Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Poor judgment can be expensive

And then there was the day that we were all out making overtime bucks on a crackdown on speeders. Pretty much every officer not on regular duty was in making some extra cash, and I was no exception. I’d taken a laser and a few ticket books and gone down to one of my favorite hunting spots—the bottom of a long descending section of highway that’s about a mile past a point where the speed limit drops ten miles an hour from 55 to 45mph.

Now prior to this point, there are four signs either announcing the speed limit change or warning people of the impending speed limit change, so as far as I’m concerned, tagging people here is fair game. They were clearly warned.

What I do here is simple: I stand just off the side of the road with my laser, spot speeders, estimate their speed visually, then confirm with the laser. Then I walk out into the roadway, flag the speeder to a halt, then bring them over onto the shoulder to conduct business. It’s quick and easy and I can bang out dozens of tickets in relatively short order here, all of them for seriously excessive speed, typically well over and above even the 55pmh limit back up the highway. I understand that almost everyone speeds a little, so I’m casting my net for the big fish: the ones who are driving in excess of 75mph and who are therefore eligible for a Reckless Driving cite, which anyone doing more than 30mph over the limit here qualifies for.

I ding a few people without incident for a while, and then I see this Mercedes convertible whipping down the highway at virtually light-speed. I estimate 90mph and laser confirms 92. (Damn, I’m good…) I step out to wave this man down, and as he slows to a stop, I can see that he’s waving something and shouting “I already got one!”

OK, He got something. But what? And why should I care?

However, me being the curious sort, I ask him the first question. He responds by telling me that he just got a ticket from my “friend up the road.” As he’s holding it, I ask to see it, and sure enough, one of my fellow overtime whores has just stroked this guy for 86 on a 55mph zone. All I can do is smile as I direct him over onto the shoulder.

“But I just got a ticket!”

So now I have to explain to him that we do not operate under a system which grants carte blanche to anyone previously cited for a specific violation to commit it again for the rest of the day. “This ticket is for speeding back there,” I tell him as I hand his first reckless Driving ticket back to him. “Now we’re going to address your speed here. This is totally different.”

“Look, I’m on the way to the airport for a flight and I’m late! You guys are going to make me miss my plane!” He even showed me his airline ticket, which appeared to confirm that his flight was due to depart in a bit less than an hour.

So let’s see…he knew what time his plane was supposed to take off, but he dithered and now I’m making him miss his plane? Like I went into his house this morning and hit his alarm clock’s “snooze” button too many times? Whatever. If he was trying for sympathy, all he managed to do was compel me to write out the ticket just that much slower. I also took a moment to phone my compadre back up the highway and let him know who I just stopped.

“He was a total tool,” my squad-mate said when he heard the name. “Nail him hard.”

So I nailed him, just like I was going to do anyway. And predictably, when I walked back up to him and handed him his latest citation—his second Reckless Driving cite of the morning—he was in a lather. And of course it was all our/my fault.

“Now I’m really late! It’ll be a miracle if I make my flight now, thanks to you guys!” Just give me that ticket.”

But I held it back to make sure that I had his full attention.

“Sir, you need to know that your speed is not safe nor is it appropriate. Now I can understand your frustration as being late, but maybe next time you’ll want to get up a bit earlier so that you can get to the airport in a legal, safe manner.” I then proceeded to explain to him that he now has a second mandatory court date, but that because I was nice, I scheduled it for the same day as his previous mandatory court date.

“Just give me my license,” he yelled, visibly upset. “I have to go!”

“Sir, if you can’t calm down and drive safely, you won’t be going anywhere. I’m not having you driving badly like this on my highway, so what we’re going to do here is that I’m going to give you your license back, but then I’m going to follow you as far as the airport just to make sure that you drive safely. And if I see you exceed the speed limit even by a few miles an hour—or if I see you do anything else that’s unsafe—I’ll not only stop you again but I’ll be taking you off the road and arresting you, do you understand?”

“You can’t do that!”

“Well Sir, you just watch me in your rearview mirror if you think I can’t, because I’ll be right there.” And I handed him his license and his new ticket back and went back to my cruiser.

He was watching me as he pulled out, and I could almost feel his rage reflecting back as I pulled right out behind him. Some people are worth giving up a honey hole for.

