The life of a big city copper is full of excitement, adventure, and drama. It is also boring , full of mundane tasks that take up too much time.
Paperwork for instance, everything used to be a form set. Fill in the blanks, write up a narrative, you're done. The new, modern, police department is electronic and digital. The report any copper could fill out in ten minutes now takes over an hour. Sometimes it takes a half hour of waiting just to use the computer. Each officer has to log in, choose the proper report, and begin typing. Sounds easy right? Listen to this. Type, tab, type again, tab, oops, not the proper format for the date, do over. Type some more, tab, uh oh you better hit the save application every few minutes or the whole thing vanishes and you have to start over again. How many old time coppers type using more than two fingers on each hand? A simple "he jumped on me" arrest that used to take a half hour (twenty minutes if it was quitting time) now takes over an hour or longer. (Say OVERTIME, baby)
The whole thing was supposed to save paper right? The old arrest report was a five page form set with carbon paper and each page was distributed to the necessary unit. The electronic arrest report now spits out a ten or more page printout and each unit now gets a complete package rather than a one page copy. They still require copies of everything. The archives room at the station is overflowing with boxes of paperwork with no end in sight.
Even the goriest murder was still just a paper job to the Beat copper. Fill in the blanks, write up a half way intelligent narrative, note all the phone call notifications, then turn it over to the Dicks. (They teach them how to type at detective school.)
The very first homicide of copper's career can be very dramatic. A young man was executed in an alley with a bullet to the back of his head in broad daylight. The family of the victim was crying and screaming. A brother of the dead guy held him, crying. He kissed the victim full on the lips then lowered him to the pavement as the police took over. Unsure of how to proceed, the rookie copper stared around trying to sort out the chaos. Luckily, the field training officer said "relax, it's only a paper job. Call for the crime lab and the dicks."
A couple of years and many crime scenes later, a young officer was getting frantic. A woman had been met at the back door to her boyfriends house by a shotgun blast to the face. With most of her head splashed into the back yard (a cat was feasting on brain matter), she was in a sitting position against the railing of the porch. Her body was still gasping for air (the well storied death rattle). The young officer wanted to call an ambulance. "Relax, she's dead already. She just don't know it yet. Besides it's only a paper job" remarked, the now grizzled three year veteran.
Sorry about that, the mind wandered a bit there. Modern technology is slow to catch on in the big city. There are bosses who still want to see paper copies of reports they can review before they will okay them to be submitted electronically. Instead of easing the workload it actually doubled it. Go figure. Old dogs and new tricks comes to mind.
All this muttering is really the agitation a copper gets when a furlough is approaching. Those last few days before a vacation starts are very difficult to endure. A few days of relaxation, laying in the sun, sipping on umbrella drinks, and eyeing the thong bikinis will ease the tension. Unless, of course, you're going with your own spouse then don't forget to take the mirrored shades and suck in your gut!! Your spouse will never notice.
Of course the big city copper is all about morality and solid family values (watch for the lightning bolt) so a visit with the grandkids is this years epic adventure. Mirrored glasses and pretending to be cool is not necessary.
Next year? DA BEACH, DA BEACH, we're going to DA BEACH!!!
One of the guys didn't show up for roll call. I figured he was caught in traffic or overslept so I called his cell phone. There was no answer. I left a message. I called his home number. No luck. Now I'm getting concerned. Is he still in bed with the phone turned off. Is he passed out on the floor drunk? Or is gasping his last breath from a stroke or heart attack and dying. (Coppers never think of sunshine and blue skies do they?)
The other sergeant and I decided to do a "check the well being" visit to his house. The boss sent the other guy on another caper so I went alone. His car was parked in front of his building. I sniffed the air for that telltale odor of death as I approached the door. So far so good, no stench of rotting flesh assailed my nostrils.
Peering into the window, I was startled by the door suddenly opening. The officer was grinning from ear to ear. "Hey Sarge, what's up?" I explained my concern for his health since he didn't show up for work. He laughed and asked, "didn't the el tee tell you? I RETIRED!"
A sudden burst of happiness quickly replaced my initial shock. I offered and received a strong handshake followed by a back slapping embrace. He happily displayed a "Retired" star and ID card.
"Nobody said anything." I remarked. "Why didn't you tell anyone?"
"I wanted to quietly walk away" was his response.
I congratulated him, told him he would be missed, and wished him well. Back in the car, I went on the air and informed the dispatcher. She broadcast the news to everyone and the well wishes began. It was heartwarming. The sad thing is that in a few months, coppers will say "remember that guy? I can see his face but I can't remember his name."
I drove away thinking of that day when I will not show up to work.
"Aw hell no," I said aloud.
