The Size of the Fight

It was hot and humid, and the nighttime crept into every crevice, like the swarm of cockroaches in my own cheap downtown apartment, where lately I’d taken to expressing my displeasure with their presence by use of a number three wood…Sorry, got carried away. Actually, it was a warm night and I was on patrol with a trainee in the driver seat. Driving through campus, well after last call, we began hearing laughter and voices in the dark, winding along the walkways, until we saw a crowd of young, drunk people in mobile party mode. The trainee crept up on them (in a full size, Crown Vic, engine growling, headlights illuminating them all) until we could see that each and every one of them was carrying a sign, or barricade, or traffic cone, or in other words, something stolen.

I got on the public address system and ordered them all to, “STOP.”

And like a nest of Sage Grouse, they took off in all directions. Until the trainee hit the lights and siren. That was the signal that made them all sober up and realize that they were in small trouble, but that it could become big trouble, very quickly. They all stood stock still at this point, as if they realized that I had not said, “Simon Says Run.”

There were nine of them, altogether, and the trainee informed them that they were each under arrest for petty theft. We collected their IDs, except for one young woman who had run for a little bit longer than the rest. She happened to be a little person, and didn’t have the speed to outrun us, especially holding a sandwich board sign that said, “Caution. Wet Floor.” Since we couldn’t fit all nine of them into the car, we walked them back to the police station. Well, the trainee walked them back. I followed along in the car.

But it wasn’t until we reached the station that we developed a problem. We were able to identify and issue citations to all nine of the young people, except one, the young woman with the “Wet Floor” sign. She had given us a name and date of birth, but the date of birth was off by a few days, and she didn’t seem that drunk. And her height was off by a few inches (she stood about three feet, one inches tall, but the driving record we found said three feet, four inches). As we released the other young people with their citations, one of the young men told us that the misidentified women was giving us her sister’s name. Another of the young men asked why he would tell us that. The first young man said that he knew, and liked, the other sister and didn’t want her to get arrested for some warrant because this sister lied. Which shut down the complaints about snitches.

With everyone released except for (we will call her Kim, even though she kept giving the name Kathy), who now sat in a holding cell, grumbling. I asked the trainee what he wanted to do. He had to think about it for a few minutes and then do some research before he came back with his answer. Simply giving a fake name to the police is a misdemeanor, but giving out a real name that could get someone else in trouble, is a felony, and because he was in training, he felt he had to make the felony arrest. The trainee gave Kim one last chance to tell the truth and when she refused, even after he asked if Kim wasn’t her real name, he placed her in handcuffs and told her she was going to jail.

This made Kim very angry. Perhaps she was a perfectly nice human being when sober, but as so many of us know, some people are just hostile when they drink. And this is where she tried to bite the trainee, and then kick the trainee. Using extreme caution, we were able to escort her back out to the patrol car and into the back seat. Kim wiggled her way out of the seat belt, rolled onto her back and began kicking at the windows of the police car. Fortunately, this car happened to have bars on the windows, so I wasn’t concerned. The trainee nearly panicked, pulling the car over to see what should be done next. I told him not to go back and try to fix it because all we needed was to lose a three foot tall prisoner because we were afraid to hurt her, wrestling her back into the seatbelt. I am not an expert in the variety of genetics that result in these conditions, but I know enough that I understand that little people’s bodies do not necessarily bend and move in the same manner as mine, and I didn’t want to experiment with Kim’s flexibility on this night.

I told the trainee to have dispatch call the jail and let them know that we had a combative prisoner who was kicking the windows and was likely going to fight when we arrived at Lower Booking. This usually resulted in several corrections officers meeting us in the sallyport, where we parked the police cars, and taking the prisoner into the jail for us, thus reducing the chance that the overpowered prisoner can get hurt or hurt us. We pulled into the sallyport at jail, and saw the gates at the entrance and exit close, trapping us inside.

While we waited for the corrections officers to arrive, I tried one more time to reason with Kim. I explained that it was likely that the corrections officers were going to carry her in, if she didn’t cooperate. She agreed to go in under her own power, and the trainee and I cautiously removed her from the back seat and walked her into the entrance of Lower Booking. As we walked in, a crew of about six corrections officers double-timed their way past us, out into the sallyport, ready to take control of our combative prisoner. A little embarrassed, because I should have caught them on the way out, I told the desk officer that we were the officers with the combative prisoner.

Seconds later, the officers returned, and saw my prisoner, all three feet and one inch of her, and they began to laugh. They thought that I had played a practical joke on them. They told me how funny they thought I was and that they appreciated the funny break in their shift. Then I told them my prisoner was theirs. I let go of her shoulder as one of the corrections officers took the other shoulder and said, “We got her.”

There was then a flurry of blue jumpsuits surrounding what looked a little like the Tasmanian Devil from Warner Brothers cartoons whirling about. Now, there was still laughing, the kind of surprised laughing that comes with the phrase, “Wow, that nail went all the way through my foot,” or “Who knew a dachshund could do that kind of damage.” Instead, amid the laughter was shouts of:

“Ow, she bit me.”

