Just Some Tales From My Dad

When I was in college, I took a geology class (to meet a minimum requirement) that happened to have a field trip to a large, local park that had a very demonstrable landslide area. We traipsed around the area seeing what had once been a neighborhood road that was now buckled and jumbled, completely impassable without scrambling up and down the rocks. Our professor explained that there had actually been several homes along this street when he started the field trips, but over the years, the houses slowly slipped over the horizon and into the gullies below.

I returned home and told my Dad about this and asked if he had heard about it. My Dad worked for thirty years for the City. Not San Francisco, mind you, but for a nearby city with slogans like, “Small Town Heart. Big City Soul,” and “We are growing up.” If anyone recognizes either of these slogans, let me know if you remember any more. I’ll update this blog entry. Our city has had a gaggle of ridiculous slogans and mottos. Tax money well spent.

Back to the landslide area. My Dad said, “Oh, of course. That had all been county land and a big developer kept trying to get permits to build homes there, but it was deemed a landslide area and unsafe to build homes. So the developer was able to arrange for the City to annex the land, contract for a geologist to report that the area ‘wasn’t that bad’ and sign off that homes could be built, and approved the permits.” Tah-dah! At that point, I knew the story that homeowners almost immediately noticed problems with the homes. “Within a few years, the developer had disappeared and couldn’t be held accountable, so the homeowners sued the City, who was forced to purchase all the homes back and add the land to the existing park that had been situated below the homes.” Millions, nay dozens of millions of dollars, back in the 70s, when that amount of money meant something.

That was when I realized that my Dad had some serious, scandalous stories. I began to listen. Some were very simple stories, like the ones about his time in the Navy; how he chose the Navy because as he was concerned about being drafted into the Korean War, a local veteran told him that the Navy provided a lot more comfort than the other branches. My Dad told me that he joined the Navy, ultimately, because he could get real butter there. And during basic training, he remembered after the day’s training, doing laundry and hanging it out to dry near the river. All while at the Marine base on the other side of the river, Marines were marching, chest deep in the river, holding their rifles over their heads. My Dad said that he and his shipmates held their beers high so that the Marines could see that they were drinking in their honor. There was also the time his ship was docked in Okinawa and he and his shipmates had to cross through the Air Force base to go to town. He said that when they returned to the base, all drunk and unruly, they called the Air Police officers at the gate, “bus drivers” due to their plain uniforms and hats. They would then be beaten with police batons and thrown into the back of a pickup truck and dumped out in front of their ship. It was very nice of those Air Force guys to give them a ride like that. Or when the ship he was on would perform big gun target practice on a banner attached to a seaplane as it flew by. The seaplane would drop the target when they were done and the sailors would use a grappling hook to pull it out of the water. The only holes in it were from the grappling hook. Thank God they never actually went to Korea. But sometimes the stories were more sad, like when he spent his last six months in the Navy at Treasure Island, processing out sailors who were being discharged for being gay.

After the Navy, he was hired by the City and worked in what would now be the IT department, back then, it was Data Processing. And the City had scandals. Like the time an accountant assured the Finance department that a particular broker was the way to go with city investments. Unfortunately, it seems like the brokerage should have been named Fast Buck Financial with the slogan “We’ll Invest Your Money til It’s Gone.” The City lost a significant amount of money. And then there was the guy responsible for managing all the money from the parking meters; he had the collectors drop off the money in his office, where he had a safe and he would reconcile the money and deposit it into the bank. His mistake was taking a vacation. When he was gone, the parking meter collections were three times higher than they were when he was working. His next vacation was likely county jail or just the unemployment line if he was lucky. And the guy that worked for the police department property unit. He was supposed to be auctioning off bicycles, but he was pocketing the money instead.

There were also the small corruptions that must have been commonplace during that time period. When my Dad went to his boss, explaining that one of his best employees was going to the City of Santa Cruz, because they paid better, the boss told my Dad to add 10 hours of overtime to the employee’s timesheet each week. Not assign him overtime, just write it on his timesheet. Or the obsolete discriminations, like when he worked with a data processing employee from the police department. My Dad complimented him to his boss and asked why this particular employee wasn’t a supervisor? The police department manager simply said, “He’s not tall enough to be a supervisor.” My Dad didn’t know what to do with that information so he ended his questioning. It wasn’t until later that someone explained to him that all supervisors at the police department were police officers, themselves. And there was a height requirement back then.

