Monday, February 23, 2009

It's a car--it's a plane--it's a SUBMARINE!

It started out as a quiet summer night a few years back.

I was just driving along, minding my own business, when a small late-model car with two teen girls passed me going the opposite direction. They weren't speeding or anything, but the driver clearly had that panicky "oh shit, it's a cop!" look on her face. That look on the face of a driver, passenger or pedestrian is usually a red flag and a good reason for closer investigation, so I braked and U-turned on that car just to follow it for a bit.

Immediately that white car became a rocket and took off.

Oh, yeah. Here we go. I hit the overhead lights and called out with a pursuit in progress. It was about 11PM or so on a dark, deserted rural road with no traffic and nowhere for this car to go. Or so I thought, anyway. The driver of the car immediately made a sharp left turn onto a narrow dirt road that led into one of our parks.

I let dispatch know that the pursuit had now turned into this park, and that the chase was about to terminate as this road was less than a mile long. I knew that it came to a dead end in a small parking area for the boat launch that was there. I guess I naively assumed that these girls knew it too as I expected them to start slowing down any time.

But they kept their speed up, reaching highway speeds on this narrow dead-end dirt road.

"They gotta know this is a dead end," I kept telling myself.

But apparently they did not. And before I could even say "WTF?!", they shot into and across the parking area, hit some logs meant as a barrier to stop cars from rolling past the parking lot boundary, and went airborne for a brief moment before impacting with a huge splash into the water beyond.

They almost cleared the whole dock, but they wound up taking that out, too.

"10-50 into the water! Roll Rescue and start a Hook," I told Dispatch.

But as it turned out, the girls weren't injured. Both clambered out of the car and waded ashore. And just my luck--they're 17. Juveniles. I really, really hate dealing with juveniles just because of all of the extra hoops that our department makes us jump through.

As it turns out, this all started because they had a beer in the car between them. One beer. And when they saw me, they panicked. Of course being teen girls, when I asked where they got the beer, they lied and claimed that they just found it sitting alongside the road.

"OK, so you're in the habit of stopping to pick up any bottle on the ground that looks like it might have beer in it and drinking it, is that right?"

"Uh-huh," they both said with straight faces.

So I asked for their ID and parents' contact info.

"Do you really have to call my mom?" the one asks.

"Gee, do you think?"

So rescue came and checked them out and pronounced them fine but wet. I then administered a PBT (Portable Breath Test) to both, because, being under 21, any alcohol in their system is illegal and the PBT is sufficient for a citation. Both had positive scores so each got an "Underage Consumption of Alcohol" citation.

Then the real fun. The moms showed up. No fathers--just two very angry mothers.

And predictably, they were not angry at the girls, but at each other, and, of course, at me.
Each mom blamed the other girl for getting her daughter into this mess. Then it got positively comical when they learned that the car--owned by om A--had been driven into the water by the daughter of Mom B. So after Mom A jumps on me for chasing darling daughter into the water, she demands to know who is going to have to pay for the damage to her car.

"That's between you and your insurance company," I tell her. "And you can also expect a hefty bill for that dock."

"But my daughter wasn't driving!"

"Apparently not," I explained. "But you entrusted your car to your daughter. Your daughter entrusted it to this girl. And when I called your insurance company, they told me that neither of them are covered drivers on your insurance policy. This is probably going to go against you since it was your car and you'll have to sue this other girl through her mother to recover the amounts that you're going to wind up being held liable for."

This of course started a screaming match between the mothers that looked like it was about to go Pro Wrestling. Since it wasn't taking place in front of my cruiser's video camera, I moved in to break it up before the fists flew and the hair extensions came out.

I quickly got everyone documented and sent them home, and then hung out to write my report in peace while waiting for the tow-truck to show up and yank the car out. And it's lucky for me that I got rid of Mom A before the hook showed up, because that chimp that the tow company sent out probably did more damage to the car by carelessly yanking it out (and dropping it back in at least three times due to bad hook-ups) than the Dukes of Hazzard stunt that dunked it in the first place.

This damned case wound up bouncing back and forth in the juvenile courts and civil courts for at least three years and I can't even recall how many times I was subpoenaed or deposed as the park, the insurance company and the two moms battled back and forth over the bill and tried to mitigate the fault by fighting the Underage Consumption charges, but it was a lot. (Overtime = Ka-Ching!)

Moral of the story: If you have a spoiled brat daughter, don't let her and her girlfriend borrow your year-old car without at least making sure that they're both covered drivers.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Funny thing about warrants...they last

Diana Arrington just learned that lesson the hard way.

