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.

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