I followed him all the way to the airport, about seven miles. And all the way there, he held his speed just under the limit as he alternated between watching his speedometer, watching me in his mirror, and occasionally actually glancing at the road ahead. It took us almost ten minutes to get to the airport ramp, but he kept it under 45mph the whole way. I checked the dash clock and it was 27 minutes before his plane’s scheduled departure time. He’d never park and get inside now in time to board. Oh well…

He did show up in court though. And the judge was less than moved, finding him guilty of both Reckless Driving charges after he rejected the prosecutor’s offer to dismiss one in exchange of a guilty plea on the other. He earned twelve points on his license and half a year on the bus following a six-month license suspension. I’m betting that insurance for that Mercedes just got pretty expensive, too. But if you’re going to be dumb…

Did I mention that I really enjoy my job sometimes?

Oh, deer!

So one evening, I’m just driving along on patrol on a rural back road, minding my own business of course, when this stupid deer bolts out in front of me.
I brake, I swerve…I still hit it and send it tumbling into the ditch.


I get out look at my cruiser. The left front headlight is shattered and the whole headlight bucket area is dished in. Fantastic. Now I get to do an accident report. I hate accident reports with a passion, even ones that don’t involve my own personal data.

Next I walk up to the deer. It’s laying there looking at me, making no effort to get up. I figure it must be hurt pretty bad if it won’t even try to run away.

I key up my radio, call in the “10-50 involved”, which indicates that there’s been a collision and I’m part of it, then notify our dispatcher that I’m going to be shooting an injured deer.

Almost like it understood, the deer looks at me as if to say “shoot who?!” and then it stands up and runs off into the woods.

For a few seconds, I’m happy for the deer. But then it dawns on me that without the deer, it’s just me and a busted patrol car and no way for me to prove what just happened.

“Come back!” I yell into the woods after the deer. But alas, the deer is not willing to cooperate.

A few minutes later, my sergeant shows up. He’s rightly skeptical of my claim that the damage was caused by a deer that’s not even here, but fortunately, there was a bit of deer fur and blood on the car at the impact point, so he believed my story.

My squad-mates were another matter, however. It was several days before I stopped hearing references to “the alleged deer” in the locker room and at roll call.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ah, Eugene, Eugene, Eugene, Eugene...

So one day, I'm just tooling along through the neighborhoods when I see this white Ford Escort with a messed up left front fender pass me going the other way. The driver gives me that "Oh-shit-it's-the-police" look as we pass, so I know instantly that he's guilty of something even though I have no idea what it is. I bang a U-turn to begin following him with the hope that I can find a lawful reason to stop him, but he makes it easy for me by punching the gas and trying to jack-rabbit away.

Dude--you've got a Ford Escort and I've got a Crown Vic Police Interceptor. Come on...

I hit the lights and siren and of course he refuses to stop. I put the pursuit out on my radio, but no sooner do I get the words out than he skids to a stop in front of an apartment building and bails out. I slide to a stop and go out after him, but he gets to the building door ahead of me and runs inside. I'm slowed down a bit by my need to quick-peek the doorway and subsequent corners, and he gets up the stairs and into one of the apartments on the third floor before I can make it up there. I have no idea which unit he's in, and of course I can't expect any of his friends and neighbors to rat him out. OK, fine. But I still have his car downstairs. I go back down, and when my back-up arrives, I toss the car to find the name of the owner and discover a bag of weed in the center console. Turns out that the car is unregistered and the tags are expired and belong on another car. (Big shock in this neighborhood...) At least I got the guy's dope, and I'll impound the car, which means that someone is going to have to pony up some cash and ownership documents to get it back from the tow yard or forfeit the car altogether. Other than the fender and the typically filthy interior, it's not really a bad car.