“Look out, she’s kicking.”

“Jesus, doesn’t anyone have her?”

“Somebody call a supervisor.”

“Waist chains won’t fit.”

“Ow, she bit me.” (Again).

“I’m not laughing anymore.”

And then we dropped off our paperwork, and we were gone, scurrying away like squirrels in a large dog’s yard. Done.

The following week, I returned to the jail to book another prisoner. As I went inside, the desk officer pointed at me and then pointed down. On the wall in front of him, I saw a piece of masking tape about four feet off the ground.

Written on the tape, in black Sharpie was, “You must be this tall to be booked into this facility.”

To De(fund) or Not to De(fund)

It is a nice idea, but it is not a consistently achievable goal. First, let’s remember that according to the Brookings Institute, one of the academic think tanks that dwells on these topics, “‘Defund the police’ means reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality.” The goal is that those programs can be more effective and reduce the need for law enforcement further down the road, thus reducing crime and improving the community’s quality of life. It does not mean “eliminate the police” or “abolish law enforcement” or “punish the police by taking their budget.” People who espouse “Defund the Police” in order to accomplish any of these alternative definitions are, well, I’ll use the term “uninformed.”

Second, you have to look at the reasons the theory began. Primarily, police are trained to investigate crime and apprehend criminals; most of their training is focused on this task. Police are generally the only public employees in a jurisdiction who are on duty and able to respond to all the miscellaneous calls for service, so our elected officials, to save money, have delegated all those calls for service to the police. As a police officer, I responded to a whole slew of non-law enforcement responsibilities, not the least of which was mental health crises, homelessness, civil disputes, and even university policy violations. These were all things that the powers to be decided must be handled by a law enforcement agency, for no other reason than there was no one else to take care of these issues. I have heard the phrase “is this really something that the police should respond to?” uttered by every officer I worked with at one time or another.

How expensive would it be to create whole new agencies whose responsibility is to respond to all these non-law enforcement calls for service  24/7? Very. We’ll have the police do it. They are already on patrol and they know how to take criminals into custody, how different is it for them to take mentally ill persons into custody, or arrest the homeless, or interpret civil law and policy?

This is the same decision-making process that goes into many of our quality of life issues that we ask police to handle: Drug/Alcohol addiction, Landlord/Tenant disputes, and many other non-criminal problems that we send police on. Elected officials look at the issue and think, well, it’s too expensive to add a whole new 24/7 agency and staff, so we will just have the police do it. And when it is something that the elected officials decide police must respond to, they add a training component, which can be anywhere from two hours of initial training to eight hours of bi-annual training (four hours of training a year-is there anything that you train four hours for and still remember how to do?).

So the idea that other agencies could be funded to handle these other, non-criminal duties, is optimistic and, in my opinion, forward thinking; their head is in the right place.

Third, we have to realize that defunding is more expensive than we are told. The theory says that we can just use the money taken from the law enforcement agency to spend on social services, but that won’t cut it. Most police agencies in the United States are small, under 25 sworn officers or deputies. These agencies are already underfunded and while they would love to have their workloads reduced from responding to non-law enforcement related calls, their local jurisdictions could not afford to cut three or four positions to fund no more than two or three social workers to handle all those other calls for service. Defunding might work in some of the largest jurisdictions, New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego (and especially San Francisco where the police don’t seem to respond to these issues already), but even moderately sized agencies can only cut so much and will have no real impact on the local social services agencies which are generally county run.

Fourth, cities and counties have to really commit to these new or augmented social services agencies up front. Having worked in government for 30 years and having seen that if an organization says, we will start this agency to respond to mental health incidents with two people and we will gradually increase it as we cut the police department budget, they are lying. They may not know they are lying, but they are. If you want to augment your social services agency to respond to mental health crises, 24/7, you have to pick a date and say, “It will hit the ground running on this date, fully staffed and fully equipped to meet its mission.” And then you can cut the police budget, but not before. If they don’t, you won’t ever have your social service agency. And how expensive would it be to implement properly? VERY. Elected officials and bureaucrats will get lax and it will fall back into the laps of the police when the social workers don’t have the staff or equipment to do their jobs. And we will be back at square one.

Finally, one of the most exciting things about living in a country with localized law enforcement is being able to watch other communities experiment without any risk to yourself (my apologies to the residents of Minneapolis and Berkeley). I was very interested in watching how Minneapolis would abolish their police department and replace it with something “different.” Unfortunately (for us), we have all seen the city council back off their pledge to abolish the police and say that they were simply making a symbolic gesture, and since Berkeley’s big announcement that they were going to create a Department of Transportation to enforce traffic laws, I haven’t heard a thing.

While I support the theory of defunding the police, it is my sincerest belief that elected officials will never have the backbone to implement it properly and that communities will never fund it voluntarily. But police departments should support their communities’ efforts to find new ways to perform policing and experimental methods of handling the traditional law enforcement role, including simply not responding to certain kinds of calls because there is no effective way for law enforcement to respond it is the only way that we will find effective and useful alternatives.