I want to walk around the station bragging about how many days I have left. "Only ten more," I'll boast. "Get your party hats ready." "Five and a wake-up!" YES!
FANFARE! That's what I want. I don't care whether it's pizza, balloons and clowns or cheap booze, strippers and mariachi music. I won't, I refuse to go quietly.
For sacrificing a normal life to countless night shifts, working holidays, and witnessing the miseries of the street; I want a happy ending. For burying more brother officers than I can remember; I would like to be appreciated. For shedding blood as well as dignity to protect the uncaring masses; I think I deserve it.
The weather has been dreary the last few days. Rain, mist, more rain, and cold winds makes most people feel lousy. Just getting out of bed is a chore. This is typical big city October weather. The worse of it is that it doesn't get any much better. Oh, there are a few decent sunny days around the Thanksgiving holiday but that's it. Once the bad weather starts there's no relief until next May.
The general rule for police officers has always been "A good officer never gets wet, cold, or hungry!" There are always exceptions to any rule.
A few years ago, before civilians took over intersection traffic control duties, junior officers were detailed to the stadium for sports events. Football and soccer games are played in any weather short of tornados or hurricanes. These fans are insane. They come out in the most horrible weather instead of watching the game in the comfort of their home or favorite tavern. Young coppers had to stand in the rain, sleet, and snow directing the flow of traffic out of the arena parking lots. It was impossible to stay dry and warm with sleet blowing in your face for an hour. The best masks, gloves, and scarves available in those days didn't last very long.
The big city is socked with huge blizzards almost every winter. The pattern is the same every storm. Piles of deep drifting snow then a plunge into deep freezing temperatures immediately after the sky clears. This cold can reach arctic like conditions, often as low as -25 degrees. A cold so bitter that car motors and people both freeze up solid. Morning sometimes finds cars stranded on the roads and homeless people frozen where they tried to find shelter. Not everyone seeks out the city's help.
The extremely cold weather does chase the criminals off the street. After a day or so, the cabin fever kicks in and the indoor disturbances start. Coppers often have to park the patrol car on the main street and walk to the location of the job through the snow. The problems are often resolved while standing around the lit stove. Everyone, including the officers, warm their hands over the lit burners. Not many people are put out on those frigid nights. The combatants, unless they go to jail, are usually willing to wait for a warmer day to resume the hate.
In between assignments, officers return to the station to run their personal cars for twenty minutes in order to be able to drive home after the tour is over.
Winter in the big city is when police work is the most challenging. It's not easy getting motivated when the sidewalk and driveway has to be cleared of a foot of snow just to get to the street. A running start is then necessary to make it off the side road to the main street. If the main street has been plowed, an officer might make it to work at a reasonable hour.
Many years ago in the big city, there were police officers that lived on the edge of copper society. They did their duty and protected each other but there existed a fine line between the good guys and the bad.
Every one knew who took money from traffic stops. Some were blatant and bragged about it, others were more discreet. Some preyed on the immigrant population. They relied on the fear of the police in their own country to pay a bribe without complaining. An officer, rumored to carry large sums of traffic money in his socks, failed to come in at the end of his shift one morning. The entire day shift went looking for him, not concerned for his safety, but racing to find him first to clean out his "choke".
In those days drunks were tolerated, sometimes even protected. The legendary "blue line" actually existed. Police officers did not talk to outsiders about what went on within the job. The drinkers were just overlooked as long as they stayed out of trouble. Most often the new guys , the young recruits, had to take their turn riding with the drunks.
Young officers had no say in the matter. The problem officer was usually very senior to the young copper and would grab the car keys, telling the rookie, "I'll drive kid." The first stop was usually the liquor store or bar. The drunk would leave the rookie in the car, saying "I'll be right out." Several minutes later, the older officer returned with a bag. Afraid of getting in trouble with the job but also leery of being called a rat, the young kid said nothing.
These problem officers were professional drunks. They drove around all night, threw beer cans out the window, and usually managed to steer clear of danger. With an uncanny, although blurred eye, they were good at spotting trouble blocks away then going the other way. They even offered to share their booze with the partner (after the third or fourth can, of course). The young copper had no choice but to say a silent prayer and wait for the morning. Two shifts riding with the drunk was usually the limit. The guy making the duty roster was good about shifting him around.
Before the development of the random drug testing program, the dopers were also well known. These officers were more secretive and only gathered with other pot smokers. Police cars parked door to door in a vacant lot wasn't always officers discussing strategy. There were instances of drinkers and dopers riding together in an attempt to keep the problem officers out of trouble. They worked hard at avoiding assignments which meant other officers had to carry their weight.
