Friday, June 26, 2009

Fools in da' hood

Ah, Copwatch and Indymedia… Never before have I seen such a bunch of pathetic losers venting their impotent rage at the police. I’ve just read on the Bitches in Blue blog about how the local hemorrhoids have been harassing the Chicago Police Department and claiming—without merit—that the police in that city are and always have been power-crazed bullies.

I have to admit that we have those simpletons here in our area too. Mostly they just make harmless noise and I still laugh when I recall the last time that I had anything to do with their antics.

This encounter stemmed from their outrage over the fact that our agency was responding to an increase in violent drug-related crime in a particular public housing complex by engaging in a practice known as “jump-outs”. In a jump-out, officers roll around in a van all inconspicuous until they see what looks like a group of drug dealers or other assorted thugs. The van pulls up, the officers jump out, and everyone in the group gets detained, run for warrants, and at least frisked if not searched. Typically this results in a warrant hit or two and the recovery of some quantity of drugs and/or a weapon is almost guaranteed. You see, jump-out squads don’t just hit up any group of people—or even any group of black males. They know what the signs of drug dealing and gang affiliation are, and they target the ones who fit those criteria. The goal is the interdiction of bad people, not just harassing groups of teens or young adults.

I wasn’t part of the actual jump-out squad, but I was assigned to loiter in the area as rapid-response back-up when needed. If the thugs broke and ran, or someone began to fight, I was right around the corner.

Well we’d been doing this for a few weeks, and we’d wrapped up a number of bad guys. We’d also snared about a dozen guns and a fair bit of narcotics. In fact, it was going so well that the local newspaper got hold of it and did a story on it. And this brought the kook brigade out in force.

Now when you’re policing a minority-majority city (one where the population is predominately black) and there is no outrage from the usual suspect who claim to speak for the black community—the local Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson wanna-be types in addition to the NAACP—you’re probably on pretty safe ground. And none of these folks were complaining, because they knew that we were surgically removing from the community the very scumbags who were preying on the decent people and making life hard for the elderly and the single moms who just wanted to get through the day without becoming crime victims. But then the angry white kids showed up.

And these are the fools who run websites like Copwatch and the various Indymedia sites. Self-proclaimed “anarchists”, most are really spoiled suburbanite kids whose parents either don’t know how to raise them to be decent, responsible young adults or they just don’t care. Within a day or two, these little nit-wits are posting all sorts of smack talk on the internet, sending letters to the editor at the newspaper, and posting Xerox-copy fliers around the project telling people to rise up and resist the oppressive police.

Yeah, I know… there’s just no curing stupid.

Well that alone wasn’t really very noteworthy, because everyone knows that there aren’t more than a couple dozen of these little turds in the group, and none of them actually live in our city but only commute in to try to rile things up and then go home to mommy’s and daddy’s basement in one of the more trendy suburbs to watch MTV and play video games in lieu of actually working a job or going to school. But in this case, the kids decided to take it a step further and one day they just appeared in the projects with video cameras, looking for our units or any other signs of police activity, and then dipping in from the sidewalk, telling anyone that we were dealing with that they didn’t have to answer our questions or consent to searches. They basically succeeded in getting us to suspend operations for the day because the unit supervisor didn’t want to give them any publicity by letting them gin up some incident to put on Youtube, so in that regard, they actually accomplished something.

However, a couple of hours after we’d pulled out, some of these little cretins actually walked into our station, looking a bit beaten and battered. It seems that after we’d left, some of those “fine, upstanding people” who live in the projects jumped them and took all of their money and their video cameras—the very cameras that they’d been using to harass US—and roughed them up a bit, either because they didn’t immediately comply or because they displayed some of their trademark “We’re superior to you” attitudes. (I’m betting on the latter.) Now—incredibly—they want to make a police report and they want US to roll back up into the neighborhood in force and recover their stuff for them.