Sorry, though, police departments that are not in my community should do that first. We will be happy to act on what works in your neighborhood after you show us its effectiveness.

Short Shorts 2

Secret Police

I used to live in an area that bordered three jurisdictions. The Sheriff’s Office and two city police departments patrolled the neighborhoods around my home. I have been involved in training police officers since my fifth year at my agency and I know that the simple act of running from the police is not cause for detention and often young officers had to be reminded of this fact, so as you read my story, please understand that my intent in the following actions is “helping.” At 4 A.M. when I was jogging in my neighborhood, if I saw a police car, from any agency, I would turn and start sprinting in the opposite direction, just to see if I could get an officer to “alert” and give chase, like a racing greyhound.

Usually, they would pause for a moment, assess the situation, and watch me run away. Once, however, one of the police cars sped up, pulled alongside me and hit me with the spotlight, while in motion.

“Sergeant Blalock!” a voice called out. “Isn’t this above your speed limit?”

It was one of my former students. I stopped and, huffing and puffing with my hands on my knees, explained that I was trying to keep my exercise regimen secret.

Rainy Day Sunday

For some reason, it was a very busy, rainy day. I only had two officers, other than myself, on duty and we seemed to be running from priority call to priority call. No time for chit-chat, no time for report writing. One of my officers was on a call at a nearby 7–11 and was just finishing up with the reporting party when we got a priority call at the library. I was with the only other officer on a dispute call in one of the residence halls that involved several people, but the officer seemed to have everything under control. The officer at the 7–11, got in his car and took off to the library, but his car fish-tailed on the wet asphalt and he struck a parked car. Unfortunately, the priority call took precedence, so he notified dispatch what he’d just done and continued to his call.

The owner of the car happened to be walking toward his car when he saw a police car spin around and slam into his car…and then drive away. I walked to the scene from the residence hall and found the owner of the car, near tears, talking to his father on the phone, trying to explain that a police car really did hit his car and drive away. No, really. At first, he didn’t comprehend that I already knew what had happened and he began to try to convince me that one of my officers had just hit his car. I told him that I knew, and that I was there to complete the collision report.

As I started to get information from him for the report, he asked, “Are you going to find the officer at fault?”

I looked at his parked car, pushed up against the curb. “I don’t know how I could possibly find a parked car at fault.”

Funny, Ha Ha

I stopped a car for speeding. I approached the driver and saw that she was very anxious. She said that she was sorry, that she knew she was speeding, and explained that she was running late for work. Out of curiosity, I asked where she worked. She told me at The Improv. Assuming that she was a server, and thinking that I was very funny, I asked, “What, are you a comedian?”

She said that she was, in fact, the opening act. Oh, she is a comedian. I stared at her for a moment and then, in my sternest voice, said, “Say something funny.”

Her mouth dropped open as she searched for words.

I smiled and said, “Please slow down, we have a lot of pedestrians here. And please be kind when you make fun of me during your set tonight.”

She laughed and went on her way. I wish I remembered her name, so that I could have kept track of her comedy career.

Don’t Half Ass Something That You Can Full Ass Instead

I find that police officers don’t know how to admit when they are wrong. Part of it is because we are taught not to; take a position and stand your ground. In the words of Cmdr. Peter Quincy Taggart, “Never give up, never surrender.” But we all know that is one of the things that least endears us to the members of our community. And we all know that we have been wrong.

Besides the incidents of pulling people over for expired registration, just to realize that the sticker on their car is not six years old, but is actually next year’s color, or thinking we were on a 25 MPH street and then looking up at the sign and realizing that we had crossed into a 35 MPH zone, or even when what I thought was headphones was actually a hearing aid, there was one time that I was truly and embarrassingly wrong.

I saw a student driving around with a car with dealer plates. No big deal in the grand scheme of things, but I began to notice it every day. This seemed odd to me that he would constantly have dealer plates on his car, so I researched the code that governed dealer plates. It seems that only the owner of the dealership or employees of the dealership could drive around with dealer plates on their cars. I decided to investigate this heinous crime of dealer plate fraud.

The student’s father owned the dealership to which the plates had been issued, so it appeared that he was skirting the law by allowing his son to drive around with dealer plates so that he didn’t have to pay registration fees. Unless he was paying his son as an employee. The next time I saw the student, I pulled him over and spoke to him. I asked him if he was an employee of the dealership. He said that he was not. I asked him about the purpose of the dealer plates. He became very scared and said that he could not talk to me without talking with his father first.

At this time, because he refused to talk to me any further, which in my mind was an indicator of guilt, I wrote him a criminal citation. But what I mistook as an indicator of guilt was actually just fear that he was somehow getting his father in trouble, because he didn’t know the answers to my questions. And then he refused to sign the citation. Unfortunately, if someone doesn’t sign a citation, we take them into custody and book them into jail. As I put handcuffs on him, his eyes were literally bugging out of his head.

