Showing posts with label Jersey Shore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jersey Shore. Show all posts

04 November 2014

From The Case Files Of Chief David Dean: The Affair of the Threatened Summer


by David Dean

Occasionally, a case so strange, so baffling, so unusual that it defies easy description, arrives on the police blotter.  The following is such a case:

I found myself one early August morning in 2008 standing on a north-end beach of Avalon, NJ with the mayor.  He was not a happy man, and as a result of this, and the sorry mess I was there to witness, I found my own spirits drooping beneath the mercilessly revealing rays of the rising sun.  We were looking at several acres of medical waste festooning our once pristine beaches...and there were weeks yet remaining of the tourist season--the Labor Day weekend looming as its climax. 

This was a scene we had both witnessed a number of times in the past, being something of a Jersey Shore epidemic in the late eighties.  We both also believed that the source of this plague had been successfully squelched years before.  It had been two decades since we had seen the likes of this.  It didn't bode well for the town.  If you know anything about the economics of beach resorts in the northeast, you know that the season is short.  There are but a few months for the townspeople and its shopkeepers to make a year's worth of money.  Every day counts.  And if you know anything about medical waste dumping at sea, you know it takes several days for everything to wash up; sometimes longer, with the media gleefully documenting every syringe-laden tide.  If it helps, call to mind the scene from the movie "Jaws" where the mayor and Chief are standing in front of the billboard.  Remember the bikini-clad gal splashing along on her raft, while the vandal has added a crude depiction of a huge dorsal fin cutting through the waves toward her.  This was such a moment for us--we had just met our shark and he was eating our beach. 

Unlike the fictional mayor of Amity, however, our mayor had wasted no time in attacking the situation, having gathered volunteer firemen, lifeguards, and borough workers to begin the clean-up.  This was being accomplished under the guidance of our equally able Emergency Management Director and investigators from the NJ Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Bureau.  One of my detectives was documenting the scene.  We were treating it as a crime...which it most certainly was.  But it wasn't the detective, or yours truly, that first noticed that something was different about this particular wash-up--it was the mayor.  "Why's it only in this area?" he asked.  Or words to that effect. 

It took me a moment to grasp what he was getting at--we were looking at a fairly concentrated area covering what would be a few city blocks.  In the past, such spills were sometimes spread over miles.  A beach vehicle was dispatched to drive south along the shore to search for more wash-up.  His report was negative.  Then a boat was sent out to try and determine how far out the slick reached.  It was a few hundred yards at most.


In case you're wondering at the significance of these observations, let me explain.  Our previous dealings with illegal dumping had taught us that mostly it was accomplished far out in the shipping channels, and nowhere near shore.  Usually the deed was done from barges being used in the illegal trade of unauthorized medical waste disposal by companies that were lucrative fronts for organized crime families and organizations.  Generally, the material could be traced to medical facilities in New York City and its environs.  When investigators showed up, such fronts, and their employees, vanished like chlorine gas, invisible and toxic.  The practical result of their dumping efforts, however, would spread over many miles as the tide and currents moved them inexorably shoreward.  This was not what we were seeing.  This mess had started within sight of the beach.  This was local, and the joyous scent of prey was suddenly very near.

The waste material itself proved equally unusual.  When one of the investigators from the ECB showed us some of the gathered items, we were all baffled.  They were unquestionably of a medical nature, but nothing that we had come to associate with these events.  There were syringes, but of a type we'd never seen, lots of small cottony swabs, but no bandages, hundreds of small capsules containing some kind of unidentifiable material.  Even the ECB boys (who had been to sites all over the state) were flummoxed.  My detective took some of the evidence back to the station to begin researching it over the internet.  It didn't take long.  This wasn't material from a hospital or clinic--this was waste from a dental practice.  Someone who not only was familiar with the area, but who must have piloted a boat to accomplish this incomprehensible crime.  In my view, as well as others, someone who was close.  During the following two days less and less material washed ashore.  By the fourth day it had ceased altogether.  Only the very north end had been affected by the beach closings, though the publicity hadn't done the town any favors.  Still, it could have been worse.

As the buckets of material were sifted through, object by object, painstakingly photographed and recorded, the first really significant clue was discovered--a dental drill bit with its wrapper miraculously intact.  We had a lot number and a manufacturer. 

Then, like a dank, chill wind issuing forth from the cavern of the troll king, a summons was received from the county prosecutor to attend a strategy meeting at his offices.  As the head law enforcement officer for the county this was his prerogative.  While understanding it, I was also a little curious as to why.  From where I was sitting, our unfortunate situation had no ramifications beyond my own jurisdiction.  There had been no other instances at any other shore towns in the county.  Normally, as chief, I would have remained behind, leaving such meetings to my detectives.  But my antennae had detected a disturbance in the Force, and I decided to attend, as well.  It was good that I did.