We are, of course, professional enough not to laugh in their faces, but I’m sure they could hear us busting up in the hallway behind our lobby area. Karma can be a real bitch at times, can’t it?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Is it real, or is it...

A couple of recent posts over on Officer Smith's blog reminded me of the time that I stopped a seventeen year old punk kid for speeding on my highway.

I'd approached his car and was standing just behind his door post as usual. I told him who I was and why I'd stopped him, and he was collecting his license, registration and proof of insurance as instructed. As I watched him open his center console to get the paperwork, I suddenly saw the butt of a pistol inside that console, and his hand was going right towards it. I had a second or two to decide what to do, and my phone with patent lawyer David Woycechowsky's phone number on it was way back in my cruiser, so I had to make a fast decision.

Fortunately, my training took over, so I was spared the need to reflect and contemplate probabilities. My sidearm was in my hand in an instant as I stepped sideways behind his door post (and not back into traffic) and yelled "STOP!" as loudly as I could.

I did not yell "freeze". Only Roscoe P. Coletrane yells that. No real cop ever yells "freeze". That word is too long and does not lend itself to enunciation under stress.

Fortunately for both uf us, Junior actually did stop, and he pulled his hand away from that pistol. He was literally less than four pounds away from dying right there.

With a quick sideways glance to make sure that no traffic was coming, I reached down with my free hand and yanked his door open, then reached in and grabbed him by the hair and extracted him from the car and away from that gun.

It may not have been an Academy-approved technique, but it worked.

I pulled him from the car and proned him out on the pavement, grateful that I'd at least positioned my cruiser such that there was at least a small safety zone to work in. I quickly got him cuffed then got him up and moved him to the safety of the grass for a proper search, calling for backup as I did so. In a few moments, the back-up units began arriving, so I turned the kid over to another officer and went back up to recover the gun.

Damned if it wasn't a very realistic BB gun made to resemble a Beretta Model 92. It was the same size, had the same finish, and junior had even gone the extra distance by painting it's orange muzzle cap black. at a glance, it was indistinguishable from the real thing.

I'd almost killed this kid over a toy. To say that I was pissed beyond belief doesn't begin to describe it.

Well now this had gone out over the radio, and supervisors were aware and enroute, so there was no way I could just kick the kid in the ass and send hm on his way even if I'd been so inclined--which I wasn't. We have a statute here that allows a charge for pointing or brandishing a weapon or an object similar in appearance, and even though it was a bit of a stretch since his hand never actually touched it, I reasoned that his having it in a spot where it was likely that I or someone else would see it was good enough to at least hook him up. Let the lawyers argue it later. He went to jail and his car went to car jail.

It should have ended here, or more precisely, it should have ended a few days down the road when the prosecutor quietly dismissed it after things had cooled down, but Junior's dad was a big wheel who was more upset that his son had been:
--sworn at by a police officer,
--struck by a police officer, and:
--nearly shot and killed by a police officer for no good reason.

At least that was the gist of the formal written complaint that was served on the department the very next day, along with notice of intent to sue. Dad was going to show us all now that we couldn't scare or disrespect his darling kid like that.

As it turned out, he should have quit while he was behind.

I quickly called the prosecutor and he agreed not to drop the case. I was investigated, per the complaint procedure, and I was exonerated as I'd acted in compliance with our policies and my training, save for the his claim that I'd given him a ding on the dome with my pistol, which I officially deny having administered. (I did bring the muzzle of my cocked pistol into contact with his forehead during the vehicle extraction, but I didn't beat him with it like he claimed. Not that he didn't have a good ass-whipping coming... But we just don't give those out any more.)