I took him to the police station to process him when he agreed to sign the citation. That’s better, now I don’t have to take him to jail. I cited him and off he went, leaving behind his dealer plates in my custody as evidence.

About two hours later, I was called into my Lieutenant’s office. The Lieutenant told me that he had just gotten off the phone with the kid’s father, the owner of the dealership, and the father was very, very, very, very angry. I thought, well, then don’t commit fraud. But it seems that the father had actually gotten in trouble once before for this very same thing, so he…

Did everyone catch the question that I did not ask the young man?

…made his wife and children all partners in the dealership. They were all owners. It was completely legal for the young man to drive around with the dealer plates, he just didn’t know why, so he couldn’t tell me. I had actually falsely arrested someone when no crime had been committed. I was wrong.

While the department attorneys discussed an appropriate settlement amount, I wrote a two page apology letter to the young man and another one page apology letter to father. For the son, I specifically ended it with the fact that I hoped that the clearly negative impression that I left on him would not reflect on the other many fine police officers that had not made the same mistake I had and that he wouldn’t be afraid to seek help from the police in the future.

The following week, the Lieutenant called me in, again. I was expecting a Letter of Reprimand, minimum, and possibly a suspension. The Lieutenant told me that both the father and son had stopped by and had accepted my apology, that they understood my explanation of events and that no further action was necessary. Bullet dodged.

But I never made a mistake like that again.

A Simple Misunderstanding Dissected

I have decided to write about the time that I, personally, called the police…on accident. Several years ago, I was living in a four-bedroom townhouse in a moderately-sized, suburban city that we will call “Souptown.” I was living with my wife and four young children, so it was a relatively full house, but we always had room for more. On this particular occasion, we were hosting my wife’s cousin, Rosa, and her two small children. Rosa had recently made the emotional and traumatic decision to leave her husband and my wife had generously offered her shelter in our domicile.  

Now there are a lot of moving parts in this story, so I’ll try to keep things straight. To start, I decided to call my father in North Carolina and chat with him and the area code for his part of North Carolina is 919. That’s important and this is a story involving a landline, so if you don’t remember how landlines work, you’ll have difficulty with this story. Anywho, I called my dad, but the call didn’t go through because one of the buttons was sticking. I tried again, but the same thing happened, no completed call. Finally, third time’s a charm, but a few minutes into my conversation, the Call Waiting signal beeped, letting me know that I had someone on the other line. I asked my dad to excuse me and switched calls.

Very polite, professional voice. “Sir, this is the Souptown Police Department, did you call 9-1-1?”

Me. “Um, no. I didn’t…(and then something occurred to me. The button on the phone that was sticking, was the 1 button…oh no)…oh, wait. I bet I called 9-1-1 and hung up twice, didn’t I?”

Very polite, professional voice. “Yes, sir. As a matter of fact, you did call 9-1-1 twice and hang up. Is everything okay there in the house?”

We had a very constructive conversation about my phone’s failure and that nothing was going on in the house. I was asked by the dispatcher if she could speak to anyone else, but my wife was in the shower and Rosa, who is naturally kind of volatile, was busy changing her baby’s diaper, upstairs. My younger son, Bronson, who was seven at the time, spoke to the dispatcher for a moment or two. And then we were done. I switched back to my dad and told him I would call him back later, because, even though the dispatcher didn’t say to expect a visit, I knew better.

I was already walking toward the front door when I heard the hard, staccato knock. I opened the door immediately to two of Souptown’s finest (I had worked for Souptown Police Department as a records clerk while I was in college and had attended training with several of their officers over the years). There was a young, officer, who was all pressed and shiny, accompanied by an older officer with a more rumpled, experienced look. And that means that the young officer was on field training.

The trainer cocked his head slightly and said, “Hi, Sgt. Blalock.”

The trainee looked confused, so the trainer explained, “Sgt. Blalock works for the University police.”

And now the trainee looked even more confused, especially as I smiled and waved. “Hi.”

And then the three of us stared at each other for a moment. The trainer looked at the trainee and asked, “What are you supposed to be doing?”

The trainee collected himself and explained about the 9-1-1 hangups and asked all the same questions the dispatcher had. I answered the questions exactly the same and then waited.

For a moment, we all stared at each other, until the trainer asked, “What are we doing here?”

The trainee started to ask the trainer a question, but the trainer looked at him and asked, “What would you do if he weren’t a cop?”

“Oh.” The trainee looked at me and gulped. “May I come in and look around? Make sure everyone is safe?”

“No problem.” I stepped aside to allow the officers in, but the trainer waited on the doorstep.

“You’re good to go,” the trainer said. “I’ll wait here for you.”

The trainee asked me who else was in the house. I told him that my four children were in the house, my wife was in the shower, upstairs, and my wife’s aunt and her two children were in the house as well. It was a pretty full house.

Although I waited with the trainer, I will describe what occurred from that point on based on witness statements I obtained later.

The trainee checked the rest of the first floor and didn’t find anyone, so he asked if he could go upstairs. I said that he could and reminded him that my wife was in the shower.