But one of my favorite stories had to do with when he started dating my mother. My Dad said that when he met my Mom, she was also dating a young, City, police motorcycle officer. The officer, Bill Danforth, had broken his leg and so every time my Dad saw him, Dad called him “Gimpy.” Ultimately, my Mom stopped dating Danforth and started dating my Dad. I had heard this story at some point into my 20s, probably early on in my own law enforcement career in the University police, a separate agency from the City police.

But about ten to twelve years later, I was riding a bicycle on patrol when I heard that there was a house on fire about three blocks off campus. Since the call had just gone out, I rode over there to see if I could help. I saw an older City police lieutenant giving instructions to officers and coordinating with the fire department. I rode up to him and told him I was the Watch Commander at the University and if they needed assistance, I could direct some of my staff their way. The lieutenant said that they were good but thanked me for stopping by. As I started to leave, I glanced down at his name tag. W Danforth.

And you know what happened. I didn’t mean to do it. Not out loud at least, but out loud it came.


He looked at me, then at my name tag. He smiled a little, just the tips of the corners of his mouth rising as he lifted his eyes to make contact with mine.

“Tell your Dad, he’s an asshole.” And then the smile was full. I smiled back and we went our separate ways.

Anyway, Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Through The Valley Of The Shadow Of Almost Death

My wife, Mia, had just had a major surgery the night before. She’d had her gall bladder removed, but that is another story for another time. Today, she was recovering; she looked good and felt good and was looking forward to just going home. At lunchtime, a tiny, Vietnamese nurse came to bring her lunch. Her name tag said “Vinh,” but the dry erase board listed her as “Vicky.” Vicky was friendly and attentive and told my wife that they had to move her from the bed to the chair in order to change her sheets and it seemed like a opportune time to feed her; if she wanted to go home that day, she was going to need to meet some benchmarks. Mia eased herself down to the floor and then sat in the chair while Vicky opened up the lunch and placed it on the tray.

Mia paled and turned to look at me. “Wes, I don’t feel good.”

She then began seizing. Vicky tried to get Mia to respond and told me to hit the “Code Blue” button on the wall, near the bed. I followed instructions. Almost immediately, another nurse, Hope (Huan on her name tag) ran into the room. These two tiny women, perhaps 180 pounds altogether, tossed my wife onto the bed like a sack of potatoes as more nurses walked and jogged into the room. In order to be helpful, I pulled chairs and tables and trays out of everyone’s way.

I was still an active police officer at this time and all my instincts told me to DO SOMETHING. And yet there was nothing I could do. Nurses were attending my wife and I was just trying to stand out of their way. Waiting, outside the flurry of activity at my wife’s bed.

“Is she breathing?” I heard a nurse ask.

I did not hear an answer.

I saw a single doctor standing in the doorway, hand on his chin, contemplating. I wanted to scream at him, “Why aren’t you doing anything?”

“Does anyone have a pulse?” I heard another nurse ask.

I did not hear an answer. Again.

A deep pain throbbed inside my chest. I had lost her. I had not prepared for this and it was just beginning to hit. There were no tears yet.

And then:

“Okay, she’s looking good.” A lead nurse thanked everyone as they began to file out of the room.

Hope and Vicky continued to attend to Mia and a third nurse turned around and startled as she saw me standing there for the first time.

“Oh my God. Have you been there the whole time?”

I didn’t answer, as I could not form words, and I just nodded my head.

She could obviously see the tears forming in my eyes and she just stepped forward and hugged me. She held me tightly and then there were tears. Tears of fear, tears of frustration, tears of relief. She hugged me until the tears were gone and then she disappeared into the hospital, just like the angels that nurses are.

It turns out that Mia suffers occasionally from Vasovagal Syncope, a neurologically induced drop in blood pressure that can mimic a seizure and cause a brief loss of consciousness. Usually the most serious complication is injury from a fall.

