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.