Sunday, November 30, 2008

The first time

I remember the first time I ever drew my gun and pointed it at another human being.

I was just out of the academy, and still riding with a Field Training Officer, or FTO.
We'd just initiated a traffic stop on a car for some minor violation and I was riding in the passenger seat. As we exited our cruiser to approach, my FTO on the driver's side talking on the radio to dispatch and me walking up on the right, I saw the driver of the stopped car suddenly reaching under his seat, making what we refer to as a "furtive movement". To me, it was obvious that he was reaching for something and I called it out to my FTO.
"He's going for something under the seat!"
I quickly ran up to the open passenger window, drawing my gun as I did so, and pointed it at the fact of the driver. I can still recall the shocked look on his face as he complied with my order to get his hands up where I could see them. At least that's what I thought I said. I kind of got caught up in the moment and went on autopilot for a few seconds, reacting as I'd been trained to do. I don't recall the exact words that I used, but I know that they brought instant compliance.

It turned out the the driver was not reaching for a weapon; he was only trying to hide a bag of marijuana under the seat. Because he obeyed immediately, he didn't get shot but he did go to jail for the weed.

Afterwards, my FTO critiqued me performance. He was particularly impressed because I had seen the suspicious actions of the driver before he did and reacted instantly and decisively.

"OK, first of all, good job on spotting that. I was answering dispatch and didn't see it."

I felt pretty good.

"Second of all, your reaction was quick and appropriate and you let me know what was going on. That was good too."

Now I really felt like I was on top of my game. This was a tough FTO and here he was complimenting me. But then he went on.

"However, the correct command to the suspect is 'Police, let me see your hands', not 'Motherfucker, I'll air you out'. Work on that."

And so concluded my first lesson in the effects of sudden stress on one's vocabulary.

It did work, though.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In the navy...

Yes, it's true. Little known historical fact, but our department actually had a "Marine Unit" once. We had it for all of a week and I was one if it's two members. And like all innovate and fun things on our department, we went too far with it and they took it away from us.

But it all began several years ago when some government program dropped a Boston Whaler complete with Mercruiser outboard and a trailer on us.

For a few months, it just sat unused in the parking lot, taking up needed space and not being used for a damn thing. Out station at that time was commanded by an old supervisor who had in fact "retired on duty" some years prior. The last thing that he wanted was for any of us to do anything to make him work, and unfortunately that also included a lot of proactive policing that either resulted in a big case or annoyed someone enough to generate complaints.

As a relatively new officer at that time, I was quickly rising to the top of his list because I hadn't yet learned when to lay low or back off and not poke my cruiser's nose into affairs that were too big for me to handle without a sudden rush of back-up from everywhere, to include other departments when we were short.

There was another officer on the squad who had earned the boss's ire by going back into the woods and generating large cases against poachers and other resource violators, and while this was technically within our jurisdiction, it often resulted in our (the supervisor's) needing to liaison with other agencies like Fish and Wildlife and it often exposed the boss's less-than-stellar knowledge of the laws surrounding resource cases. So John wasn't too popular with the boss either.

One day, in response to John's pestering regarding the boat, the boss had an idea. Maybe if he put his two most productive officers out in a little boat in the middle of the water, we couldn't possibly find much to get into and his phone wouldn't be ringing all the time. Plus he could take credit for a new patrol area and maybe get an increase in the budget that would of course be plowed into other things. But we didn't care, John and I. We just knew that we had us a boat and we were going out to do some policing in it. John had an actual license to captain a small commercial boat and I was also a paramedic who'd seen almost every episode of McHale's Navy, so between the two of us, we figured that we were all set.

Packing the bare essentials--lifejackets, binoculars, a megaphone, a shotgun and our lunches--we hitched the boat up and trailered it down to the nearest boat launch and put it in the water.

The first day out, we just patrolled up and down the river, getting the feel for our area and getting used to the boat. It was actually a small boat to have out on that sort of water, and it rode rough and we got wet. But it was also fast and had a blue light and a siren, so we were happy.

The next day, we began checking licenses of people who were fishing from shore spots and we wrote several citations because the people were used to not being checked and few actually had fishing licenses. We also did our good deed by towing a disabled boat back to the marina. And we pulled the boat out with enough time to spare to allow us to stop at a really good Chinese restaurant on the way back to the station. This boat cop stuff was all right!

But then we started doing police work.

Day three had us wondering about the number of violations on the other boats that we were seeing. So we decided to try some traffic stops when we saw people drinking or not wearing life jackets. Of course neither of us knew how to do a boat traffic stop, but hey--what's life without a few learning experiences? We picked a pleasure boat out that appeared overloaded and went after it. When we got behind it, John hit the blue light and yelped the siren. The people on the boat turned and looked at us, but didn't do anything else. So I picked up the megaphone and ordered: "This is the POLICE! Cut your engines, stand to, and prepare to be boarded!"