That is the story of how I lost my wife for about twenty seconds and I can’t comprehend or fathom what that loss would feel like if it were any longer. It is her birthday this week. She’ll be XX years old and each birthday that she shares with me is a gift that I try not to squander.

Happy Birthday, my love.

Ohana Means Family

My son, Albert, was attending the very same University where I worked (Yes, we got a discount) and while he was there, he met a young, graduate student who was living in the Dorms. She had just arrived from out of State and he was there in her dorm room to install her phone. There was immediate attraction. So for a short time, we began to see not so much of him at home; a significant amount of his time was spent “at school” as in, “Mom, Dad. I’m going to be at school.”

“Oh, you have class today?”



Anyway, they had been seeing each other for about six weeks and appeared to be deeply emotionally connected to each other and although we had met Diana and she seemed genuinely nice, we didn’t really know her very well.

On a particularly cool, October (Homecoming) night, I was working the Fire on the Fountain Homecoming Celebration Tradition. For a 150-year-old university, this tradition was only about six years old. My university, no matter how much they tried, was not very good at maintaining any sort of meaningful tradition, beyond sexual violence in Intercollegiate Athletics. So I was working this event, assigned on foot to stand around and make sure nothing bad happened, or when it did, to call an ambulance (like last year when the sword dancer cut off his ear). And during this time, one of the patrol officers, Matthew, stopped by to chat with me.

Meanwhile, at the University Police Department, one of our dispatchers, Katie, answered a non-emergency number. A young woman called and asked to be connected to me, but I was out at a special event, so I was unavailable. The young woman said that she just needed to let me know that she was having some medical issues, and asked if she could have me call her back. Katie’s ears pricked up with “medical issues” and she dug for more information until the words “something is wrong with my heart” came out. She immediately dispatched officers and paramedics to the young woman’s on-campus apartment.

While I was talking to Matthew, he received a medical aid call in the Dorms, in the graduate student/faculty tower. As he drove away to the call, I tried to remember the location. It was Tower A, and on the 7th floor. What was Diana’s apartment number? I didn’t want to bother the dispatcher, because they were obviously busy, so I called my wife and asked if she remembered Diana’s apartment number. She couldn’t.

So I waited, listening to Matthew on the radio as he contacted the patient and gave instructions for the paramedics. Matthew happened to know my son, Albert, as Matthew was an Olympic-level Judo Athlete (I even found that he has his own Wikipedia page) and Albert was also involved in the Judo world. My cell phone rang and I saw that Matthew was on the phone.

“This is Wes.”

“Sarge, why am I looking at a picture of Albert on this young woman’s fridge?”

My adrenaline spiked. I had heard the dispatcher’s instructions involving possible chest pains, a high priority medical call. “Is it Diana?”

“Yep? Is this Albert’s girlfriend?”

Matthew let me know that Diana was definitely going to the hospital, but that Diana, who had come to us from Puerto Rico (and if your first thought was, ‘Oh, she’s a foreign exchange student,’ you can stop reading this now, goodbye) had insurance, but didn’t know what hospital to go to. I knew that she was far from home and far from family, so I made the split-second decision that she should go to Good Samaritan Hospital, which was just blocks from my home and would make it easier for us to provide support.

Then Matthew asked me if Albert was on campus. He was. He should be in class in the Engineering Building, on the opposite side of campus from the Tower A.

“Well, if he wants to go to the hospital with her in the ambulance, he needs to get here, soon. I’ve already spoken with the paramedics.”

I called Albert’s phone, and he answered, which surprised me, since he was in class, but I explained what happened and told him that the paramedics were going to be ready to go very soon. The only things that Albert said were, “Hey, what’s up?” when he answered and, “Okay,” before he hung up.

Less then four minutes later, Matthew called me to let me know that Albert had just arrived and that the paramedics weren’t sure who needed oxygen more, him or Diana. After they arrived at the hospital, Albert called to give us an update and let us know that Diana’s mother and sister were going to be coming and could we recommend a hotel. We immediately offered a spare bedroom in our house, again, just blocks from the hospital. Ultimately, her medical condition was resolved and a few years later, they married.