Seated around a huge oval table in the prosecutor's conference room were myself, my detective, the two ECB investigators, the prosecutor and his chief detective, and two investigators that worked for him.  My detective laid out our findings.  The ECB boys nodded in agreement.  The prosecutor's crew...scoffed.  A couple of hypodermic needles had washed ashore in a town north of us. They had seen this all before.  This was just your usual off-shore dumping, and its effects would show up on other beaches in other towns sooner, rather than later.  A local event, indeed! 

It was clear that the publicity attendant to our unfortunate situation had gained the prosecutor's attention.  Seeing how my department was working with the state AG's environmental investigators (and she was the prosecutor's boss), he wanted in.   

It was also obvious that the syringes in Ocean City were a few insulin needles and did not remotely resemble ours.  I took umbrage.  Not with the prosecutor's rights, or even his motives, but with their sneering condescension.  Umbrage is something I've taken a few times both before, during, and after being a chief of police.  Umbrage means that I clench my teeth, hear bells ringing too loudly, and think dark and bloody thoughts.  Entering the fray, I politely, but forcefully, disagreed, outlining my own extensive experience with these very things; carefully explaining so that even those challenged by their own overblown, and totally unrealistic, high opinions of themselves could understand; making sure to prick the swollen balloons of their egos with the sharp needle of reason and objectivity.  After the long silence that followed, the prosecutor agreed that we should be allowed to continue our futile line of investigation.  He even agreed that a reward should be offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.  I felt this would bring heat on our perpetrator, wherever he was, as well as the promise that we now had, courtesy of the drill bit maker, a very manageable list of dentist offices that had purchased the lot number recovered from our beach.  I could see no reason not to put this out there for him to hear and sweat.  We promised to stay in touch and left that dark, unhappy, place.

My plan did not take long to bear fruit.  On September 2, even as my detectives were making their way through the list of dental practices that ran from Jersey to the Philadelphia Main Line, a stranger presented himself in the lobby.  He wished to speak with an officer.  Before the day was over, a 59 year old dentist from Pa. had confessed to the illegal dumping of approximately 300 "Accuject" dental-type needles, 180 cotton swabs, and a number of plastic capsules containing filling material, as well as other items.  A search warrant executed at his home and practice revealed evidence that corroborated his confession and he was subsequently charged.

A few days later, the county prosecutor hosted a press conference lauding the arrest and the excellent cooperation between agencies that led to it.  His boss, the Attorney General, was in attendance for his big moment.  I was allowed a few words.  When asked by a reporter how I felt about the arrest, I smiled and said, "I could not be happier.  I feel like Chief Brody when he got the shark."

The strange dentist never offered a motive for what he did, and to this day, I sometimes find myself wondering why.  Medical waste disposal for the average dental office at that time cost about 700 dollars a year.  It couldn't have been the money. 

It had been twenty years since anyone had been arrested for illegally dumping medical waste in New Jersey ocean waters.





         

 





   


21 August 2012

Breakfast On The Boardwalk


by David Dean

Morey's Pier Wildwood, NJ
 Last Monday (July 30), Robin and I started our week by having breakfast on a Ferris wheel.  This simple feat may sound difficult, but the magic of the Jersey Shore and it's signature boardwalks are more than a match for such challenges.  It was not, as you might imagine, the scarfing down of an egg and scrapple wrap (What... You don't know what scrapple is?) while trying to balance a cup of coffee on your knee...oh no.  We had a table with a white linen cloth and a breakfast that had been prepared to order, with actual plates, silverware, and the juice of our choice.  The operators even had the Ferris wheel rotate slowly for our dining pleasure; allowing us to stop near the top and enjoy the view of the great Atlantic on one side, and the bustling boardwalk and streets of Wildwood on the other.  Nature cooperated, as well, and we had a sunny morning with a cool breeze coming off the ocean.  Not a bad way to start your day, I can tell you.  It's moments such as these that make everything seem worthwhile.

There's something about shore towns that are engaging and evocative.  And they run the gamut here in New Jersey, we have everything from the hustle and bustle of such blue-collar destinations as Wildwood and Asbury Park, to the glitz and glamor (of a sort) of Atlantic City and its casinos by the sea, and just about everything else in between.  Looking down from my white linen breakfast, I was impressed with the sheer number of people hitting the boards and the beaches by nine o'clock in the AM.  I worked so many nights as a cop that I had almost forgotten that there is a morning out there.  It sure looked nice this day.
 
Haunted Freighter
To our north rose a great roller coaster, beneath which squatted a rusting hulk of a haunted freighter, while east of us lay a vast network of pools and slides comprising a water park.  Kids were screaming, splashing, sliding, and having the times of their lives.  If it had been up to them, the park would have opened at dawn and they would have been there since.  It made me nostalgic for my own family's youth and the raising of our children.  It also reminded me of how much all this ebb and flow of humanity at the seaside had influenced my life.  Besides my policing a shore town, my son had been a lifeguard for ten years, and Robin still teaches at an island school.  My first stories were set in a mythical Jersey Shore town, and many still are.  Yet, I grew up in Georgia, two hundred miles from the nearest salt water.  Life has a way of taking you places you never planned on.  It all began with a Jersey girl named Robin...but that's another story altogether.