John looked at me. "What the hell does 'stand to' mean?"
"I dunno," I replied, shrugging. "But they say it in the movies."

Sure enough, they stopped and we determined that they had too many passengers for the size of their boat and they lacked enough flotation devices for all of them. So we transferred the excess passengers to our boat and I went aboard the pleasure boat and we took them back to the marina where we issued the appropriate citations. On the way back, the operator of the violator boat asked me when we started river patrolling.
"Just this week," I told him.
"Can you guys board my boat like this?"
"Well we did, didn't we? Do you think we'd do it if we couldn't?" I made a mental note to check the regs and make sure that we actually could do such things.

As it turned out, there wasn't anything in our manuals on us doing what we were doing--or on boat operations in general--so we just decided that we'd play it like we were in a car and things would probably be ok. And with that plan in effect, we went on our merry way, stopping boats, boarding boats, writing citations, and generally behaving like pirates for a couple of days.

Then on day five, we tried to stop a boat that didn't want to stop. we saw three guys in a bass boat drinking what looked like beer. When they saw us checking them out through binoculars, they threw the bottles overboard and hit their throttle. That was enough for us and we went after them.

With the blue light on and the siren yelping, we took up the chase. They weren't stopping, but we were a lot faster and rapidly closed on them. I got on the speaker and ordered them to stop, and they didn't. Worse, one of them flipped us the bird.

OK, now we had to get them.

We chased them for about ten minutes and finally drew abreast. I could clearly see all three bozos in the boat, but I couldn't see their hands so I grabbed the shotgun, racked a round, and pointed it at them while yelling for them to show their hands. That worked, and all three put their hands up, including the driver.

"Turn the boat off!" I ordered. That worked too, and in a minute we were alongside. I ordered the first passenger to come over to our boat and I gave John the shotgun and he covered me while I cuffed him. The I went aboard their boat and cuffed the other two. It turned out that all three were stone drunk and they were running because they didn't want to get busted for that. They didn't think that we'd chase them. So John got on the radio and made what is still regarded department-wide as a classic radio transmission.

"Marine One."

"Marine One, go ahead."

"You can hold us out off XXX Point with one boat stopped, three in custody."

"Marine One, say again?"

Others back at the station say that our boss popped upright in his chair and clutched at his chest at this point.

"Marine One, we have three in custody for Flee to Elude Boat and Suspicion of DUI Boat"

OK, it sounded good. But back on the streets, the whole force was rolling with laughter as we announced that we'd be heading into the nearest marina and requested cage car transport and a Field Sobriety Officer.

As it turned out, the boat operator had a BAC of 0.21 so he got hooked. We cut the other two jokers loose, and we set about impounding the operator's boat after the operator told us where his trailer was. He didn't want to, but changed his mind after we told him that we'd yank his boat up onto a flatbed wrecker if he didn't.

So the rest of the night was spent with me processing the drunk and John going through the process of trailering our boat and dropping it, then going down with another officer to find this guy's trailer, unhitching it from his truck and attaching it to ours, then going to the marina where we'd parked the bass boat and relieving the officer who had been sitting on it since we left two hours prior. Then John took that boat to our impound lot and got back to the station well after shift change.

But that arrest marked the end of our naval careers. On Monday, we came in to find that the patrol boat had been given to the Parks Department. Aside from the arrest fall-out, the father of the guy that we'd cited for the overloaded pleasure boat apparently knew some people and a complaint had rolled in. So the Marine Patrol was abolished after one week and the boat disposed of and not replaced.

Of course it was a long time before we stopped finding life preservers and nautical stuff in our lockers and mailboxes, and being greeted by mysterious voices yelling "Gilligan!" or "Hey Skipper!" whenever John or I went in service over the radio. (This was obviously before the radios got their unique identifiers that told Dispatch who the jokers were.)

DISPOSITION: The DUI case was pled out in an agreement where the guy got a No-jail DUI (as opposed to a more serious DWI) and the Fleeing charge was dropped. Turned out that the DA didn't want to try a DWI boat case and the fleeing statute that we charged didn't include boat operation but was specific to automobiles, trucks and motorcycles.

Still, we had fun, and nobody got hurt. It was all good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sometimes it's the little things that getcha.

Littering. Just don't do it. Even if you're not wanted.

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga.—Police said a man likely wishes he never threw trash on a highway. That's because littering wasn't the only charge filed against him. The man, 42, faces drug charges after deputies seized six pounds of methamphetamine from his vehicle.

He was arrested Friday on Interstate 85. Deputies also learned he was wanted in Louisiana for failure to appear.