Keeping track of ammunition was not always a high priority in those days. The gunfire heard at night wasn't always the bad guys shooting. The were rumors of officers carrying small caliber guns for hunting rats on slow nights. Officers responding to calls of "shots being fired" were sometimes met by other police who were "close by". Shots fired outside a bar sometimes were waved off as not bone fide when drunk off duty guys were suspected of putting out the street lights.
Police parties were famous for poker games at one table, dice games in the corner, and drunken bimbo's offering their services in the back. Of course wives and husbands were never invited.
Those days are long gone. The new breed of police officer won't tolerate the drunks. Random drug testing has gleaned out the dopers. Digital cameras and tighter weapons policies has cut down the gun play. The thought of losing the best job in the world because of a DUI arrest or the possibility of a nasty divorce has toned down the drinking, gambling, and womanizing. Cell phone cameras, squad car cameras, and the fear of going to prison has stopped most of the traffic bribes.
The large amounts of drug money that is out on the street has bred a new kind of police criminal. These crooks shake down drug dealers and terrorize honest citizens by planting drugs then threatening to arrest them. Federal authorities work along with internal affairs officers to put these criminals into prison.
The old way of protecting bad police officers no longer works. The thin blue line is faded, sometimes barely visible. Modern police officers are professionals and won't tolerate criminal behavior in their ranks. These are the men and women I am proud to serve with.
A police officer's career is exciting and dangerous. It's not however, all shootouts and frisky women. (A big city copper is polite and doesn't describe it as "bullets and blowjobs" like some officers would.)
There are areas where an officer can go his whole career without ever taking his gun out of his holster except for practice or qualification. There are also towns and cities where the high crime and violence forces officers into gun fights on a more regular basis. Not all gun play results in injury or death. Sometimes, it's a close call that could have gone bad but didn't.
A copper responded to a disturbance call one night. He approached the location and paused to put his flashlight into a baton ring. The door burst open. A woman screamed out "he's got a gun!" She ran out into the street followed seconds later by a man holding a very nasty looking revolver. The copper, in the middle of the street, realized he was still fidgeting with the flashlight. He succeeded in securing the light (they're expensive) then grabbed the .45 he had just purchased a few days earlier and had only just qualified with. (Strange, the things that run through a copper's head during a adrenaline surge.)
The armed man, apparently very intent on the woman, chased her into the street. The woman , screaming, ran behind a parked car. She kept the car between her and the gunman by running back and forth as he chased her.
The copper, gun drawn and leveled at the man, shouted "police, drop it". The man stopped. The copper shouted again. The man turned, looked at the copper for a long second ( the hands, watch the hands, crap, there's bullets in the cylinder, it's loaded, watch the gun, watch the gun,) then said "SHIT" and dropped the gun. The copper ran up, ordered the man against the wall, then stepped into the back of his leg and forced him to his knees. The copper backed away then called for an assist car to take the man into custody.
While off duty and returning to his car after traffic court one day, a copper watched a man approach a car that was pulled over at the mouth of an alley. The man pulled a gun and began to fire into the car. People began screaming. There was a school on the block and the kids were just getting out for the day.
The officer, pulled out his pistol and began to approach the gunman. A woman screamed behind him " AY DIOS MIO, OTRO!" (Oh my God, another one!) The copper couldn't fire. Too many kids and parents were behind the shooter. The gunman continued to shoot as the car screeched away from the curb. The copper yelled "police"! The shooter, a young male, turned and ran into the alley. The copper (remember, off duty so no radio) chased after him. The young man turned into a gangway and disappeared from sight. The copper, slowed down and began to carefully search for the gunman. After several minutes, there was no sign of the man or of any other police. The copper called it in and provided a description of the shooter and the vehicle but no injuries or damage was ever reported.
Cruising in the vicinity of a block party shooting, a big city copper spotted a man fitting the description of the man wanted for the earlier shooting. The man ran into a yard then continued out of the back gate. The copper gave chase and called out the direction of flight to other cars in the area. When the man turned into another yard, the copper immediately turned into a parallel yard and exited the front at the same time as the suspect. Unaware that the officer was approaching from behind him, the man ducked under a porch and pulled out a gun. He was hiding it under some stones when the copper came up and challenged him. The man looked back and saw the officer had a gun pointed at him. He put up his hands and surrendered.
After each of these incidents, the officer involved got the "coulda shoulda woulda's." He was second guessed by other coppers. "I'd have killed him" "You should have shot him" were some of the comments he heard. Like a true professional, the big city copper told them he never felt threatened or not in control of the situation so killing wasn't necessary.
Sometimes a close call is just part of another day in the big city.
