, in the back with a couple of her friends. I don’t remember where we were going, but I do remember that when I reached a ramp in the freeway that I normally would take to go to work, I took that route. Then I realized that I was not going to work. A quick glance in my side view mirror and I jerked back into the lane where I had been.

But I hadn’t looked closely enough, because as I looked in my rearview mirror, I realized that there was a Highway Patrol vehicle right there and the only way that he could be there is if he had been in my blind spot when I changed lanes back onto the freeway. I took the very next exit.

My wife and the kids suddenly asked where I was going, as that is not where we were headed.

“I’ve got to pull over for the Chippie.”

“But he’s not pulling you over.”

We reached the surface street and I saw a safe location to pull over. Just as I reached that curb, the lights turned on and the siren bleated.

“He is now.”

“Why?”

“Because I cut him off.”

The van became silent. The Chippie approached on the passenger side, as they do, and asked for my documents. He was young, probably on the job for no more than a year or two. I gave him my license, registration, and insurance, which I had ready when he arrived.

“Sir, do you know why I stopped you, today?”

“Yes, officer, I crossed the gore point and then cut you off when I returned to the freeway.” The girls in the back giggled, noticeably.

The Chippie looked confused, but nodded and walked back to his car. The giggling from the back got louder.

Presently, the Chippie returned and showed me the citation (just unsafe lane change) and began to explain that signing the citation was not an admission of guilt.

The giggling erupted again. A voice from the back, “He knows.”

Now the Chippie looked annoyed and he turned toward the back of the van. “How does he know?”

“He’s a cop,” came the response, and now full laughter.

The expression on the Chippie’s face changed and now he looked a little concerned. Was he being set up? Was this some kind of sting, making sure he was doing his job right? He turned to me as I handed back his citation book, now bearing my autograph.

“You didn’t say anything,” he stuttered, unsure of himself now.

“I just need my copy, please.”

He handed it to me and walked away, looking as though he had done something wrong (he had not) and the young women behind me in the van all burst out into raucous laughter.

I got us back on the road and headed to where we were supposed to be. A few weeks later, I received my notice and sent in a check for $248. All in all, I got off easy.

Un-Koala-fied

Working a regular patrol shift on a particularly, hot, bad day (rough calls for service, angry people, no-win situations, difficult co-workers), I was frustrated and distracted. I was thirsty and headed back to the police station to write my reports and wait for the next stupid call that would test my patience and push my buttons. When I saw the 7 Eleven, I decided that I would grab a guava soda.

Many of you may not remember, but in the 1990s, there was a brand of sugared, flavored, carbonated, mineral water sold under the brand name, Koala Springs, and the guava flavored variety was my favorite. I grabbed a 24 oz. bottle, just about every work day from the 7-Eleven, for only about $6. Yeah, I know, that is an expensive way to purchase diabetes, but don’t worry, I used cheaper options, as well. Anyway, like Lifesavers soda, and Jolt Cola, Koala Springs fell out of favor (following a Benzene scare and complete recall of thousands of bottles of soda) and eventually disappeared. But back in the early 90s, I was still buying my highly flammable sodas by the quart.

Koala Sodas

So anyway, back to my bad day. Now, I don’t know if I was trying to put together the details of my report or if I was thinking of inventive ways to tell off my annoying co-worker or if I was simply shutting my brain down. I don’t remember what I was thinking. I walked into the 7-Eleven, strode to the cooler, grabbed my Koala drink, and walked toward the front of the store. I walked past several people waiting at the register and exited, unlocking my patrol car and getting in. I sat there for a moment, thinking, “did I forget something?” and slowly realized that I had not paid for my drink.

I climbed back out of the car and meandered into the 7 Eleven. Everyone watched me as I walked to the back of the line and waited with my drink in one hand and my debit card in the other.

“Sorry, I don’t know what just happened there. I think I thought I was at home.”

Everyone laughed. Thank goodness.

That Rings True

One of my officers had stopped a car and after a few minutes called for a supervisor. I responded out and saw the officer standing beside his car, behind the Lincoln Town Car he had pulled over. It was about 1 AM, and dark, with street lights in a downtown neighborhood with a high crime rate.

“DUI?” I asked.

“No. There are two guys in the car and neither one of them has any ID on them. The driver keeps telling me he’s a famous football player, Blah Blah.” (I’m not going to include his name because I don’t want to get sued).

I shrugged my shoulders because I had never heard of him, but then again, I’m not really a football person and this guy had played in the late 70s, early 80s. The original officer was not a big football fan either, so we were a little stumped as the guy had a somewhat common name and we were not finding a match in the database for a drivers license.