Usually, young couples try to carefully orchestrate the meeting of their separate families, but for this couple, our families were thrown together in crisis. We met, we connected, we bonded, and just a few short days ago, Albert and Diana welcomed their first baby into the world. Congratulations and thank you.

The Least of These Brothers

There was a local “drunkard” that we dealt with on a regular basis. He was Native American and had lost a foot at some time in the past, so he was in a wheelchair. We will call him Clarence Running Dear. Nearly every time we saw Clarence, 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, they called it) and he would return home near the campus by bus or light rail.

Once, early in my career, when I was still a young officer, I had chosen, instead of arrest, to take Clarence home. He was not so blotto that he couldn’t take care of himself. He told me his address and I pushed him home (he had an apartment across the street from campus). I’m certain that it was an odd sight, a uniformed police officer pushing a drunk, one-legged Indian across town in a wheelchair. Once inside his grimy, tiny, first floor, studio apartment, I saw paperwork on the table from the Department of Veterans Affairs, addressed very specifically to him. I am nosy by nature, and I glanced at the paperwork to know all I needed to know. Clarence asked me to help him into bed. I lifted him from the chair and helped him balance while he turned around. Clarence sat back and fell into the bed. Within seconds, he was snoring. I swung his leg onto the bed and stood there for a moment, wondering what I should do next, but knowing that I didn’t have the power to do anything more for him.

We interacted many, many times after that, but usually, he was too drunk to be reasoned with and ultimately ended up in jail or just wheeling his way off campus shouting at the wind. There were still those times that I was able to roll him back to his apartment, but they were few.

Rest in Peace, Sergeant Running Deer. Your long, long fight is over. Thank you for your service.

The Road To Livermore Is Paved With Good Intentions

There came to be a day when a group of officers in my agency had to go to training and that training was held in the capital city of Sacramento, a two to three hour drive from our jurisdiction. A Captain and three sergeants, myself included, all dressed in street clothes, piled into a marked police car for the trip. Our travel up and the training itself was completely uneventful, to the point that I have no recollection as to what the training was about. Probably just as well. Anyway, it was the way back that presented a significant series of problems for us.

Of the four of us, I was perfectly happy sitting in the back seat where I could sleep for the entire trip. I shared the back with Tom, who was a smidge more senior than me, and was nicknamed “Gadget” because he carried inordinate amounts of equipment with him whether on or off-duty, various tools hiding in pockets throughout his ensemble. Roy, our least senior member of the trip, was driving and had decided to share with us a secret shortcut that he had learned that would reduce our commute time back home. He explained that Highway 84 would take us past the City of Livermore and we wouldn’t have to deal with the traffic at the 680/580 interchange.

Keep in mind that this was a long time ago, when Highway 84 was literally just a two-lane highway that stretched across acres of vineyards and dirt and it only scooted inside the city limits for a couple of miles. Now, Hwy 84 can be described minimally as a multi-lane expressway and perhaps even a freeway for several miles. Either way, as we were just about to exit the city of Livermore proper, we saw that a single car was driving toward us, about a mile away. It was driving very slowly and was swerving slightly, centered over the solid, double yellow lines, and blocking a long line (as far as the eye could see) of cars behind it that wanted to pass. As we got nearer, we could see the driver stared glassy eyed, straight ahead and took no notice of us.

Our Captain, sitting in the front passenger seat, told us that we needed to do something, as though we were going to ignore the guy while we drove past in a big, white police car with a blue stripe and our phone number on the side. As we passed the car, moving onto the shoulder a bit to avoid being hit, the driver still didn’t turn his head, staring straight ahead. Roy flipped on the red and blue light bar (again, this was a long time ago, so the car we were in had an old Jetstream light bar with actual rotating lights inside) and made a quick U-turn, putting us directly behind our road hog. The lights and siren made no impact on our driver who continued along the double yellow lines at about 10 miles per hour.

While the others tried to figure out what to do next, I took out my flip phone and called our own dispatch center, as I didn’t know the phone number to Livermore PD by heart and I figured this would be quicker than dialing 9-1-1 and waiting for all the transfers. Our dispatcher, Drew, answered and asked me if I could hold for a moment. I said, no, with urgency in my voice.

