Showing posts with label police. Show all posts
Showing posts with label police. Show all posts

11 June 2015

Is Cincinnati Reenacting The Wire?


Police and politics have been in the news here in Cincinnati in recent weeks. We've been spared the latest round of shootings followed by riots that seems to have overtaken other cities. (Twice in the case of Cleveland, just four hours north of here.) But other problems have arisen.

Our police chief is a man named Jeffery Blackwell, who came to the Queen City from Columbus. Blackwell was named near the end of the previous mayor's term. Three weeks ago, it became news that the Chief would resign after two years on the job, then changed his mind. Despite denials from Blackwell, Mayor John Cranley, and other officials, stories of discord between city hall and the police department are rampant. Then this week, in the wake of a rash of shootings in the Avondale neighborhood, the city demanded Blackwell come up with a 90-day plan to reduce violence. I've seen this before.

It was a recurring theme on The Wire.

To recap, David Simon's Baltimore had a police department hamstrung by senior officers jockeying for position to become the next commissioner. Division captains and lieutenants found themselves terrorized by promotion-minded assistant chiefs at "comstat" meetings, where they had to explain why the crime rate was so high and what they planned to do about it. Never mind that the criminals causing all the trouble had to cooperate. Many of the plans and the personnel moves were tied to politics. Watching the news, I can't help but notice that so are the real-life moves in Cincinnati.

For starters, the increased crime in Avondale, while horrifying, belies a crime rate lower than in past years. There have been increased shootings on the West Side as well, but they make the news as individual incidents, not as a sudden spike in gun crime in one part of the city. But Avondale is two neighborhoods away from downtown and Over-the-Rhine, far enough out to spare the business district and the gentrifying neighborhood to the north of it, but close enough to the stadium to spook city leaders. Why are they spooked?

The All Star Game is coming in a couple of weeks. And so, with the local stations harping on Avondale's rise in shootings, city leaders have turned to that time-tested means of looking like they're on the job: Tell the police to do something, dammit. So Chief Blackwell was given a week to solve a problem that has been building since last year.

Sound like The Wire?

Then we have the hostility between city hall and the CPD. Chief Blackwell replaced James Craig, who left to take over the police department in his native Detroit. However, Blackwell started shortly before the last mayoral election, which means Mayor Cranley did not have a hand in choosing the chief. The current city manager also did not have a hand in the decision. One has to wonder if the administration's need to put its stamp on the police department is outweighing the need for stable leadership in the CPD.

That is speculation, of course, but every time Chief Blackwell, Mayor Cranley, or some council member opens their mouth now, I can't help but think back to Mayors Royce and Carcetti ripping some hapless commissioner a new one on The Wire. Cincinnati does not have all of Baltimore 's problems. If anything, we manage our police-race relation issues better than cities that looked at us funny during the 2001 riots. But when politicians fall all over themselves on the eve of a major sporting event, I can't help but wonder if life is imitating art. It wouldn't surprise me. Some of the cops and criminals depicted on The Wire were also writers and actors on the show.

19 May 2015

Attitude and Cops


by Jim Winter

A lot of attention lately has been focused on police lately. And why not? Unarmed people die in confrontations, it brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions about training and race and whether police departments are getting too militaristic. But this past week, I got an up-close-and-personal look at what police officers face on a daily basis.

About ten days ago, my wife and I went out of town for the night. It was the first time we'd left our boy home by himself. He's gone off on his own overnight, even flying back from Germany on his own at the age of 16, but for some reason, in 20 years, he'd never had the house to himself for more than an evening. On our way to our destination, my wife says, "What if he throws a party, gets the police called, and mouths off?" AJ is at that age where he knows the law better than his parents or even the cops. And you can't argue with him because, unlike me or his mother at 20-21, he has the Internet on his side.

So last week, I get a knock at the door. Sure enough, Friday night while we were gone, AJ's friends made a lot of noise - though only enough, apparently, to rile up that one nosy neighbor on everyone's street. The couple across the street and the elderly couple next door had no clue there was even a party - and the deputies arrived to quiet things down. And AJ showed off his legal knowledge.

And the deputy came by to let us know. The deputy is about my age with a kid about AJ's age, so he knew all about attitude. We got a good laugh out of it, and AJ's attitude toward the police has softened somewhat in the past week or so.

But it makes me think of my own interactions with police over the years. The closest I've ever come to being arrested was when I went on a job interview only to find out I was doing drive-by sales. You barge into a business and sell junk to whoever will buy just to get you out. Only Middletown, Ohio, is not the friendliest city to solicitors, and we had the cops called on us. So when they asked if I was interested in this job, I said no. If I wanted to deal with the cops, I'd just keep the driving habits I had since I was 16.

And because I was young and stupid behind the wheel, I dealt with a lot of cops. Very quickly, I learned that, if you handed a cop your license and registration (or now insurance papers), things go a lot more smoothly. Why mouth off? You know you were doing 80 in school zone. Suck it up, buttercup, and pay the fine. You also find that, if you're not an ass when you're pulled over, the offense on the ticket somehow goes down.

Sometimes.

I have mouthed off to a couple of cops. Once, when I was really young, I made it a point to taunt one who worked for an obvious speed trap. My view? He ticketed a friend of mine for doing 60 when he only did 42. I know. I was in the van when he got the ticket. So I would drive 5 miles under the speed limit all the way through that township with this cop on my bumper, then jack it up to 70 after I crossed the township line and he'd turned around. Stupid? Absolutely. It got to the point where I took the long way home to avoid an almost certain trip to the county jail. That was all me. Right or wrong, the last thing anyone needs to do is taunt a cop. Even if their employer exists primarily to collect speeding tickets, their primary job is to deal with bad people. And while I thought I was being funny, I was probably being a bad person.