It appears that Diana was stopped for a traffic offense and arrested for DUI in Anchorage, Alaska back in September of 1995. because authorities didn't know that she had two prior DUI convictions in Georgia--making this one a felony--she was allowed to bond out on a promise to appear. However she immediately jumped bail and fled to Florida, where she then tried to have a lawyer get the case dismissed in her absence. When that failed, she simply gave the court the bird and refused to appear.

However, for some reason, she decided to return to Alaska twelve years later, and when she was stopped for another traffic violation, that vintage warrant was waiting for her, along with a new felony Failure To Appear charge.

And evidence usually sticks around, too, so it was nothing for the prosecutor--who was still in college back when Arrington was first arrested--to convince a jury to convict her.

Her sentencing is in May. Hopefully they don't let her leave again. Come, on, jail time!

Now this reminds me of a guy that I dealt with several years ago. I was working a traffic closure post for a big local event. This entailed my sitting at a barricade at an intersection where traffic had been blocked, just to keep people from going around it.

And yes, I was making overtime money for this.

So I'm sitting there, minding my own business, when I see a couple walk away from the event. Right in front of me, the male turns, steps into a patch of trees, and proceeds to take a leak. Now since I'm sitting right there in a marked police car, I have to wonder what this guy's thinking, especially since there were plenty of porta-potties back where he'd just come from. So I get out of my car and walk over as he's finishing up, and he's got a case of attitude from the get-go. I explain that what he's done is illegal, and he tells me that it's ridiculous because the porta-potties are nasty and have long lines and that since nobody saw him, it's not a big deal.

Well anyone else could have come along and seen him in this very public location, so yeah, it is a big deal. This again was one that could have just been handled with a warning but the guy was obviously trying to show his woman there that he was the Alpha Dog so instead of saying "gee, you're right...I'm really sorry and won't do it again," he argued with me about it. So I wrote him the ticket for Urinating in Public and told him to show up on the mandatory court date or else a warrant for his arrest would be issued. I figure if he's going to be an ass about it, he can take a day off work and come down to stand before the judge in open court and explain why he was peeing in public in broad daylight. No big deal.

Time went by, and I'd forgotten all about it until I got a subpoena for this case almost a year later. Here I'd figured that he'd shown up in court, paid whatever fine, and had the case dealt with short of a trial, but apparently he'd decided not to appear at all and a warrant had been issued. That warrant sat there, quietly waiting until...

Fast-forward ten months. As it was relayed to me, this guy was at the airport picking up his fiancee's parents--parents that he was meeting for the first time--when he was involved in a minor collision with an airport shuttle bus. (I can sympathize with him here...those shuttle bus drivers all suck.) Responding Airport Police show up to take the report, run the dirvers' liceses as a matter of course, and...

"Sir, you're under arrest."

"For what?"

"Well apparently there's a warrant for your arrest for urinating in public..."

Right in front of the prospective in-laws. So much for first impressions.

He wound up being taken to jail and booked on the UIP charge and he had to post a bond, which I understand he had to borrow from his soon-to-be dad-in-law.

Fine for Urinating in Public: $125.00
Getting arrested for peeing in public right in front of your fiancee's parents on that special night: Priceless.

It never pays to ignore things like court appearances. Arrest warrants don't get old and you never know when they're going to just out at you and yell "Surprise!"

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Writing tickets on doctors and nurses

Now I know that this is going to be a controversial subject, between those brothers and sisters of mine out there who don't believe in ticketing medical professionals and the civilians who think that any exercise of police discretion in issuing tickets (unless they're the one who got stopped) is wrong, I expect some flack back from both ends of the spectrum. But I think I can handle that, especially since I've heard more than enough about it from some of the so-called "professionals" in the medical field.

Here are a few of my stories, which go a long way to show why I now no longer subscribe to the idea that doctors and nurses all automatically have breaks coming.

Case #1. One nice morning, I was out standing alongside the road, minding my own business and shooting laser in an area designated for special attention due to problems with speeders. I happened to tag this Jaguar coming on at 27 mph over the limit. I stepped out into traffic and was just able to flag him over into the turn-out area that I was using for the stops. I walked up, introduced myself, and told him why I'd stopped him.

"Yeah, ok, that's fine. But I'm a doctor and I'm late", he says. His tone made it apparent that he was expecting me to just let him go without any further questions.
"Is there some sort of medical emergency that you're being called in for, sir?"
"No. It's just that I have to get there to make my rounds and check on my patients."