I approached the driver and asked him his name. He looked at me in shock and said, “I’m Blah Blah,” in a manner that suggested, of course he is. He then handed me his Superbowl Ring. I can now say that I’ve held a real Superbowl Ring. He kept telling me, “I’m Blah Blah,” like repeating it was going to make me realize who he was. Finally, I handed the ring back and walked back to the other officer.

I asked the officer what the stop was for and he explained that the Town Car had been driving around the small neighborhood several times, driving into a couple of different parking lots and driving back out, and finally did so without turning on their headlights. The officer believed that the two men were looking for either drugs or prostitutes or both, but just weren’t familiar enough with the neighborhood to know where to look.

But since the officer didn’t have anything else to go on and a couple of tries on the date of birth finally brought up a driver license, the officer let them go with a warning.

The next morning, I called my brother-in-law who happened to be a die hard fan of the team that Blah Blah had said he played for. I asked my brother-in-law if he knew who Blah Blah was and said that we had stopped him earlier that morning. My brother-in-law was very excited and said that of course he new who Blah Blah was and gave me a run down of his career.

Finally, he asked, “What did you guys stop him for?”

I responded, “We thought he might be looking to buy drugs or prostitutes.”

My brother-in-law didn’t miss a beat. “Oh, yep. That would be him.”

Give Me Liberty or Give Me My Phone

It seemed like a regular call from the library security guards that someone had attempted to steal some library materials and was detained at the entrance. I arrived with another officer (Ofc. Paulson) and we spoke to the young man who tried to leave the library with materials that weren’t allowed to be checked out. He was a regular, someone who caused trouble periodically. He imagined himself some kind of tough guy with his gang tattoos and “you can’t do nothin’ to me” attitude, but we had never seen him with any other gang members and he seemed semi-homeless. A tattoo on his neck declared his particular ethnic pride in a culture half a world away, and not an ethnicity I normally saw in the Hispanic gangs in my work area. But his ethnicity in the tattoo was misspelled. I don’t know if he gave bad instructions due to his own lack of schooling or if some jailhouse artist was messing with him, but either way, it left a prominent and embarrassing mark on his public persona.

I asked the security guard what we were going to do with the young man, whom we will call “Toby.” The security guard wanted him cited, as they had contacted him too many times recently and felt Toby needed consequences. So I began to write out a citation for theft, which incensed Toby. He stood up and started shouting at the security guard until the police officer with me sat him back down. Grumbling and periodically throwing evil glances up at the security guard, Toby then took out his cell phone, dialed and waited.

“Yeah, there’s this big, fat, Mexican security guard at the library. He’s about six feet tall with a stupid Mexican mustache and he’s getting me arrested. I want him taken out.”

“Give me that,” Ofc. Paulson said, taking the phone from Toby’s hand.

“Wow. Did you just phone in a death threat in front of two police officers?” I asked him.

Now Toby decided that he had gone too far and told us that he was just kidding. I asked him who he had called and what their phone number was so I could confirm that. Or even if I could just look through his phone to get the last number he called. Toby said that he couldn’t do that because he wasn’t a snitch.

Paulson, the security guard and I conferred and we decided that instead of arresting Toby for felony threats, we would take a report and follow-up with a search of the cell phone so that we could call the last number and see what happened from there. No one there really believed that Toby had the authority to order a hit on anyone. But better safe than sorry.

I issued Toby his citation and told him to leave the library. He asked for his cell phone back. I told him that we were going to hold the phone for evidence, so that we could get a search warrant and find out who he had called. Toby flipped out and began screaming for his cell phone back. I told Toby that he wasn’t getting the phone back until we were done with the investigation and that since he was now causing a full blown disturbance in the lobby of the library, immediately after threatening to kill an employee, we were issuing him a notice to leave campus for two weeks (626.4(a) PC for anyone who wants to look that up).

Paulson and I escorted him off campus and watched him walk out to the middle of the street…where he stopped and screamed at us that he wanted his phone back. When it finally looked like Toby was leaving, we walked back up to the entrance of the library. But when we turned around, we saw that Toby was running back toward us, back on campus property and now in violation of the 626 Notice. Paulson and I grabbed him and we all fell to the ground where we put handcuffs on him and Toby began to cry, with full blown tears and snot.

He cried all the way to the jail. Don’t do the crime if you can’t…just can’t.

Psycho Killer Qu’est-ce Que C’est

I was walking in a parking garage on the campus during the holidays, when the campus was closed. The garage had gates on the doors, but the vehicle entrance was open so that the police cars and maintenance vehicles could go in and out. I was on the second floor and had seen one of my officers on the first floor, writing a report in his car. I saw a man also walking on the floor ahead of me, technically trespassing, as the lights were out, the pedestrian gates locked, and signs at the vehicle entrance said, closed. I contacted the man who said that he had no ID. I asked him if he had any weapons and he said he did not. I asked if he could raise his hands and turn around so that I could see if he had any weapons at his waistband. He did not, but he did have a wallet in his back pocket. I asked him if he could check the wallet for ID.