The meth was valued at approximately $350,000 on the streets.

The man was charged with trafficking methampetamine, littering and other traffic violations.


This one reminds me of a night when I was just driving along, minding my own business, on my way back to my station to do some reports and not particularly looking for any trouble. I was in the right lane on the highway, overtaking a slower vehicle in the left lane, when suddenly a burst of sparks exploded on my grille and windshield. The passenger of that car had tossed a cigarette butt out and it had hit the nose of my cruiser. Oh no he didn't!

I braked, dropped back behind this car, and hit the red-and-blues. They stopped, and when I walked up to the car, the driver was visibly nervous. Turns out that his license was revoked. Step out the car, sir.

The driver complies, but not before exclaiming: "Damn! I'm going to jail because of you!" and reaching across the car to slug his passenger in the side of the head. By the time he turns to come out of the car, I've got my pepper spray in hand, but he's compliant with me. His passenger--a huge guy who is probably closer to 400 lbs than 300--just looks at me and says: "Honest officer, if you wasn't here, I'd be skooshing him."

"No hitting, no skooshing!" I ordered. I cuffed the driver and began the pat-down as back-up arrived. I Found a zip of crack in his watch pocket, and that just made my night. So he went for Driving While Revoked, Possession of Crack Cocaine and Simple Assault. The car belonged to his mom, and when I called her to let her know that we had it, she admitted that she knew that his license was revoked but didn't see a problem with letting him drive her car. "Well I told him that if he got caught it was gonna be on him," she said.

Actually I was going to let her either come get it or with her permission, let Mongo the passenger drive it away, but when she said that, I just told her to call the impound tow company in the morning to make arrangements to get it from them pursuant to our policy on Operating While Revoked, subsection: "knowingly allowing another to do so". She wasn't happy with that.

It was quickly wrapped up as my back-up waited on the tow and then gave Mongo a ride off the highway while I took Smacky in for booking. Oh--and he also got a $75.00 Littering citation for the cigarette that was thrown from his car in the first place.

DISPOSITION: Plea in which he got 10 days jail for DWR, 30 days for Possessing Cocaine, and the Assault was dismissed. Time to be served concurrently.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Denver area police do the right thing--404 DUI arrests over Halloween week-end

Now this is good police work.

A Halloween drunken-driving crackdown netted 404 arrests statewide between Friday night and early Monday morning, the Colorado State Patrol said today.

Troopers and more than 50 local law-enforcement agencies participated in the crackdown.

Four people in Colorado were killed during the four-day period; two of those crashes were alcohol-related, according to troopers.

Alcohol was a factor in 40 percent of the traffic deaths in Colorado last year, accounting for 226 deaths.

Those arrested for drunken driving face jail time, the loss of their driver's license, and fines and court costs as high as $10,000.

Col. Mark Trostel, chief of the Colorado State Patrol, said arresting drunken drivers would be a top priority for the upcoming holiday season.

"If you take the risk, you will get caught," he said in a statement.

During the crackdown, the State Patrol made 104 DUI arrests; Denver police made 64; Colorado Springs police made 33; Aurora made 29; Adams County sheriff's deputies made 14; Lakewood police made 13; Grand Junction police made 10; Jefferson County sheriff's deputies arrested 10; and Rifle police made 10 arrests.

There are really few things out there on our roads more dangerous than drunk drivers. Each year, drunk drivers kill more people that we've lost in Iraq since the beginning of the war. According to the DUI Death Clock, nearly 12,000 Americans have died so far this year alone due to someone's decision to drink and drive.

I commend my brothers and sisters in the participating Denver-area agencies.

Now my next question: How many arrested DUI drivers were illegal aliens driving without licenses or insurance? Of that number, How many were held for deportation?

Since it's the Denver area that we're talking about, I'm betting that the answers are "quite a few" and "not even one". But I'd sure like to be proven wrong on that last one.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How to get out of a ticket

People are always asking me what they can do or say to get out of a ticket once they get pulled over.

Of course my first response is: "Don't get pulled over." Duh. it's really a no-brainer, especially when you figure out how many cars are out there on the road with you. You've typically got to put some effort in to get that darn traffic cop to notice you and want to stop you instead of any of those other cars. Many people manage to go years or even decades without doing this, but if you're one of those folks who just had to get that cop's attention, and now you're siting on the shoulder and the red and blue lights are flashing behind you, there's a better than average chance that the decision to ticket or warn you has already been made. But just in case there's still some leeway that you're eligible for, here's how you can maximize your chances of going away with just a warning:

1. Pull over when the lights come on. Don't make me follow you for a mile and then act surprised and claim that you thought I was trying to pull some other car over. If I'd wanted another car, I'd have been behind another car. But I was behind you and that's because I wanted you.