So as I wait on the impound tow truck, knucklehead starts yelling at me out the window, taunting me for being slow. He quits laughing when I yell back that I'm taking his car.
A few minutes pass, and then a woman walks out of the building and tells me that the car's driver is her baby's daddy and that all of her tax documents are in the car and she needs those to get her tax refund. She wants to get them out. I tell her that I'm not letting her or anyone else take anything out of the car, but that if he wants to come down and surrender himself, I'll leave the car here instead of impounding it.
"Oh, he not gonna do that," she replies.
"Tough break," I say. "That's the only way I let this car or anything in it go."
She goes back inside. A minute later, he starts cussing me out of the window. Unfortunately I can't tell which window. Oh well. I take another look in the car and sure enough, there's an envelope inside with filled-out income tax forms and documents. At least I know who she is and her apartment number now. But I still don't know his name and I won't be able to get a warrant for her apartment with what I've got, especially since all the charges at this point are traffic violations.
I wait some more. Then a large woman walks up to me and tells me that the Escort is her son's car. She says that he's not a bad boy and that he's actually trying to do right and provide for his babies (I note the plural) and that he has a job that he was just coming back from. She says that he really needs the car and that he was just scared because his driver's license "might" be suspended (I'd be surprised if it wasn't) and she begs me to just leave him and the car be. I ask her what his name is and where he's at, and of course she says that she can't tell me that. I tell her to have a nice day and to let him know that he can get the car back from the impound yard if he shows up there with a valid registration and the towing and storage fees. I also wish like hell that this city would require a valid driver's license before releasing an impounded car like so many other cities do, but they don't and the hood rats all know it which is why many of these cars go through cycles of being impounded by the police and redeemed by the same owners who don't have drivers' licenses and probably never will. Once they get a few hundred dollars in fines, it's really not cost-effective to pay them as the fine for driving without a license here is minimal and can be paid at the police station without even having to show up in court.

Big Mama steps away and goes to sit on the stoop, where she is joined by other people--friends, relatives, or whoever--all of whom take to pleading with me over and over to just let him and the car go. Meanwhile he's still sporadically cursing me out the window, so I tell his mother that the more he does that, the less charitable I feel towards him. So she stands up, walks out to the sidewalk, looks up at the building, and hollers: "Eugene! You stop that right now! You making it worse!"
Eugene yells back. "Dammit Mama, you just told him my name!"
I have to laugh. Real rocket scientists, this bunch.
I call up to Eugene and tell him to just come down and take the arrest like a man and quit putting all of these women to so much trouble. He curses me again and tells me not to be putting his business out in front of everybody. I respond by shouting back and asking him what he's going to do about it. Come down here, maybe?
He curses again but says nothing more until the tow truck arrives. At this time, nearly a dozen people are standing there with Big Mama and Baby's Mama, imploring me not to take the car. Kind of touching, all of this concern for a knucklehead, but not nearly touching enough. The car goes away and we all clear.

I have my scheduled days off, and when I get back to work early the next week, I check with the tow yard, and sure enough, Eugene or someone on his behalf showed up and redeemed the car. It cost them about $400.00 but they got it back. Of course I still have no last name for Eugene, but I know where he's staying, what he drives, and more than likely, what time he gets home from whatever job he has. So I go back out there a little before the time that I saw him last week and I and a back-up officer just sit in a parking lot near where I first saw him driving and we wait.

Sure enough, there goes that same white Escort with the messed-up front fender, and the same knucklehead is driving. He sees us right about the time that we're shifting our cruisers into "Drive" and he takes off again. We go after him, and it's clear that he's going to try the same trick. He races right back to the same apartment building and skids to a stop in front of it, just like he did the last time, but I'm closer now, and when he throws open his door to bail out, it just hits my bumper as I slide to a stop next to him, leaving him with no way to get out of the left side of his car. He jumps across and tries to go out the passenger side but we're on him and this time, Eugene gets grabbed and taken off to jail.

And for good measure, I impound his car again.

I charge him with everything that I can hang on him for today's dumb stunt--Operating Without a License, Operating Without Insurance, Unregistered Auto, Fleeing to Elude (at this time, only a misdemeanor in that city) etc., and I get warrants for him for the same charges based on the preceding week and serve those on him too before we let him go. I also hang a Possession of MJ charge on him, but as expected, the city attorney ash-canned that one since I didn't take it off him and because the car that I found it in wasn't registered to him. Eugene spent the night in jail and was released the next day pending his court appearance.