And he took off. I chased him out the entrance of the garage, right past the officer in the car who looked up as we went by. I still remember the look on the officer’s face as he watched me run past. The suspect was bigger than me, and older, but he was still outdistancing me. Panic is a big motivator. I shouted at him that if he didn’t stop, he was going to get hurt (empty threat because I had no intention of beating him for trespassing and I wasn’t even sure I was going to catch him). He shouted that he didn’t care. So much for that lie. He cut into an alley behind an apartment complex that I knew was a dead end.

As I caught up to him, I ordered him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. He calmly turned to me, raised his fists, and said, “I can’t do that.”

I pepper-sprayed him right in the face. He shook his head and, again, calmly said, “You shouldn’t have done that.”

Just as I was thinking it was time for me to retreat and reassess my tools, the other officer pulled up in his car, lights and siren blaring; he hopped out and racked a round into the pump shotgun. And we made an arrest.

Five or so years later, I was working as a public information officer and the local newspaper called me. They wanted a statement from me since that same suspect had just been arrested again, by the FBI. It seems that a few years prior to my interacting with him, he had killed several women in the Kansas City area and that the FBI had just linked him to the killings with DNA. I had arrested a serial killer and didn’t even know it.

Does that qualify for retroactive PTSD?

When Your Day Goes Viral

Long ago, in a land just downtown, I worked for a university during the time when maniacs seemed to be mailing anthrax to people in a way that suggested postage needed to increase significantly. An office on the university reported that they had just opened an envelope that contained a white power substance inside. I think the dispatcher specifically told them “don’t move” until the officers arrive. Once we got there, I had an officer go into the office that called us, wearing all the appropriate protective gear; it was a white, Tyvek (a DuPont chemical material-a cross between plastic and paper-feel free to buy one on Amazon) jumpsuit, that we called a “bunny suit.” Not completely sure why, since it didn’t have either long ears or fluffy tail, but what do I know. I waited outside and kept the office quarantined (for lack of a better word). The officer came out and told me that the office staff had actually opened the letter on the first floor, discovered the white powder inside and then brought the envelope up to the second floor for a second opinion. This suddenly made the entire building “infected” and I was now inside the quarantine.

Well, that changes things. I sighed and arranged to have officers seal off the whole building. I was now part of the problem instead of the solution and I called to have a supervisor take over for me as Incident Commander, because I couldn’t continue to manage the response from the inside the containment area. But before another supervisor could arrive and relieve me as Commander, I was approached by the University Provost, the second in command for the entire university, whose office was in this now closed and sealed building.

He expressed that the building needed to be evacuated, because there were too many people at risk and we had to get them out before they were infected. He was clearly distressed himself. I explained that the County Protocol was to seal the building to prevent any spread of disease and allow us to identify potentially infected people. The Provost, whose position on the Org Chart was far above the Chief of Police, and has significant power in the university to hire and fire people, told me that he disagreed with the protocol and that he was going to evacuate the building. As my adrenaline began to rise, I told the Provost that would not be happening.

The Provost stared me down and said, “We’ll see about that. I’m going to talk to the Chief.” And he started to walk toward the door.

I told him, “Sir, I cannot let you leave this building.”

This man was about my age, and he was much larger than me, a former college football player; if I was going to have to physically prevent him from leaving the building (all by myself, as all my other officers were outside, except for one officer upstairs actually investigating this case) I was going to have to use a significant amount of force. In my head, I saw my career shrivel up and die.  

He turned and looked down at me and asked, “What?”

I said, “Sir, I can’t let you leave this building.”

He puffed himself up like a Sage-Grouse and glared at me. “And what are you going to do about it?”

I took a single step toward him, with my hands on my belt and said, “Sir, I cannot let you leave this building.”

We stared at each other waiting to see who was going to blink. With each breath I took, I became more resigned to losing my job. Costco was always hiring. Finally, appearing completely flummoxed, he thought better of his position and went to his office. I did not hear from him again for the entirety of the investigation.

When it was all done, I returned to the station and was called to the office of the Chief of Police. Well, I’ve been here before, I thought. Letter of reprimand, maybe a day or two on the beach. I can handle that. The Chief asked me in and asked for my version of events. I explained what had happened, then sat quietly to await my fate. The Chief had received a call from the Provost complaining about the process and demanding that the building be evacuated and that something be done about the insubordinate sergeant. I was told the conversation went like this:

Chief: Who’s the sergeant?

Provost: Blalock.

Chief: Better do what he says, he knows what he’s doing.