Remember, that at this time, Rosa is upstairs, changing her baby’s diaper. And even though she is my wife’s aunt, she is actually four years younger than Mia. As she is finishing up with the diaper changing ritual, she sees a police officer stop outside the door to the bedroom.

“What are you doing here?” she asks, shocked.

“Oh,” the young officer responded. “Your husband called 9-1-1.”

Think about that for just a minute. The officer assumed that Rosa was my wife, but now Rosa thinks that the husband that she just left…forever…has called the police on her.

“Why the hell did he call 9-1-1?” Rosa shouted, getting very defensive and agitated.

“I don’t know,” the officer responded, getting very nervous. “He’s downstairs…”

“Why is he here?!” Rosa was now getting seriously alarmed that her soon to be ex-husband was downstairs with the police and some kind of devious plan.

“Your husband…Sgt. Blalock…he…uh…” I am told by my children that the officer looked as though he was going to jump down to the first floor to escape Rosa.

“Blalock?” Rosa paused. “No, he’s my nephew. He called 9-1-1?”

Now visibly relieved that he wasn’t stepping into the middle of some kind of domestic violence situation, the young officer explained about the accidental 9-1-1 call and Rosa calmly told him that Mia was in the shower and that all the kids were playing in the upstairs bedrooms, so nothing criminal was going on.

The officers concluded that everything was fine and went on their way, although I noticed a second unit arrive, turn around and leave, so I later wondered if the young officer had called for backup.

Either way, it was the kind of experience that led to a great story.

Family Time

I know it’s been a while since I’ve made an entry, but I was really trying to manage my mental health while trapped in my house. However, recently, parts of my family were able to be together in a properly masked and socially distant manner, so I thought I would share some memories for which I am very Thankful.

My Flying Tiger

My wife is amazing at finding things in thrift stores. She has bought a six thousand dollar couch for just one hundred dollars and a limited edition Disney lithograph for just twenty dollars. Not because she is extremely knowledgeable about the value of things, but because she has an innate ability to recognize that something seems valuable. Just amazing.

On one occasion, we had just dropped off my youngest at college, having moved her into her dorm and were getting ready for the long drive home. My wife decided to stop at a local thrift store, because my daughter needed a few more pieces of inexpensive furniture, so in we went. My wife picked out a few items that I carried out to the car and when I returned, she showed me a framed photo that she had found. She said that she knew I liked “WWII stuff” and handed it to me. While the glass from the frame was a bit grimy, I could see that it was an autographed photo of three Flying Tiger airplanes, signed by three pilots. I recognized one of the signatures as Charles Older, the presiding judge at the Manson Family trials. I bought that photo for three dollars.

I took the photo home and cleaned it up and found a Certification of Authenticity in the back. A little surprised, I took my three dollar find to an appraiser, who told me it was easily worth $250.

Very nice. It sits on the wall in my office now.

Thanks, honey.

Doomsday Prepping

There was actually a time when this country had real plans on how to manage a pandemic, however, it was for fear of bioterrorism. I had a discussion with the Emergency Management Coordinator many years ago, where he outlined the county’s plan to vaccinate first responders quickly following a bioterrorism attack (assuming we had a vaccine). Either way, part of the plan that I read said that we would not be able to tell our families what was going on, we could tell them that there was an emergency, but nothing else. So I made arrangements with my kids that if I called them and gave them a signal, they were to evacuate to a safe location (no, I’m not telling you where). I was discussing this with all four kids, who happened to be at the house at the same time, as at least two were adults and had moved out, when Mia overheard us.

She asked why she wasn’t involved in the discussion. I asked her what she would do if I called her and told her to evacuate to a safe location without explaining why. She said, “Nothing, I need to know why.” I nodded then turned to Bryant and asked him what his assignment was, he said, “Grab mom and make her go with us.”

Several years later, I was coming home from work at about 3 A.M. I climbed out of my car and was walking to the front door of the house when I heard a phone ringing, distantly. I immediately checked my cell phone and saw that I had butt dialed Bryant. I hung up and hoped that I had gotten it before it woke Bryant up. As I was unlocking the front door, Bryant called. I answered the phone prepared to explain and apologize, but Bryant spoke first.

“Is this it, Dad? Do I need to grab mom and run for the hills? Zombie Apocalypse Time?”

No, but its good to know you are out there and ready to go.

By the way, have I told you all that Bryant is an actor? Check out his IMDB page.

A Wrong Number

My older daughter asked me if I could drive her to a birthday party, as this happened during her middle school years, before she was able to drive. I agreed. No problem as none of her friends lived too far away and even though I was lazy, I could take a few minutes out of my day to deliver Jade to a birthday party. We jumped into the minivan and headed down the street, Jade holding a wrapped birthday present on her lap. It only took about five minutes to reach the correct house and Jade kissed me on the cheek and hopped out.

As a good dad, I waited until she reached the front door before I drove away. Don’t want her to go missing like my youngest daughter was destined to do many years later, as explained in a previous post, “Missing.”