“Drew, this is Wes, we need Code 3 backup from Livermore Police Department. We are northbound on Hwy 84, just south of Vineyard. We are trying to stop an intoxicated driver and need additional units.” I then looked at my phone and realized that I had lost signal…and I didn’t know how much information Drew had gotten.

Meanwhile, back at the University, Drew had been working the dispatch console and one of our supervisors was standing with him when my call came in. This is what Drew heard, “Drew, this is Wes, we need Code 3 backup…” The two of them sat there for a moment, realizing that they weren’t going to get any more information and didn’t know how dire our situation was or if we were in mortal danger. The supervisor looked at Drew and shouted, “Well, do something!”

I told the others in the car that we were likely not going to get any help. The Captain, Martin, while being the oldest of us in the car, was also the most fit; perhaps even superfit. Neither Tom nor I were suited to that category, so this next tactic didn’t even occur to us. Martin opened his door, while we were moving, got out, ran up to the other car, reached in through the open driver’s side window and ripped the key from the ignition, shutting the car down. Like a superhero.

Now that we were stopped, Tom and I hopped out and took the driver into custody, Tom producing a pair of regular, duty handcuffs from his jacket and securing them on the driver’s wrists. I then moved the suspect’s car and our car out of the street while Roy, the tallest of us, ran down the street holding his flip phone as high as he could, looking for signal. Can you hear me now?

We had the suspect in custody, sitting quietly on the curb, very likely under the influence of PCP and nearly catatonic, both cars were safely parked out of the street, and Roy was running down the dirt shoulder toward us, because he had reached Drew, explained our situation, and asked for Livermore PD to come take care of everything. Now we wait.

I’m about to punch Livermore PD in the eye, but it isn’t like Livermore is a bad agency; it could have been any agency. Cops in general, tend toward laziness, so we should have seen this coming. The first officer on the scene was an older guy on a motorcycle and weighed in a little on the large side. He listened to Martin (remember, a police captain) carefully, then with no hint of irony, said, “So, what are you going to do with him?”

Three unarmed police officers, and Tom (who knows how many guns he had on him at any given time), all in street clothes, in a car designed to hold no more than four adults, thirty miles outside our jurisdiction, in a neighboring county. We were not equipped to book a prisoner in a county we’ve never worked in.

Martin: “We’re turning him over to you.”

Livermore Officer: “Aren’t you guys real cops?”

At this point, Martin lost his temper. “Tom, uncuff him. Wes, give him back his car keys.”

A Livermore supervisor arrived on scene and saw us starting to release the driver.

Supervisor: “What are you doing?”

Martin: “Turning him loose. Good luck stopping him. It wasn’t easy.”

The supervisor and the motorcycle officer had a talk a little distance away, and while we could not hear them, we knew what the content of the speech would consist of and how many “F” words the discussion probably contained. After a few moments, the motorcycle officer returned and switched his handcuffs onto the prisoner and loaded him into the back of the supervisor’s car.

And then we were free. We climbed back into out car and continued on our way, headed for home. Tom looked at his watch.

“Roy? That shortcut just cost us 53 minutes.” Not counting our report writing time, when we got back to the station.

Free Stuff Is Expensive

Police officers are not supposed to accept gratuities. This is something that they are taught in the police academy and sometimes untaught by veteran police officers.

I had a trainee in the office with me and we were spending a significant amount of time report writing, as the trainee had made an excellent arrest the day before of some meth addicted mail thieves. We had a lot of mail to catalog and victims to contact for statements and it was very time consuming. As it neared midnight, and my stomach was gurgling, I told him we were going to go get dinner.

My choice, because trainees do not have a choice, was a well-known hot dog chain that I frequented and which might help explain my current physical shape and health issues. The night shift manager always recognized me, and if no one was behind me in the drive-thru, we chatted for a few minutes. And up until this point, he had never offered me a free meal.

The trainee was driving as we went through the drive-thru, made our order and then arrived at the service window. I handed the trainee a $20 bill, because if I’m choosing the food, I should have to pay for it and the total of our food added up to little more than $14. The manager greeted me by name and handed the bag of food to the trainee.

Then said, “No charge.”

The trainee looked over at me, like “Is this a test?”