2. Pull way over onto the shoulder, so that I don't have to stand in a traffic lane to talk to you. Show some basic courtesy to me and I'm much more likely to give you some back when I decide whether you need a ticker or just a warning.

3. Roll your window down, turn your engine off, and put your hands on the steering wheel where I can see them. This tells me that I can safely approach without fear of you trying to rabbit away or suddenly producing a weapon. I usually appreciate that, and most of my peers do, too.

4. Turn the radio off before I get up to your window. If I have to actually tell you this, you're not getting out of the ticket.

5. Put out the cigarette that you're puffing on. Smoke offends me and it masks the smell of alcohol and weed, which is why most cigarettes are lit the second I turn my lights on. If you just lit that, you're coming out of the car and a K-9 unit will be arriving shortly. Meanwhile I intend to write as many tickets as it takes to give that unit time to respond.

6. Hang up the cell phone. You and I have business which is more important than any conversation you might be having there. You continuing your conversation as I stand there next to your window is going to be taken as either a deliberate insult or an attempt by you to play a head game. Also, whoever is on the phone is not part of this and doesn't need to listen in and/or offer you advice as you and I talk. If I have to tell you to hang it up, your ticket will be forthcoming shortly.

7. If your license is suspended and surrendered, do not insult my intelligence by pretending to look for it then stating "I have a license, it's just not with me." And when I ask you if your license is suspended, do not deny it. I'm going to find out in a minute anyway, and if you tell me before I go out with it over the radio, maybe we can work something out.

8. When I ask for the paperwork for the car, don't tell me it's not your car and you don't know the name of your friend that you got it from. Like the drivers' license question above, I'm going to figure the truth out in a few minutes anyway.

9. When I ask you how fast you were going, do not tell me that you were doing the speed limit. I have radar, laser and a calibrated speedometer. I KNOW how fast you were going. My asking you is a test of your honesty. Lie and you fail.

10. Don't try to BS me about who you know on my job. Believe me, if you drop a name, I will check with that person, unless of course you drop MY name. Yes, an idiot once told me that he was very good friends with me. Turned out that he knew my name from a prior encounter and didn't remember my face or bother to read my name tag before tossing my name out as one of his best friends. (He got a ticket.) If you do have a friend or relative on my job, just smile and take the ticket and call your friend/relative when you get home and ask them to talk to me. If they like you, they will. And if you weren't a jerk to me or a serious offender, I'll probably pull it as a favor to my co-worker. But that name-dropping on the roadside? No.

11. Don't try to argue with me about why I stopped you. If I wasn't positive, I wouldn't have stopped you and I'm not going to change my mind just because you say "I didn't do that!" It's not my job to argue with you. There is a person that you can argue with, and that's the judge in traffic court. Take your arguement there if you like. I really don't mind, especially as I get paid time and a half to show up. Just remember that if you mouth off on the roadside, you may forget about it by the time the court date comes up but I won't because I'll have written it down. And judges love to hear that trash-talk read in court.

12. Demanding my name and badge number doesn't intimidate me. I don't fear your complaints because I do my job correctly and by the book and my supervisors know it. But if you start out the conversation by demanding those, rest assured that I will oblige and write them both down for you...on at least one ticket.

In sum, I'm not out there just to mess with you and I didn't single you out for a traffic stop just because I wanted to harrass you personally. I have a job to do, and if you make it easy for me to do it, I'm much more likely to just kick you loose with a warning in cases where it's an option than I am if you decide to throw an attitude at me or go out of your way to show me disrespect. If you do decide to be an ass, I'm not going to hold it against you and come down harder on you, but by the same token, you can sure forget about the possibility of me cutting you any slack. It's really up to you to decide how it's going to go. Make the most of the opportunity.

Blog Central, show this unit in service.

Q. "So are you the good cop or the bad cop?"

A. "Good cop and bad cop went home for the day. Now you're stuck with me."

Yeah, I'm a cop. And I'm a cop with an attitude.

Why do I have an attitude? Well maybe it's because I've spent a number of years out there solving the problems of a bunch of whiners who expect me to fix their lives and then hate me when I make the attempt. Or maybe it's because I've busted my ass for an agency that's rewarded me with the back of it's hand every time I've gone out of my way to do the right thing instead of the easy thing.

Hell, maybe I had it when I got here. I don't know. But then I really don't care. My attitude's not my problem. And it's not your problem if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing or if you need help with something that you didn't cause or aggravate. But if you're a criminal or a scofflaw who thinks that you've got something coming because of where you work, how much money you have, who you know, or because of your race, sex or appearance, well then we're probably not going to be pals. But that's fine. I have a job to do, and if you don't like it, feel free to complain. My name and badge number? I've written them down on this ticket for you. Sign here and press hard please. You're making three copies.