For some reason, I did not just drive away when the host’s door opened, like a normally would have. I sat and watched while Jade and her friend and the friend’s mother spoke for a few minutes. Jade then handed off the present to her friend and walked back to the van, waving to her friend.

Jade climbed back into the minivan and looked straight ahead. “Just drive.”

Okay. I started driving and when we reached a main street, I asked, “What happened?”

Jade took a deep breath. “I made a mistake. The party is tomorrow. I told them I wasn’t going to be able to make it, so I came over to deliver the gift today.”

“Wow,” I said. “That was quick thinking. What would you have done if I had just driven away like normal?”

“I don’t know. Cry?”

We bonded that day in a way we never had.

An Engineering Dispute

My younger son was born to be an engineer. When he got is first career-track job out of college with Hewlett Packard, in their Quality Assurance Division, I was not surprised in the least. The idea that he would be deconstructing things as a career seemed only natural. When he was very young, he was constantly deconstructing things in our household.

He saw that the rake was lying in the back yard, with the tines down, so he stood on it and bounced, until the handle broke. I had to go to Ace Hardware to get a new handle.

He liked to hang on the bannister at our stairwell, even though every time I saw him, I told him not to. He would ask why and I would tell him that he was going to pull it out of the wall. No I won’t, he said. And then the bannister collapsed, three inch screws sticking out of the end where it had once been attached.

He drove his toy car in laps around the outside of our brand new minivan, leaving irregular racing stripes gouged into the paint.

He sawed divots into his mother’s desk.

His analytical mind was always working, like the time he watched me playing with our 15 year old dachshund as we bounced around the living room.

“Hmmmm,” he said.

“What?” I asked him.

“Oh, I was just thinking. Who’s going to have a heart attack first.”

A keen analytical mind.


My youngest daughter likes to dip her french fries into her chocolate milkshake. The first time I saw this I realized that I had to have a talk with her about appropriate french fry etiquette.

Me: You can’t dip french fries in your chocolate shake. It’s disgusting.

Daughter: Why is it disgusting?

Me: Chocolate milkshakes are sweet.

Daughter: So is ketchup.

Me: But it’s also a dairy product.

Daughter: So is ranch dressing, and plenty of restaurants serve french fries with ranch dressing.

Me: (struggling for a new argument) But it’s both!

Daughter: (staring at me like I’m the crazy person) Okay, Dad. (Very deliberately dipping her french fry into her chocolate shake and eating it).

A Fictional You

When I was assigned to the library, supervising the civilian security staff, I spent a lot of time taking police reports and interacting with the varied populations that inhabited the library from opening to closing, including the wave of homeless people that entered the building every day. On one particular occasion, I spoke to a man (we’ll call Keith) who had been the witness to a crime and obtained his information, but hours later, something kept nagging at the back of my brain.

Finally, I realized that he and I were in the same high school class (we didn’t travel in the same circles, as I was all drama club and dungeons and dragons and he was an athlete and hung out with the cool kids). I returned to the floor where I had found him and asked him if he had attended San Martin High School (at least that’s what we’ll call it) and he confirmed that he had. I asked if he was class of 1984 and he said that he was. I told him my name and asked if he remembered me. He paused a minute, then he said, “You were the morning announcements guy, from drama. You were funny.”

Well, it was good for something. I remembered Keith as an open and gregarious guy, who had been voted most likely to succeed. One of the very few black people in my very whitewashed school (there should have been a lot of Hispanic kids-there wasn’t). I remember his very pretty girlfriend even better. I asked how he had been and what he had been up to. Keith then launched into a manifesto of how the FBI had been tracking him since he was in college and how they were now preventing him from returning home with an invisible psychic barrier and that he hadn’t seen his family in years. And I realized that he was homeless, and why.

After talking with him, I returned to my office and checked the internet for his parents. I found his mom and gave her a call, not sure what kind of reception I would receive, but making the call anyway. He did talk about how much he missed his mom, but apparently there was a national security reason preventing him from visiting her. When she answered, I didn’t want to scare her, as I am certain she was dreading a call from the police with news of her son. I have children; if one of them was missing, and I got a call from the police that started off with “Mr. Blalock? Are you the father of (missing child here)? Yes, we have some bad news.”

I started off with “Hi, I went to school with Keith. I happen to be a university police officer and Keith is here in the library, as we speak.” From there, I learned that Keith had attended college and had obtained a degree in Civil Engineering, but that he began to have some difficulties in his final year that seemed odd, but didn’t require intervention. It wasn’t until he started working for a prestigious engineering firm, that his mental health issues truly began to manifest, until he couldn’t maintain the job and had to move home. His family couldn’t force him to take his prescribed medications and he was certain that the doctors were really trying to poison him. And then he left, and his mom couldn’t make him stay.

After that conversation, whenever I saw Keith in the library, I called his mom and let her know. She would arrive soon after (within the hour) and take him out to lunch, get him a motel room where he could shower and put on new clothes that she had bought him. And then my assignment changed and I saw him less and less.