He then explained that we cannot accept free food and showed the manager his cash. The manager politely refused. The trainee looked at me again, scowled, and then threw the $20 bill through the service window and drove away, quickly.

I overheard him talking to another young officer later, saying that I had done that to him on purpose. I hadn’t, but I never told him that. And even though I spent $20 on $14 worth of food, I did give him an exceptional score for that shift.

Love Is A Four-Legged Word

The campus where I worked was downtown, however our sports facilities were a mile away, in a more industrial area. On one weekday, we received a call of some kind of disturbance from a homeless encampment just outside the baseball field, on a set of old, abandoned railroad tracks. With very little information available, three of us responded out there and found the tent set up just on the other side of the fence from the University property.

We contacted a young woman, Brenda, and a young man, Danny, who had been inside the small encampment and explained that we were there because the landscapers had thought that there was some kind of drug transaction going on inside. Both denied that any drug transactions were occurring, but of course, Danny did have a baggie of methamphetamine in his pocket (a felony at that time). Also, based on the fact that neither of them could identify the other and that the Brenda had a history of prostitution arrests, that a transaction had been in progress and that no cash had been needed.

Now, during this whole interaction, Brenda had been holding a tiny and adorable puppy. The puppy seemed very comfortable in her hands and as I watched the puppy, she asked if I wanted to hold it. I took the puppy for a few minutes, just as a third person arrived on the scene. This man identified himself as the owner of the encampment and said his name was Anthony. My officers asked him if the methamphetamine also belonged to him. Anthony said, “No,” but that the puppy was his. One of the officers spoke with Anthony for a few minutes and determined that he had a warrant for his arrest.

The officers with me arrested Anthony for the warrant and Danny for the methamphetamine. We didn’t have any evidence of crimes committed by Brenda, so she wasn’t going to be headed to jail. I asked Anthony if he wanted me to take the puppy to the Animal Shelter or if I should see if Brenda wanted to care for him until he was released from jail. Anthony considered it for a moment and then asked if I could give the puppy to Brenda temporarily.

I went to Brenda and asked her if she could take care of the puppy as I handed it to her. She looked up at me quizzically. “Am I going to jail?”

“No. Just them. Can you take care of the puppy temporarily?”

Brenda looked at me with an expression that said, “I’m not going to jail AND I get a free puppy? You are the best police officers ever?”

And with that, she headed down the street with puppy in hand and a smile on her face.

I don’t know if Anthony ever got that puppy back.

The Good Samaritan

There was a time when I was working in the Field Training Program, where I would dress up as a homeless, mentally ill person and the new officers would interact with me as part of scenario testing. Our goals were for the officers to interact with me compassionately, yet safely (press my buttons, offend me or belittle me-I might stab you), and then identify a resolution for the disruption I was causing, preferably by providing me with the resources that were available to me (I would provide hints, such as mentioning some military service, to see if they realized that I might be eligible for VA benefits, or talking about being taken out of school due to a disability, to see if they recognized someone who might be on Social Security Insurance). These were the best results, but depending on my responses to their actions, I might get arrested for under the influence of drugs or sent to the hospital for a medical problem, or if I expressed an intent to hurt myself or others, to Emergency Psychiatric Services. I enjoyed doing this and felt that it was a worthwhile function, as I always had an excellent rapport with the local mentally ill. Some officers even told me that it was like I spoke their language. Most of the time, they were not being complimentary when they told me that.

On one particular evening shift, we had a trainee officer on duty who had not gone through this scenario, so the training officer asked if we could do it quickly, during shift, when things got slow. I agreed and got all dressed up in my homeless, mentally ill clothes, and sat in my office, doing paperwork until they called me. When the officers were ready, I walked out into the campus and found them and went to work with my scenario. The officer managed my issue well, treated me with the same respect that I hoped he gave to the real, mentally ill homeless, and completed his scenario with a passing score. However, while I was in the middle of my critique of his handling the issue, a call came in and the officers had to go. So I decided to just take a walk around campus. I had my radio, gun, badge and ID hidden beneath my bulky clothing, so I didn’t think anything bad would happen. And I started walking.