Bahamas
Today is my birthday, and as you read this I have run away to the sea.  In fact, I am aboard a 43 foot sailing catamaran heading south through the Bahamas to Great Exuma Island.  I bet you didn't see that coming!  The captain has warned me that the Internet is often out-of-reach in these turquoise waters, so I may not be able to respond to comments in any kind of a timely manner, or at all.  I'm sharing the boat with my Jersey girl, Robin, my brother, Danny, and his wife, Wanda.  We are the merry crew of the "StrayCat."  Like I said earlier, life has a way of taking you places...

15 November 2011

Greetings From The Jersey Shore


by David Dean
Jersey ShoreThe title of this posting should give you a clue as to where I live, though I fear it may also induce acute nausea in those of you who have been exposed to the reality television version of this area.  It can get bad here during the heady summer months, but perhaps not that bad.  In any event, there are those of us who find the Shore (not beach or coast or seaside) a very fine place to live.  It also gave me a career, after the army, of rounding up and knuckling down on the hi-jinks and high spirits of such as the "Jersey Shore" crowd when they crossed the line.  This could be satisfying.
I didn't start out to be policeman; it just worked out that way.  In fact, I'm not even from the Garden State, but from that very close relative somewhat to the south, Georgia.  However, the die was cast when I met and married my own Jersey Girl, who could not be less like... Pookie, is it?  Honestly...Pookie?  I ask ya?  Had that unlikely scenario occurred; instead of writing this today I would probably be serving a very long sentence in a very small room.  However, I struck lucky, and Robin and I have been together for most of our lives.  But it was she that got me here.

For nearly seven years I dragged her and the kids across the states and over to Europe as part of my stint in the army.  For those of you who have spent any time in the military with a family, you'll know what I mean when I say it was hard...very hard.  So with the kids still young we made the decision to get out and I further agreed to her wish to be close to her parents.  It seemed the least I could do. 

But even that I couldn't quite get right--I couldn't find work in the area where her parents lived and we were fast running out of money!  A friend of mine who lived  in South Jersey (the natives make a very big deal about the distinction between north and south here) called me and invited me to visit and look for work at the 'Shore'.  I did, and walked into a job as a cop.  I say walked in, but in reality I competed against a pool of several hundred (mostly locals) and came out as one of two who were sent on to the Police Academy.  It was a miracle--the last of my army paychecks had just run out and we were saved!  And it was more of a miracle than I even realized at the time.  I found I loved police work and that I had somehow landed in just the right place for me and my family.  We even bought a house (a very tiny house, but a house); life was getting good.

The police profession treated me well, and Robin went on to get a full time position as a kindergarten teacher, where she still is.  To this day I have little kids run up to me, point, and say, "You're Mrs. Dean's husband!"  Like that's some big deal.  Before my retirement I would point at my badge and answer, "Oh yeah, well I'm also the police chief around here!"  This usually elicited a second and more emphatic exclamation of, "You're Mrs. Dean's husband!"  Alright already...I get it...don't you have parents?

Somewhere along the road I was taking some college courses and found myself in an arts appreciation class (mandatory, don't you know) and my final project was to produce a work of art.  "Art?" says I.  "I can't draw."  "What can you do?" says the professor with a small challenging smile.  He had seen my kind before.  "Uh..." thinking hard...thinking very hard.  "Maybe I could write something," I offer.  His expression shifted over to one of subtle doubt.  "Okay," says he.  I did, and produced my first story.  Not surprisingly, it was about a patrolman at the Jersey Shore, and in this tale, one attempting to apprehend a particularly violent burglar.  I drew the details from a case I had worked.  The prof liked it and said I should submit it to a magazine, which I did, and "The See-Through Man" (1990) became my first published story with Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and also the beginning of a long and satisfying relationship with that august publication...except for the fact that sometimes my stories are turned down.  I don't like to say 'rejected' because that sounds so unsatisfyingBut I don't want to dwell on that here...maybe later...in a more tearful posting (bring hankies).

So now I am retired, and find myself joining the assembled company of SleuthSayers and friends.  Some of the staff writers here I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting through Criminal Brief; others I have met while out and about in our small world.  I hope to provide some useful service by my scribblings, if only to amuse you ("What...I amuse you?") or at the very least, not to embarrass myself or others.  But if I don't manage it, just turn the page (figuratively in this case) and move on, as this is the judgement and sentencing that all writers must bear if they fail to keep up their end of the bargain.



So with that, "I'll catch youse later (as they say around here)."