A couple of years later, one of my officers was busy towing a car for unpaid registration when the owner, a faculty member, showed up. She panicked. She ran to the car to prevent it from getting towed and I stopped her and she fell down (I absolutely did not knock her down or tackle her). She was still panicked and had to be detained; I arrested her for resisting and delaying a police officer and had her driven to the police station while her car was towed. She was later released with a citation.

Her influential friends began protests and a petition to have me fired. I don’t care what anyone tells you about ignoring them or that they can’t do anything, since you did everything you were supposed to do, this is a very stressful situation. Very. The university newspaper and the student TV news station did stories. Fortunately for me, there was no interest by the mainstream media.

One night, I had signed up for a special event and was in the street conducting traffic control, when I saw Keith on the sidewalk, watching me, waiting. I left the street and met him up on the sidewalk, greeting him and letting him know that he looked well.

Like some poetic, wandering sage from a knights and wizards novel, he smiled knowingly and said, “Wes, I’ve been looking for you. I read what happened in the paper. I want to know that what they are saying about you isn’t about you at all. It’s all about some fictional Wes Blalock they made up in their heads and they are talking about him, not you.”

Then he patted me on the shoulder and disappeared into the darkness. Those words; I found what he said to be very comforting, a very helpful piece of advice that got me through a very difficult time.

Who Doesn’t Love a Good Apocalypse?

I am from a generation where we reasonably feared, and secretly yearned for, an Earth-shattering, apocalyptic event. You can see this in the movies of our time (Mad Max, Escape From New York, Damnation Alley, Planet of the Apes, A Boy and His Dog, Logan’s Run, and The Omega Man, to name but a few). Out of that amazing genre, one of the most memorable post-apocalyptic fictions of my (I want to say childhood, but I was thirteen when this came out) formative years, was Thundarr the Barbarian. If you don’t know this Saturday morning cartoon, this is the amazing trailer. (It really is just the trailer).

What better apocalypse can there be than a runaway planet ripping the Earth and Moon asunder (I blame Pluto. After years of being bullied by the Earth, it decided to get back at us for ostracizing it from the rest of the Solar System). And two thousand years later, people have survived, but some have turned science into magic, how cool is that? Thundarr the Barbarian burned a place into my psyche and and my heart, and while it is incredibly cheesy when I watch an episode or two now, and the animation was cheap and stilted, it really fed my imagination.

So when I saw this book sitting on the shelf of my local thrift store…

…I had to have it. Was this the book that the cartoon was actually based on? Was it a novelization of the TV series? I wasn’t sure. The book was written ten years before the cartoon series premiered, so it likely came first, and TV Thundarr looked startlingly similar to book cover Thundar, so there was enough connection for me to spend the $2.95 to buy this book and check it out (Interestingly enough, the cover price of this 1971 publication was 75 cents-it had already almost quadrupled in price, a sound investment).

Fortunately, when I read this book, I had already developed a serious working knowledge of the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, from Tarzan, and the Princess of Mars, to the Pellucidar Series, and the Time Forgot books. When you grow up needing dinosaurs in your life, Burroughs is a good place to start. Of course, now every kid has Michael Crichton and the Jurassic Park books and movies. Spoiled. Either way, the book Thundar: Man of Two Worlds, is what we would now call fan fiction, by author Stuart J. Byrne writing under the name John Bloodstone, melding many of the worlds and even the story-telling style of Burroughs together into this tome (I needed an alternate word for book, but 192 pages is a tiny tome).

It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t John Carter tearing up Barsoom, either (and that Disney movie with Taylor Kitsch was way better than people gave it credit for). While Thundar: Man of Two Worlds had a princess and a primate-like sidekick, and scientists whose powers rivaled sorcerers, it didn’t have the breadth nor imagination of the Saturday morning cartoon. I’m glad I read it, and I couldn’t really tell you unequivocally that the cartoon was based on the book, but if it was, I would use the word inspired, at best.

And as far as a sound investment, this is what I found on eBay.

But this is what I found on Amazon.

Either way, I think I’m going to hold onto this sound investment.

Drawing by John Gallagher

See, I’m not the only one. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch a few Thundarr episodes, if I can find them on YouTube.

Bad Choices

I was on routine patrol at about 10 A.M. when I saw a car stopped in the traffic lane, with its emergency blinkers flashing. I pulled in behind it and saw that there was no one inside, so I ran the license plate and prepared to tow the car out of the traffic lane. The dispatcher immediately told me that the vehicle was stolen. That wasn’t something I expected, but I got out of my car and started filling out my paperwork to recover the stolen vehicle. As the dispatcher gave me the information I needed about the vehicle, he asked me, “Do you want to know who stole the car?”

Well, that’s new. I told him that I did. “The report says that the suspect is Bob Sanders, white, male, adult, six foot two inches, 180 pounds, wearing a blue cotton, button-up, long sleeve shirt and tan slacks.”