OK, now I felt like we were at least even, but we have a thing here for making sure that the community understands that it's not a good idea for individuals to try to punk us. Come Saturday afternoon, I head back over to that area and sit and wait again. Like clockwork, there goes Eugene in that Escort again. Since I already know that his license is suspended, I go after him. This time he stops his car on the left side of the street so I can't block his door, and he bails out again. So I run my cruiser up over the curb and use it to cut him off from the building's door, and I jump out and tackle him. Once more, Eugene's off to jail, and his car's off to impound. And this time, since he's already got an open case and is out on supervised release, his getting re-arrested on new charges means that he has to sit in jail until his public defender can get a pre-trial release hearing for him, and that usually takes a few weeks. Plus I impounded his car yet again.

A month or so passed, and I'd not thought about Eugene much, but then one afternoon I happened to be driving through that neighborhood again and coming up the road towards me was that White Escort again...and Eugene was driving it!

I stopped, waiting for him to pass so I could U-turn on him and chase him back to his building again, but this time Eugene just pulled over to the curb, parked his car, and stuck his hands out the window.
"I'm tired of this, Officer Krupke," he said, "I ain't even gonna run no more!"

I was so proud of Eugene for learning his lesson that this time when I arrested him again, I didn't even impound his car.

Eventually all of the charges that I'd laid on Eugene from these four encounters got him probation, a heap of community service, a year in jail--suspended of course--and a promise from the judge that if he got arrested again, he'd do the whole year. I gave myself two weeks to nail him again and make that come true, but Eugene either moved away or sold the Escort because I never saw him or that little white Ford again. But at least he was good for four arrests in my stat book and hopefully served as an object lesson to his neighbors. Moral of the story: If you're going to run from the police, don't just try to run home, and once the police have your number and know that you're suspended, it's probably not a good idea to keep driving the same distinctive car down the same roads at the same time every day.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some people's Kids, again.

So I was checking a local park one day when I saw a lone car parked way off in a remote parking area. Being the curious sort, I coasted over to it and saw on my approach that it contained two people. I parked behind it and got out and walked up on them just to say hello (because I’m really working on my “Officer Friendly” people skills), make sure that everything was all right, and see what they were doing.

As it turned out, they were high-school-aged teens and they were drinking beer. Additionally, his pants are open and he’s exposed. It looked like he was getting some action before I rolled up and killed the mood.


So I pull the male driver out of the car and get his ID. He’s actually being fairly cooperative, so I sit him down on the grass ahead of and to the left of his car where I can keep an eye on him, and then I go around to have a few words with his girlfriend and fellow underage drinker in the passenger seat. And here’s where it started to get stupid.

I get her out of the car, noticing that she has just set an opened beer can on the floor by her seat. I ask her for her ID and she replies that I don’t have any probable cause to ask her for her personal information. I let her know that I don’t need “probable cause” to request her ID and that me seeing her in the car with the beer is more than enough reason for me to ask for it. Then she starts trying to break this down, telling me that she doesn’t believe that I had any probable cause (that phrase again) to even approach them, and therefore I have no grounds to ID either of them. I let her know that I have every right to walk up to anyone sitting in a public place just the same as anyone else does and I tell her to come up with her ID.

Now all this time, her boyfriend is sitting peacefully on the grass, not causing me a bit of trouble. But this one, she’s giving me more than enough for both of them. And as it turns out, she’s just getting started.

Next she tells me that she had no ID with her. I tell her that if she wants to stick to that claim, I’ll just figure out who she is after I arrest her for minor in possession of alcohol. Then she smugly tells me that without proof that she’s a minor, I can’t arrest her for that.

I debate just locking her up right there, but I really don’t want a juvenile arrest, so I have her sit down on the grass and I ask her boyfriend if he minds if I take a look through his car. He quickly says that he has no problem, even as she’s trying to tell him that he doesn’t have to let me (I’m starting to suspect that she’s some sleazy defense lawyer’s kid by now) so with his consent, I reach in, pick up the purse that’s sitting on the seat, open it up, and extract a pocketbook with a driver’s license clearly visible in a plastic holder on the outside. “Well that was easy enough,” I say as I take the license out of the holder.

She’s on her feet in a flash. “You have no right to touch my purse!”

I explain that the owner of the car gave me consent to search the car, and the purse was unattended in the car, so yeah, that means that I get to look in there. And since it means that I don’t have to take her to jail, she should count her blessings and sit back down on the grass. She backs onto the grass but remains standing until I tell her that if I have to tell her again, she’s going in cuffs. Now she sits.