Less than five minutes later, a mentally ill, homeless man, named Charlie Huff found me. Now, I had contacted Charlie many times and had alternately taken him to either jail or the hospital due to his (ironically) habit of breathing in carburetor cleaning spray, a thing we call Huffing, to get high. Unfortunately, it makes you high by killing off brain cells, like alcohol, only much more effectively.

Charlie came right up to me. “Hey, you’re new around here. Let me give you the tour.”

He then began walking me around the campus, speaking in the slur of those brain damaged by chemicals. “Here’s the church. Grace Baptist. They have programs here during the day where you can get services and counseling if you need it.”

He pointed at the University Police Emergency Blue Light Telephones that we had littered about the campus. “Those call the University Police directly. If someone is picking on you or hurting you, grab the phone, you don’t have to dial anything. And the University Police are nice. They look out for you.”

I almost cried.

He showed me places around the campus where I might find people who would give me food during the day, or if you caught them at the right time behind the Student Union, food that was about to be thrown out. He explained that the library on campus was open for non-students, if you needed to research anything (I was surprised he knew this or that he might even be doing research. We had never received a call of him in the library, to my knowledge).

Finally, we ended up near my office, but closer to the 7-Eleven across the street. He reach into his clothes and produced a handful of grubby coins. “Let me see if I have enough to buy you coffee,” he said, counting out his nickels, dimes, and pennies.

“I have some money,” I told him. “I think I have enough to buy us some food, too.”

We went to 7-Eleven and I purchased him a coffee, two sandwiches, and a bag of cookies. And then we went our separate ways for the evening. I contacted Charlie many times again after that night and sometimes I had to take him to jail and sometimes I had to take him to the hospital. But I never forgot that he was part of the community that I served and I never forgot the night he was my good Samaritan.

Polar Opposites

I was studying to be an English Teacher and working part time in the public library to pay my tuition when I received a call from a friend of mine who was considering a career in law enforcement. She asked if I would accompany her to the Oakland Coliseum for a Law Enforcement Job Fair. I tagged along and found myself surrounded by people in uniforms waving job announcements and flyers in my direction.

An interesting aside, the California Highway Patrol had multiple tables with specific job announcements stacked high. Because this occurred when Affirmative Action was the law of the land, I looked at job announcements that said, State Traffic Officer-Black Male, State Traffic Officer-Black Female, State Traffic Officer-Asian Female, etc., etc. There was a line of several of these oddly specific posts. Anyway, I collected dozens of flyers and consulted a map to learn where each of these police departments was, unfortunately, some being only a few miles from my home, and I had no idea.

Where the hell is Brisbane? No, not the one in Australia.

My father and I talked about me becoming a police officer and he agreed. He had read an article in the Mercury News that police departments in the Bay Area were not getting enough qualified applicants.

But as someone who until days ago was trying to obtain a teaching credential to teach high school and working in the public library, I did not present as a qualified applicant either. I had difficulty making my way through the process successfully. Was I a serious candidate or was I just wasting everyone’s time? Was I going to have the life experience necessary to engage in regular law enforcement duties? Would I be able to make the difficult decisions? On paper, it didn’t look like it.

To gain experience, I joined the University Police Cadet Program in order to learn more about police work in an environment where I was still pretty comfortable with my surroundings.

And I decided to expand the scope of my job search. Alaska seemed like a great frontier in law enforcement. Working at the library, I found a phone number for the Alaska Police Standards Council and had them mail me a list of police departments in the state. You had to do that back then, before the internet. I then began calling police departments. Among others, I reached the Sand Point Police Department. The conversation went something like this.

“Sand Point Police.”

“Yes, could I speak to your recruiting division?”

“I’m Chief of Police Johnson, how can I help you?”

“I was calling to see if you had any current openings for police officer.”

“Actually, we do.” I heard paper shuffling. “Do you have a few minutes? I have the interview questions right here.”

“Um…yeah. I have time.”

Then, on a long distance call, that I was paying for, I spent 20 minutes interviewing for a job that I didn’t know anything about. I learned that the position was a resident officer position because the department only had three police officers (I checked and they have five now) and that I would be on-call for half of each week. The pay was better than twice what I would get paid in California, and I would also receive free housing or a housing allowance. I would also be allowed to attend the State Police’s helicopter training academy as there are very few methods of transportation from Sand Point to mainland Alaska.  I received a background investigation packet in the mail that I completed, had notarized, and mailed back. I was notified that I was a top three candidate (probably only three candidates) and then later, that I lost out to a currently certified Alaska State Trooper looking for a retirement gig. Oh well.