"Search your prisoner". This simple instruction is taught at every police academy in the world. This simple sentence is printed on signs in police lockup facilities everywhere. It is repeated almost daily at roll calls and by field training officers to their recruits. You know coppers though, the most basic safety measure there is and they neglect to do it.
Turnkeys everywhere complain about finding contraband of all kinds on prisoners already inside the holding facility. Besides drugs, knives, razor blades, scissors, nail files, and even small guns are confiscated in lockups. The officers assigned to the holding facilities rightfully get angry at the street officers who endanger their safety. The officers, who allow the contraband to get past them, are sternly disciplined, as they should be.
There are stories.
Driving past a subway station, a copper is flagged down by a man bleeding from a gash in his face. The man asks to be taken to the hospital. "Somebody tried to rob me", was his story.
The copper opened his rear door. The man started to climb in. "Wait a second " the officer said and opened the mans coat. The butt of a pistol was sticking out of the inside pocket. The officer grabbed the butt as the man pulled away. The gun came out in the coppers hand. Thinking quickly, the copper flicked the safety off and confronted the man with his own gun. When assisting cars arrived, the investigation revealed the man had tried to stickup some one with a bigger gun and got cracked in the face for his efforts. A victim is not always the good guy. Big city coppers have a saying, "Today's victim. Tomorrow's offender." Never put someone behind you without knowing who it is.
In another instance officers assigned to the wagon were transporting prisoners from a drug raid. The wagon man began to pat down a man before putting him into the truck. A "Tac" officer, (tactical, plain clothes) said "he's been searched already." The wise wagon man said "right" as he pulled a snub nosed pistol from the mans front pants pocket. The tac man sheepishly reached out for the gun. The copper said "I'll meet you at the station." When the wagon door was opened at the station, all five prisoners had slipped the cuffs from the back to the front. The man would have easily pulled the gun from his front pocket. A deadly tragedy was averted.
Sadly, two plain clothes tactical officers in another district, didn't fare so well. The "snitch", they put in the back seat, hid a gun in his boot and shot both coppers in the back of the head. One was killed instantly. The other copper lingered for a few hours before he too died.
Is it laziness? Do officers feel so immortal they overlook danger? Coppers can't afford to assume the other guy searched already. Search your prisoners yourself if you're unsure. Search anyone you don't trust. Police can do a pat down for weapons of any one they have a reasonable suspicion about. Every officer wants to go home with the minimum of blood loss. It may save someone's life. Maybe yours.
I picked up my new bicycle yesterday. While setting it up for riding (better seat, mirror, lights, and my favorite thumbbell), my mind revisited the vision of crashing and flipping over onto the street. My fall was not an accident and fell into the "assholiness" category but it reminded me of an important topic.
SAFETY! Whether you are a pedestrian, riding on a bicycle, crotch rocket, or a Harley, road safety should be foremost on everybody's mind.
A pedestrian, in a hurry to cross the street, stepped around a group of people waiting for the light to change. A transit system bus, pulling into the bus stop, struck her head just as she tried to get back on the sidewalk. First on the scene, I approached the woman as she lay on the street. She looked at me and smiled. I told her the ambulance was on the way. A few minutes later, I looked into the ambulance and asked how she was doing. The medic told me she had died shortly after she was struck. I was stunned. She used one of her last living moments to smile at me.
The injuries I suffered were minor but earlier this summer, a bicycle rider died after getting "doored". The rider was thrown into the street by a driver opening his door into traffic. He was struck and killed by a passing motorist.
All summer, motorcycles called "crotch rockets" traveled up and down the lakefront highway at high speeds. The riders recklessly hit speeds of over 90 MPH. They often roared past the radar police car in groups. The police, instead of trying to pursue at such dangerous speeds, had to radio ahead and try to catch them at their destination.
Occasionally, the laws of physics caught them first. One night a rider lost control, veered off the road , and struck a tree. His torso remained attached to the tree limb. His legs and hips were found a hundred feet or so further up the median.
On another night this big city copper was told by a motorist of a body in the street. Driving up to the location, I noticed a bundle of clothes laying in the road. The pile of rags contained a man laying on his back staring up at the sky. I checked for a pulse in the neck and felt only bones protruding. Checking further, I observed the back pockets of his jeans were also facing upward. After calling in and requesting "everybody", I looked around for the inevitable motorcycle. The cycle was down the street a few yards away. I noticed another dark pile on the parkway. It was a man curled up in the baby position. I felt for a pulse and then heard a groan. As he turned his head his brains began to spill from under his "do rag". He died there on the street.
Professional police motorcycle riding was also dangerous. Several officers suffered injuries in crashes or in training sessions. A news item told of two officers getting killed while doing motorcade duty for the president.