A couple of months later, the case wound up in court on the misdemeanor docket, but even the high-priced defense attorney that daddy dearest shelled out for couldn't negate my testimony coupled with the presentation of the pistol as evidence. Not unexpectedly, the kid didn't testify, but I had my transcript of his post-arrest interview in which he'd stated that he was carrying the pistol to "goof" people who disrespected him and that he'd painted the muzzle black "so that it would look more real." The best line that his attorney could come up with was "if you really thought it was a real gun, why didn't you shoot him?" I replied that I didn't have to because he instantly complied with my instructions. On re-direct, the prosecutor asked me if I would have shot him if he hadn't complied, and I replied: "God help me, I sure would have." When he asked why, I said that I wasn't about to die on the side of the highway because I'd second-guessed my training and guessed wrong.

Junior was convicted, and largely because I spoke prior to his sentencing and asked for it, he got ten days in jail, to be served on week-ends for five weeks. He also got 18 months' probation and a condition of the probation was that he wasn't allowed to own or possess real or toy firearms. and then the judge actually praised me for my level-headedness and told the boy and his father that they should be grateful every day that the kid didn't did in the front seat of that car because of his stupid choice to carry that toy gun. They left the court room without even making eye contact with me. And believe it or not, I was still angry over what could have and almost did happen. While I can deal with shooting some slug who had it coming, I don't appreciate being put into a position where I almost wound up killing a kid whose only real crime was being immature and overly-coddled.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Law Students...

So one evening, I’m out driving along with one of our new assistant prosecutors in my car because they have to do ride-alongs with us to get a feel for what we do and how the cases actually get to their office.

Of course since I have a ride-along, I can’t find a damned thing to get into. I never can when I have a rider who needs to actually see something. It’s a curse, really.

But then I stop the car being rather stupidly driven. It’s speeding and it seems to be having a bit of trouble staying in it’s lane. I point out to my passenger the number of times that the car crosses the right shoulder fog line and/or the center line ( three times and twice in less than a mile, respectively) and then I light it up. The pulls over onto the next highway exit ramp, but instead of stopping immediately, it goes to the top of the ramp, then turns onto the connecting street and pulls to the curb.

I approach the driver and sole occupant and see that she’s a young blonde woman in her late twenties. I also immediately detect the odor of alcoholic beverages and observe that her eyes are red and that her pupils are dilated, all signs of alcohol use.

I introduce myself and explain that I’ve stopped her due to her speed. She’s smiling and cooperative, and in response to my “casual” follow-up questions, she says that she’s coming from a dinner put on by her law school and that she’s on her way to her boyfriend’s house.

Law school. Great. Experience has shown that there are few people as reliably stupid and/or aggravating as a law student. They think that they know it all, and most of what they “know” is, of course, wrong.

I congratulate her on being a law student, then when she smiles and thanks me, I ask her how much she had to drink tonight. “Oh, I just had a glass of wine,” she says.

Now based upon my observations and experience, I know that she’s had way more than one glass of wine. I ask her to step out of her car for a moment so that I can talk to her up on the sidewalk, and she does. I notice that she’s a bit unsteady on her feet, and I get another strong scent of booze as she gets out of the car, still all smiling and cooperative. Once up on the sidewalk, I ask her to submit to the field-sobriety tests. I really don’t need her to at this point, since between her driving behavior, my initial observations and her admission that she’d been drinking, I’ve already got enough probable cause to take her in. But more is always better.

And now the fun begins. Little miss law student has just figured out that she might be in trouble. The smile disappears from her face, replaced by a panicked look.

“Uhhhhh….You’re not allowed to ask me that,” she says.

OK, I’m curious now. I ask her why not. This should be good. My attorney rider seems a bit amused too.

“Well you haven’t explained all of the possible consequences of my taking the test and my refusing to take the test,” she says. People have to understand their rights and this is an important decision that can really affect me.”

I tell her that she’s correct in that it’s an important decision, and then I tell her that there’s no obligation on my part to explain a lot of things. It’s really a “yes or no” question and it’s her choice either way. “Besides”, I add. “You’re a law student. You’re obviously bright enough to understand this.”

“Yes, I know that I am,” she replies. “However, the standard here is what a layperson would understand, and you can’t use my extra education against me. I’m entitled to the same consideration as a layperson, and this is way too important a decision for a layperson to understand. So you need to explain everything to me.”