Since my father lived in his hometown in North Carolina, I thought that I could apply out there, as well. I was now becoming comfortable with working in a University police department, so I thought I would start there. I called the North Carolina State University Police Department in Raleigh. I spoke to a very nice young woman and explained that I wanted to receive a recruitment package, perhaps a job announcement and a flyer outlining the hiring process. She told me that they don’t do that but that I could schedule a medical examination and that I would be mailed an information packet regarding the position in preparation for my start through the recruitment process.

I asked what dates and times would be available, as I would have to fly out to Raleigh from California. She told me not to worry as my medical examination date would be in the preparation package that I would receive in the mail. Concerned, I reminded her that I was in California, but that I would still be interested in getting an appointment and flying out for the examination. She took my address and assured me that I would be given plenty of notice.

I then continued with my life, attending school and working as a student assistant for the University police. I worked late into a Friday night and finally arrived home at a little after midnight. I gathered my mail and saw that I had a large envelope from the North Carolina State University Police, so I opened it right away. On the very first page was the date and time for my medical examination. Since it was already after midnight, my appointment was for that morning at 10 A.M. Even if I drove right to the airport, there would not be a flight until mid-morning. I couldn’t make the appointment if I tried. I also noticed that there was no phone number to call and leave a message if I couldn’t attend.

Oh well.

So going out of state seemed to be problematic. I stuck with the University police and they gave me a full time job within the year. Thirty years later, I collected my pension and walked away. I loved the job, but I don’t miss it at all. Just the people. Well, most of them.

Short Shorts (3)

Sam and Ralph

For a while, I was commuting to and from work on the light rail. I was on my way home one evening when I noticed two young men looking at me from across the aisle of the train. I did not recognize them, but was concerned about the way they were watching me. After a few minutes, with my adrenaline rising, I asked if they needed something, if they were okay. The closer young man smiled and said, “I was telling my friend that you arrested me for selling drugs. You said that I was doing my job, selling drugs and you were doing your job, arresting me. You said that you just did your job better than me that day.”

He paused for effect. “I decided that I wasn’t very good at that job, so when I got out of jail, I went to CET (public vocational school) to fix cars. We’re going home from school now.”

Oh. Well that changes things. I told him to let me know when he was working so I could take my car to him and went back to sleep.

Soda Inflation

I was driving on patrol, in the late evening in the downtown area, nearing midnight. I saw a man running across the street toward me, waving his arms to flag me down. I stopped in the middle of the street, which was fairly quiet at that moment and turned on my flashers. I hopped out immediately, because that’s what we do (we don’t like to be inside the car when strange, screamy people run up to us). He ran up to me breathlessly.

“Officer, officer.” He paused to catch his breath and pointed to a woman who was walking away, quickly down the street. I recognized her as a local prostitute. “Officer, I gave that women $20 to…to…” and he looked at me and the police car and the lights and the badge and gun. “To…buy me a soda and she took my money and didn’t buy me a soda.”

Sir, that sounds like a civil dispute.

Family Matters

I was driving on patrol when I saw my cousin drive by the other direction. I hadn’t seen him in a while and thought I would go say, “Hi.” I made a U-turn and pulled in behind him and turned on the lights, knowing that he had seen me as well and knew that it was me behind him.

However, my cousin had a friend in the car with him. When I turned on the lights, he told his friend, “Oh my God. I have warrants! I can’t go to jail!” His friend tried to calm him and then my cousin said, “No! I can’t stop! I’m going to take off!” My cousin hit the gas, accelerating up to the 35 MPH speed limit. The friend begged my cousin to let him out.

My cousin stopped at the curb, the friend dived out into the grass, and I stopped behind them. I walked up to the car, a little surprised that the passenger was lying in the grass. I said “hello” to my cousin and asked why the passenger had jumped out of the car.

My cousin looked at me and, with a straight face, said, “I have no idea.”