I acknowledged the report and looked up and saw a white, male, adult, about six foot two, 180 pounds, wearing a blue cotton, button-up, long sleeve shirt and tan slacks. He saw me and hesitated, then started to turn down a side-street.

I called out, “Mr. Sanders, can you talk to me for a moment?”

Sanders’ whole body sagged as he stopped and turned to walk over to me.

I placed him under arrest for vehicle theft, handcuffed him, and put him in my car.

Now, my county engaged in a sort of competition during the holidays in which all the law enforcement agencies would try to arrest the most DUI drivers. This was highly publicized in an effort to reduce DUI incidents altogether. This incident occurred during that competition time frame. When I returned to the police station with him and read him his Miranda Rights, he agreed to talk to me. (Never do that, by the way. Ask for a lawyer). He explained that the vehicle was his employer’s and he had been sent out to pick up some materials. Instead, he found himself in a bar with some of his friends and they drank and did drugs into the wee hours of the morning.

Drinking, you say. Doing drugs, you say. Hmmmm.

I asked him to perform field sobriety exercises and he failed miserably. I added the charge of DUI, based solely on his statement, because, well, it was that time of year.

Months later, in court for his preliminary hearing, I was on the stand to testify. His attorney, who appeared fairly young, approached and asked me (in a condescending tone), “Sgt. Blalock, as a University police officer, how many DUI arrests have you actually made in your career?”

I’m certain that she was expecting me to answer, “Well, I’ve seen the CHP do it a couple of times, but I haven’t really had to do it myself.”

But instead, my answer was, “Ummm, about 300.”

This flustered her and her eyes got big; her whole defense of the incompetent investigator had vanished. She shuffled through her reports and her notes and she regrouped and asked, “Sgt. Blalock, my client was on S. 4th Street when you stopped him. Do you usually patrol this far off the university campus?”

The prosecuting attorney actually started laughing out loud, as University police in California have authority anywhere in the State as state police. And S. 4th Street bordered the campus. The defense attorney withdrew her question.

I learned later that he simply plead guilty to all the charges, including the DUI. I had never even seen him in the vehicle, much less driving. He definitely deserved a better attorney.


Did I ever tell you about the time I lost my child? I’m not talking about when they are hiding inside a circular stand of clothing at Target or when you turn around at the amusement park and realize that they followed someone else, thinking they were you, no. I’m talking about something completely different.

My wife was working for a scrapbooking company and had a business trip to Dallas for a week, leaving me to manage the household of four children, which should have been no problem considering the two older kids were teenagers and had a handle on things for the most part, especially Jade, my older daughter, who happened to be hyper-responsible at that age. My youngest, Tundra (don’t blame me, I asked my kids if they wanted me to use their real names or fake names in my blog and this is the name she picked. She picked) was only in second grade, but she walked home from school by herself because the school was just on the other side of the block and a group of them walked together.

With my wife on her flight to Dallas, it was important that I prove that I could be a responsible parent and could manage the children, but not so important that I felt I needed to take time off from work and stay home. I mean, the kids have their routine down and everything should be fine until I get home from work, right? Right?

At about 2:30 PM, Jade calls me on my office phone, because at that time, my office was in a basement and the cell signals were terrible, and notifies me that Tundra has not come home from school.

Well, school let out at 2:10, so maybe she is just playing with her friends after school. I asked Jade to run over to the school and look for her and once she is home, call me and let me know. I waited and about 2:45, Jade calls back.

“Dad, no one is at the school. Everyone has gone home and the office staff don’t know where she is.”

Remain calm. Don’t panic. “Okay, see if you can call some of her friends. We have a list of parents’ phone numbers on the fridge. If no one knows anything, call me back. I’ll come home and we’ll take it to the next step.”

Jade agreed and got off the phone. I sat at my desk, thinking about what those next steps would be, calling the local city police, making a missing person’s report, calling organizations to perform searches, checking the Megan’s Law website for my neighborhood. Making a checklist.

Finally, at 3:05, Jade called back and told me that no one knew where Tundra was. That was it. I told Jade I’m coming home and we’re going to find her, no matter what. I gathered my stuff from my desk and started to leave when I heard my desk phone ring. Hoping that it was Jade with good news, I returned and answered.

It was my wife, Mia, letting me know that she had just arrived in Dallas and was headed to the hotel. I don’t really remember what she was telling me, because I wasn’t listening to her. I had a decision to make.

Do I tell her? Or do I not?

If I told her, she would get angry and upset and she was a thousand miles away and had no way to help or do anything. If I didn’t tell her, I had an image of her going to her hotel room, turning on the TV, and seeing CNN announce an Amber Alert for a San Jose girl and see Tundra’s picture on the news. And then I would be a dead man.

So I interrupted her. “Honey, I’m glad you arrived safely, but I have to go. Tundra didn’t come home from school and I have to run home so that we can try to find her.”

“But,” Mia said. “I asked Felecia (my oldest son’s girlfriend at the time) to pick her up from school. Didn’t I tell you?”

Frustrated Emoticons Vector Images (over 370)

I had some phone calls to make.