“Well that’s not going to happen, I tell her. The simple question is whether you’re going to take the test and demonstrate that you’re safe to drive, or whether I’m going to just take you in for a breath test and a mandatory blood test if you refuse that.”

“But I have a right to know!” she exclaimed.

“Yes you do,” I told her. “But that’s your responsibility. You could have learned all of this stuff any time that you wanted to. You apparently chose not to. So think of this as a test that you didn’t study for.”

So she changed her tack. Now she wanted to go at my authority.

“You can’t arrest me for anything,” she said. “You’re from the highway, and we’re not on the highway any more.”

I told her that I hated to disappoint her, but I had the same jurisdiction up here as I do down on the highway; there’s no difference.

“But the jurisdiction rule still applies to evidence,” she proclaimed. “You saw me driving down there on the highway, and if I crossed the lines there, it doesn’t matter because I’m off the highway now and this isn’t the highway…it’s not the same.”

OK, she gets props for originality if nothing else. I see my rider snickering so I introduce him. “I’m sorry, but this is Tom Xxxxxx. He’s one of our new prosecutors here in District Court. And that makes him a real lawyer. What do you think, Tom? You ever hear anything like this when you were in law school?”

Tom said that he didn’t, so I asked her one more time if she wanted to try the field-sobriety tests and convince me that she really wasn’t under the influence. “Last chance…” I told her as I unsnapped my cuff case.

“OK, ok…” she said. “I’ll do it. I don’t have to, but I just want to show you that I’m not drunk.”

So saying, she took the tests. And she failed resoundingly. Click, click. The cuffs went on and I put her in the back of my cruiser. I walked up to her car to secure it.

“Hey!” she began yelling. “Hey, ASSHOLE!”

I stopped to look at her, my attention caught by this latest change in her demeanor.

“You can’t look in my car! You don’t have consent! Touch my car and I’m suing!”

I walked back to her. “I guess you haven’t had the class on ‘search incident to arrest’ yet, eh?”

“The black bag on my seat is personal property and separate from the car! You can’t look in there!”

I just turned to Tom. “Feel free to explain,” I told him as I walked back up. By the time that he presumably told her that anything in the car was fair game, I’d already looked in the bag and observed it’s contents. Not illegal—just amusing. I imagined that her boyfriend was going to be disappointed tonight.

After I finished my inventory search, I went back and asked her if she wanted me to leave the bag of sex toys in the car or take them back and log them in as personal property at the station.

So I took her back to the station and began explaining the breath test procedure to her, but she interrupted and told me that she had a right to an attorney and that she wouldn’t take it until she was allowed to find an attorney and have him present. Fine. I bundled her back up and just took her to the hospital for a blood draw, listening to her caterwaul all the way about how I was violating her rights and I was going to be sued and fired and how she was going to win everything that I’ve ever owned…

It’s times like this that I’m grateful that cruisers come with stereos.

Flash forward two months to court. She walks in all professionally attired, the perfect picture of poise. She’s refused any plea offers, probably because her a blood-alcohol content was in excess of 0.15, guaranteeing her a minimum five days in jail following conviction. The case was presented and she was, of course, found guilty, with the judge suppressing a smile more than once as her antics and claims were retold in court. Finally, she was asked if she had anything that she wanted to say.

“Well your Honor…I just wanted to say that I have always admired this court and you personally and I hope that you can find it in your heart to show some mercy here, as my goal ever since beginning law school was to become a clerk in this very court.”

Wow. We all looked to the judge to see how that line was going to play.

“Well I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he told her. “but nothing will prevent you from submitting a resume once you finish your five days in jail and year of probation.”


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Radar love

One of my favorite pastimes when I have nothing better to do is running radar and hauling our area’s worst speeders into court. I really love my radar, and coupled with my unmarked cruiser, it often provides more fun and entertainment that one guy should be able to have.