Ah, ok. No medical emergency. Just a guy late for work. but he said it with that sharp tone that indicated that I was annoying him by asking and detaining him, and that annoys me. So I figure that I'll give him a break, but only after he gets a bit of a lesson on basic roadside manner. We're not in your hospital now, doc. This is my road and now we're in my office, such as it is.
I ask him to produce his license and registration.

"I just told you that I'm late," he replied. "I need to get to the hospital." Again with that tone that suggested that he's the boss here.

"Sir, are there other doctors at that hospital?"

"Huh? why of course there are. It's "XXX Hospital! Just down the road.

"OK," I told him. "So then there are other doctors who can handle any emergency that might come up while we're taking care of this basic traffic matter. I just wanted to make sure."

He clenched his teeth but didn't say anything back, choosing to turn away from me and just stare out across his hood as if I was no longer even there. In other words, I was dismissed.

OK, we can play this game. I went back to my cruiser and sat down and began to write him out a warning violation. It wasn't going to be a ticket--I was still going to give him a warning, and hopefully he'd get the message from my simply detaining him a few minutes to write one out in lieu of a ticket.

However, about a minute or two into it, I heard a horn blow. I looked up and he was holding his arm with his watch on it out his window, and reaching out with his other hand to point at his watch. Oh, no...

So I reached out my window and held up my ticket book, and then I pointed to it the same way that he was pointing to his watch. Check, Jackass. Then I pulled my warning notice off the clip board and began to write him a moving violation.

When I went up and handed him back his license and the $275.00 ticket, he snatched it from me and said "You must be a rookie. When you get good at this you'll learn not to ticket people who might have to save your life!" So saying, he sped off.

I Googled him later. He's a podiatrist. A foot doctor who probably couldn't find the Emergency Department with a map and a Sherpa guide. Yeah, he just might save me...if I ever get a bad case of Athelete's Foot.

Case #2. Different location on another morning. I'm set up to catch people who like to use an inappropriate lane or run up on the shoulder to pass slow traffic at a particularly congested spot during morning rush hour. Previous road rage incidents here beginning with that sort of thing have caused the powers that be to assign me this particular plum assignment.

And here comes a little car racing right up on the shoulder, passing a half mile of barely moving cars which are all creeping along in the proper lane. Oh, it's my lucky day--it's a Porsche. Obviously the representative of the "Better-than-you" crowd has arrived.

I stop this one, and it's an older blonde woman. before I can even say word one, she cuts my introduction off: "Yeah, yeah, I know...I'm technically not supposed to do that, but I'm a doctor at XXX Hospital and I'm late for work."

"You're right, Ma'am," I reply. "You're not supposed to do that. And there's no 'technically' about it. May I see your license and registration please?"

She sighs and rolls her eyes and digs into her purse for her documents. "I just told you that I'm a doctor..." she says. Then she hands me her license and her hospital ID card. I hand her the hospital card back, and she says "I just wanted you to see that so you'll know that I'm a doctor."

"OK, I get that," I respond. "Just wait here." I began walking back to my cruiser.

Now normally I don't cut anyone breaks on this particular violation because I myself have sat in long lines only to watch people breeze past on the shoulder, but she cinched the ticket when she yelled back "Well you don't have to take that tone with me! You could show a little more respect!"
Respect for what? A prima-dona who thinks that her job entitles her to pass us all of these other people who are now inching past us in the proper traffic lanes? Screw thast. She can have the ticket just like any other driver would get from me for this.

And of course she wasn't done with her commentary. When I walked back up with her ticket, she snatched it from me, made it a point to read my name tag, and said nastily: "Well thank you Officer XXXX! You'd just better hope and pray that you never wind up on my table in the E/R!"

This caused me to ask her if she would prefer to discuss this matter--and her threat--further in her hospital administrator's office. Not surprisingly, that didn't seem to appeal to her and she drove off. I went out of my way to stop red Porsches for a while after that. I didn't catch her again, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't trying.

Case #3. Pulled over a serious speeder one night, and as I walk up to the car, the driver takes a stethoscope off of her mirror and holds it up to me, saying "It's ok...I'm a nurse!"

I explained the reason for my stopping her--a speed well in excess of the posted limit--and she just grinned and said "Yeah, I know. I get stopped here a lot when I'm running late. But you guys aren't supposed to ticket us."