I give the car a cursory once-over and take the beer out. Both kids come back clean on the record checks so I tell the boy to call his parents and let me talk with them. He complies and in short order, I have his parents coming down to get him. Not a big deal at this point—he’s just getting a juvenile cite for the beer and I’m not letting him drive. He’s actually fine with that.

But then I get back to her. She won’t call her parents. She tells me that she doesn’t know their phone numbers. Her newest claim is that they refuse to give her their numbers, because they belong to a bike gang and travel around the country. Going on, she tells me how they only call her from pre-paid cell phones with blocked numbers so that she can’t even see their numbers on her caller ID.

I’ve had enough of her so I go back into her purse, take her phone out, open it up, and check the directory. As expected, there are listings for both “Mom” and “Dad”. She now gets upset and jumps up, launching into a profanity-laced tirade, so I grab her and cuff her and put her in my back seat, explaining as I do that she’s not under arrest yet but that she is being detained “for her safety and my own”. (I’ve never understood how that’s for their safety, but then I’ve never really much cared.)

Before I can even get the tickets finished, his parents show up. They seem like decent people and mom tells me that the problem is his girlfriend. This of course elicits a shout of “Fuck you!” from my partially-opened back seat windows. Mom look back at her and replies: “And that’s right where you belong, Jennifer! The back seat of a police car on your way to jail!” Jennifer starts to curse some more, but I slap the window with my hand and tell her to knock it off, actually silencing her for a minute. After I give him a quick PBT to make sure that he’s not totally drunk, (he wasn’t), Junior’s mom and dad took him and his car away. And since he had been nothing but cooperative I didn’t even bother bringing up the lap action that he was getting.

And then Jennifer’s parents showed up.

With no leather or chains or visible tattoos, they sure didn’t look like bike gang members. What’s more, they were very polite and apologetic and struck me right off as normal, decent people. And when Jennifer started to run her mouth again, her own mother told her to shut up before I could. I talked to them out of her earshot for a bit, explaining things. This time I did mention the lap action, and I got the impression that if Dad ever saw the boy again, the boy wasn’t going to come off too well. Mom was very apologetic and thanked me for not arresting their daughter, who, as it turned out, had already been arrested and convicted twice for underage possession.

Well that explains all of her “legal knowledge”…And to make it better, Jennifer was now 18 years old, so she got a ticket for grown-up court this time.

I took her out of the car, uncuffed her, and told her that she was going to get to go home with her parents but only if she cooperated with the PBT. As expected, she tried to fake blowing into it, but eventually I got a sample (and a result for my court case) and I set about finishing up her ticket and my notes. She began to argue with her mother at this point, and in no time at all, she yelled “Fuck you, bitch!”

Her mom immediately and without hesitation slapped her face. Hard. I mean, that slap cracked so loud that it produced an echo.

Jennifer gasped, then turned to me and screamed: “That’s domestic abuse! You have to arrest her right now! I demand that you arrest her for that!”

Nice kid, trying to get her own mom locked up when Mom was only here to keep her from going to jail.

But I told Jennifer that I’d been looking away and hadn’t actually seen the slap. I also told her that I’d heard something, but that it just sounded like a parent giving her kid some basic discipline. Mom looked at me, grinned, and mouthed “Thank you” and I gave her a wink as Jennifer ran to their car and got in the back seat, slamming the door shut. I looked over to Dad and he gave me a “thumb’s up”. Both parents told me that they don’t let her run wild and that they try to keep control on her, but she’s been running wild and threatening to call Social Services and claim abuse whenever they try to punish her. They were ecstatic to see that Jennifer’s first actual attempt to get them in trouble had failed spectacularly.

They took her away, and I didn’t see or hear from them again until her court appearance, when the mother came up to me, shook my hand, and thanked me again for not taking either her or Jennifer to jail. I already knew that the boy had pled guilty in Juvenile Court and gotten a deferred sentence and a driver’s license suspension until his 18th birthday pursuant to state law, but when Jennifer’s case was called in regular (adult) court, and after I’d testified, the judge gave her 120 hours of community service. The judge asked her if there was anything that would pose a problem with that sentence, and Jennifer exclaimed that she’d planned on spending the summer at the beach with her friends. This judge is a funny judge though, and he told her that if she was lucky, perhaps the city would let her work on their golf course because the sand traps have sand so it’d be just like the beach.