Adding to the fun is the fact that my state is one of the very few that still outlaws radar detectors. So when I get the chance to ding a speeder with radar AND find out that he has a radar detector to boot, giving me another charge to bop him with… well it just makes my day.

So how do I find the radar detector violators? Well without giving away too many of my trade secrets, let me state that it’s usually very, very easy.

First of all, there are people like this kid I was behind not too long ago. He had it mounted right up on his dashboard where I and everyone else could see it. Since part of the requirement for the charge of possession/use of a radar detector requires us to prove that it’s being used at the time, I slid my car into a slot two cars back and one lane over from the kid and switched my radar on for a second. I saw his detector light up and he slammed on his brakes. He then began looking around to see where the police car might be, but alas, he was only looking up ahead of his car. He didn’t bother looking over his shoulder. After a few moments, he relaxed a bit, so I turned it on again. Once more, I saw his detector light up and he slammed on his brakes and began scanning ahead of him for the police. As this was fun for me, I did it a few more times over the next mile or so before finally sliding in behind him, making the traffic stop, and seizing the radar detector from him. He was actually angry that I had an unmarked car, and his defense to the detector was—as usual—that he lives in the nearby adjoining state where there are legal, and that our laws therefore do not apply to him.

Yeah, ok. Sign here, please. One more radar detector added to the pile of them in our evidence room.

But usually they aren’t so blatant about it. Usually I get them because the person using it tells on themselves by reflexively slamming on the brakes the moment I activate the radar. That’s what we in law enforcement call a “clue”. And if I radar three cars and one of them immediately panic-brakes, guess which one I’m stopping?

Oftentimes, these folks will try to snatch the detector off the dashboard or window mount and hide it really quick. But that doesn’t work too well when they leave the suction-cup mount stuck on the window (like I don’t know what that’s for) or when they’re in such a hurry to hide it that they forget to turn it off or unplug it and I can hear it chirping away from under the seat, under the hat which was just tossed over it, or inside the center console, warning them of the proximity of the police radar unit in the cruiser now parked right behind their car.

But then we have the real dumb ones, like the guy I stopped one day. As I walked up to him, he immediately began to challenge me, telling me that there’s no way that I could stop him for speeding because his radar detector didn’t go off, which means that I wasn’t using radar, and that I wasn’t behind him long enough to pace him.

Well gee, it’s nice to encounter a citizen who has some knowledge of our procedures. Too bad he wasn’t smart enough to figure out that maybe I was stopping him for something else…like his burnt-out tail light. But now that we’ve discussed that tail light, sir…how about you hand me that radar detector now?

But dumb comes in many strengths, and the dumbest one that I can recall was the kid that I stopped one night because he panic-braked when I radar’d him, and I knew that there was no way that he could have seen my cruiser based on the darkness, distance and location. He was speeding, but he really wasn’t going fast enough for me to have bothered with otherwise, however I smelled the detector and I wanted it so I stopped him.

When I walked up to him, there was no detector in sight. But there on his windshield was the mount for one. I told him to hand me his license, registration and radar detector, and he immediately denied having the detector. I explained why I knew he had one—including his driving behavior and the mount affixed to his windshield—and told him that I’d rather he just handed it over instead of making me search the car for it. He replied that I could not search his car without a warrant or his consent, and rather haughtily told me that he was a law student at local university. Well I just couldn’t let the opportunity to give a little real-life lesson in the concept of “probable cause” pass by, so I stepped him out of the car, listened to his protestations and his promise of retribution in the form of a lawsuit as I secured him in my cruiser for the time being, and proceeded to search for the detector that I had determined was probably in his car. I had to look no further than his center console to find the detector…and a bag of marijuana and two pipes. The brilliant law student had hidden the radar detector right on top of his stash. He wound up getting fifteen days in jail for that, all courtesy of a radar detector and an “I’m smarter than you” attitude.

Man, I love this job.