So here she is, admitting that she speeds on purpose with the expectation that there will be no consequence just because she is a nurse at some hospital. (And as it turned out, she--like the doctor in case #1--worked in some specialty field and had nothing to do with the Emergency Department.) So she got her ticket, and a mandatory court date due to her high speed. When I explained that she would have to appear in court in two weeks, she threw the ticket on her floor and exclaimed: "God, you're an asshole, aren't you!"

These three cases are my reasons for not automatically giving people a pass just because they hold a certain job. (Fellow cops notwithstanding, of course.) In each case, the people who were obviously expecting and used to getting "professional courtesy" were totally unwilling to show any sort of courtesy to me. In their eyes, they were important enough to warrant treatment above and beyond that of ordinary people, and apparently too important to even show me any of the courtesy and respect that they felt entitles to. But courtesy is a two-way street, and because of those three, while I may extend a break to individual medical care providers based on the circumstances and merits of that particular encounter, it's by no means automatic or a given.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stopping the special people

In my work area, it's a fact of life that you will eventually stop someone famous or powerful for a traffic infraction. Some will be very nice, while others will be total tools. As an example of the former, I will always remember stopping Tony Nicely, CEO and President of GEICO Insurance.

It was a little before 11PM if I recall, and I was just pulling out of my station's driveway in a marked cruiser when this car shot by like a rocket, well in excess of the limit.

"Oh no he didn't..." I think to myself. I mean, my boss is still in his office. How are you going to fly past our building with my boss possibly looking out his window and me sitting right there in the driveway? I punched the gas and threw gravel as I fish-tailed onto highway after him. I quickly caught up with the car--a high-end sedan--and it was still zipping along. I got a quick pace on the vehicle at 23mph over the limit, then hit my radar and confirmed it. I was going to have this guy for sure. I hit the lights and pulled him over on the side of the road. "Dispatch, hold me out northbound with traffic, vanity tag "GEICO 1".

When I got the return--car registered to GEICO Insurance--I had to smile at the irony. I exited my vehicle and approached the driver.

The driver was a distinguished-looking older gentleman in formal attire, and he had a woman next to him who was also dressed up for a party. I was already thinking that I might get the night's first DUI right here. People who go to parties usually drink. So I started out by introducing myself and telling the man why I'd stopped him. He was immediately apologetic and deferential, and quickly handed me his license. He could not, however, find the car's paperwork, and he apologized for that. He also said that he and his wife had been talking about the dinner they'd just left and he hadn't been paying attention to his speed. He also hadn't seen me sitting there as he passed. As we spoke, I checked his eyes and saw none of the tell-tale signs of alcohol, and I didn't smell any, either. So since he mentioned a dinner, I pressed for a bit more information, just to keep him talking and to check his general attitude. "Where was this dinner at, Sir?"
He told me that the dinner was at a local hotel and that his company had hosted it for the family members of their employees who'd been called up for military service.

Well damn. That, if true, was just nice. I'm nothing if not supportive of our troops myself, and how many companies would do something like that for their employees? And I believed him. Generally most of us know when someone's lying to us by the way that they act, and this fellow seemed sincere. Plus, that story wasn't the sort that people just make up out of thin air when asked. And then his wife even held up a program and asked me if I wanted to see it.

Aw, hell... now I'm not so inclined to even write the speeding ticket.

"Not a problem as far as the registration goes," I told him. "I already know that it's good. As for your insurance...well I'm going to guess that you either work for GEICO or you really like their policies."

He smiled, and told me that he was, in fact, the CEO of the company.

"Wow," I replied. "A speeding ticket for 23 over would sure blow a big hole in that safe driver discount program that your company offers, wouldn't it?"

"Yes," he replied, smiling resignedly. "I'm sure that it's going to."

And that clinched it for me. He didn't even ask me to cut him a break like most people do.

I handed him his license back and told him to pay a little more attention to his speed and his surroundings. I then shined my light quickly around the inside of his car. "You don't have that little lizard in here, do you?"

They both laughed, and he told me that it was a gecko, not a lizard, but that tonight was the gecko's night off. Then he thanked me and wished me a nice night as he drove off.

"Now that guy has class," I thought as I walked back to my cruiser. So many of those folks get so hung up on telling me who they are and how important they are--often followed by dropping names of other people that they think might keep me from writing them a ticket, but this guy didn't try any of that. He was honest and respectful, acknowledged his error, and appeared ready to accept the ticket without any argument whatsoever. Those people are rare and they seldom get tickets from me, even if they aren't the CEO of a big insurance company.