It’s not every day that you hear people laughing in court, but that one had everyone except Jennifer cracking up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Some people's kids...

So one summer night about 1AM or thereabouts, I’m driving along, minding my own business, when I see an SUV go by in the other direction with four teens in it. Of course these are white kids from the ‘burbs, so they don’t have a clue about playing it cool. Instead, they treat me to a fantastic display of the “Oh shit—we’re busted!” look as we pass each other.

Now I don’t know what these idiots are up to but I know that there’s something going on, so I bang a U-turn and go after the SUV. Fortunately the driver has decided to make it easy for me by rabbiting up to the next cross-street and then pulling into a subdivision and quickly dousing the lights. Granted, I had lost sight of the vehicle for a second or two while turning around, but this trick is so predictable that when I didn’t see the SUV on the road, I just knew where I’d find it. Sure enough—As I rounded the first right-turn corner, there it was, making like a parked and unoccupied.

I pulled up behind it and activated all of my lights. Marking out with the stop, I used my PA to tell them to sit up and raise their hands so that I could make sure that no one was holding anything dangerous. I also told the driver to lower all of the windows then turn the engine off. Then I walked up to see him.

As I approached and looked into the back seat at the two scared high-school boys sitting there, the smell of beer was almost strong enough to wrinkle my shirt. I asked the visibly nervous driver for his license and registration, then I asked him where the beer was.

All four immediately started to deny having any beer at all.

Come on, guys…Do I really look that stupid?

Back-up arrives and I step all four of them out and seat them on the curb. Sure enough, there are partially-full beer cans under both front seats. Beer is also sloshing around on the floorboards, the result of four panicked kids trying to shove opened beer cans under seats that aren’t high enough to allow beer cans to be shoved under them vertically.

The SUV belongs to the parents of the driver. It’s not even three weeks old. It probably still had that “new car” scent to it a few minutes ago. Now it’s going to have a “stale beer” smell.

I give each kid a breath test on my portable breath tester. All four have consumed alcohol and each gets cited for underage consumption. And now comes the fun part…calling four sets of parents at one in the morning to tell them to come get their kids.

One boy begged me not to call his father, an Army Major on the nearby post. He said that his dad had promised to send him to military school if he messed up one more time, and he really, really didn’t want to have to go to military school. Of course I didn’t believe him, but even if I had, I wouldn’t have cared. I started calling and in short order, four very unhappy parents were on the way to the scene of my traffic stop.

Typically when this sort of thing happens, the parents are often madder at me than at their precious little darlings, so I was expecting to get some attitude from a couple of them. However the Major arrived first.

I explained to him what had happened, and showed him the beer. He looked into the SUV and saw all of the spilled beer that was quickly reeking it up. Then he turned and began to dress down all four of the boys in a manner worthy of a Drill Sergeant. He went on and on about stupidity and thoughtlessness and the risks to their future, then he excoriated them for wrecking the interior of the SUV. They wouldn’t even make eye contact with him as he went on and on, pacing back and forth in front of them.

As the other parents arrived in short order, he joined me as I told them what had been going on, and he apologized to each of them for his son’s role. He also requested that the other parents wait around for a few minutes, and when the owners of the SUV showed up, the Major made each boy apologize to them for dumping the beer all over the floor carpeting. I was really liking this guy. Why can’t more parents be like him?

Finally, after the other boys were sent home with their parents and their juvenile court appearance tickets, the Major put his son in his own car, then apologized to me for all of the trouble. I told him that it was just my job and that it wasn’t a problem for me. I then told him that his son had claimed that the Major was going to send him to military school if I’d called him. I’d expected the Major to get a chuckle out of that, but he looked at me with a serious expression on his face and said that he had told his boy that, and that he’d meant it. Apparently this wasn’t the boy’s first screw up and as a result of this incident, the boy was going to spend his upcoming junior year and probably his senior year at a nearby military prep school where he could get a bit more structure away from his bad-influence friends.

I cleared the scene thinking that if every parent cared as much as this one did, my job and that of most other cops would be a lot easier.