Another time, shortly after I moved to Cincinnati, I had to explain to an officer from a nearby suburb that, just because he was sitting inside the 35 mph zone when he clocked me doing, did not change the fact that the speed limit where I accelerated was 50. We went round and round for about five minutes before he realized that, yes, I was under the speed where I was when he clocked me.

That was an honest disagreement. I did not raise my voice or give him a hard time. I handed him my license and my insurance.

Since then, I've had unusual interactions with cops. Once, while listening to a Final Four game during my pizza delivery days, I got pulled over for driving 45 through a park. Kentucky was playing, this being the Tubby Smith era. The Cincinnati cop who pulled me over came up to me, knowing me when as one of the pizza dudes, strolled up filling out the ticket with a look of disappointment on his face. I rolled down the window with my license and insurance card out. He heard the game on my radio.

"Who's winning?" he said.

"UK," I said, meaning Kentucky.

He disappeared back into his cruiser. Two minutes later, he shoved a warning through my window. "Here's a warning. Slow down. Go 'Cats."

Sure, things are bad out there. Just look at Ferguson. (And somebody explain to me why a speed trap like that has heavy artillery with a force that makes Barney Fife look like the cops on Law & Order?) But it helps when at least one side doesn't lose their cool. My conflict with the small town cop when I lived in Cleveland? I'm damned lucky I didn't end up in jail. With the suburban cop? Well, I'm sure he wasn't happy with that traffic stop, but it wasn't a big deal. I got off because I wasn't an ass.

Like a wise man once told me, it costs you nothing to be gracious.

04 November 2014

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


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.





         

 





   


17 October 2014

Arch Riordan


A few lawmen in the Old West became famous, like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Pat Garett, but what about the ones who didn't get written up in dime novels and didn't have some version of their lives and dramatic events turned into movies for the silver screen or into weekly episodes for television? What of those who went about their jobs in once growing towns which later faded into almost obscurity, those individuals who did not receive much recognition in the records of history?
Arch Wilder Riordan was one of those old time lawmen overlooked in most history books.

In late 1874, after gold had been discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, prospectors started heading into the area. Many traveled north from Sydney, Nebraska, and then turned west where they followed the route used by buffalo herds making their way from the prairie into the hills and out again with the seasons. The great influx of people soon called for a town to be established at the beginning of this natural opening in the landscape. This town became known as Buffalo Gap.

Eleven years after the gold rush started, the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad reached Buffalo Gap and made it a shipping point for both cattle and travelers. At one point, the town claimed to have 17 hotels and eating establishments, 4 general stores, one hardware store, Bonesteel's Ready To Wear store, 2 drug stores, Van der Vort's furniture store, 4 Chinese laundries, 3 livery barns, 4 blacksmith shops and 2 large sporting houses plus several small ones. It also had a station stop established by George Boland for the Sydney Stage Line. As there were no churches, religious services were held in tents.

The quickly growing town soon attracted a collection of low-lifes and law-breakers. Since the local sheriff was not held in high esteem, the town's businessmen met in secret to discuss the problem of law and order. That's when they asked Arch to become their Town Marshal. The salary by 1886 became $75.00 a month.

Arch stood about six feet tall and weighed in at 240 pounds, had an easy manner and a southern accent. He'd come into the Dakota Territory as a cattle drover and found the community and surrounding area to his liking. Deciding to settle down, he opened up a combination drugstore and saloon, which became quite profitable. Believing that a good citizen should do his part in the community, Arch agreed to take on the job of Town Marshal.

Unhappy at the prospect of a cowboy turned Town Marshal riding herd on their rowdy activities, the local hoodlums had their own secret meeting. As a result, they hired Charlie Fugit, a gunman, to come over from Wyoming and take care of their problem. The plan was to start a fight in one of the dance halls, and then when Arch showed up, Charlie would kill him. All went as intended until Charlie confronted Arch in the dance hall. Turned out Arch was a deadly shot and faster than Charlie. Charlie did not survive the shooting.

In another incident, Arch took a gun away from a bad guy named Sam. (Sorry, Sam's last name didn't make it into the history book.) Sam got lodged into the Buffalo Gap jail, a ten foot by ten foot building with stout doors and bars on the windows. Arch turned his back and started to walk away, not knowing that Sam had a small revolver concealed in his boot top. The outlaw called out to Arch. As the marshal turned back to him, the outlaw shot and missed. Arch drew his own weapon, informing Sam that he would bear evidence of this attempted murder for the rest of his life, and then shot off Sam's left ear lobe.

Arch went on to survive several dangerous situations, never using his firearm without due provocation. In later years, he was appointed a U.S. Marshal.

Over time, the railroad pushed north up to Rapid City, the new hub for the Black Hills. Several businesses from Buffalo Gap then moved up the line. Buffalo Gap had peaked and soon faded into near obscurity.



Historical information for this article was taken from Our Yesterdays, the collected writings of oral histories from early pioneers by the Eastern Custer County Historical Society during the late 1960's.

14 October 2014

From The Case Files Of Chief David Dean:
The Affair Of The Dissappeared Man


When you police a resort town a lot of things can happen; especially during the summer months.  Mostly these things are what you would expect of the Jersey Shore: bar fights, noise complaints, drunk drivers, block parties, thefts, burglaries, the occasional domestic violence case, boating accidents, and sometimes a drowning.  People who vanish are rare.  Of course, lots of children wander away from the parents, but most are found within minutes by life guards or police.  So when an adult goes for a walk on a crowded, guarded beach, and simply disappears, it's what we  in the police business call unusual.
Shortly after I was promoted to the rank of chief, I arrived at the department one very hot July morning and, as was my habit, spoke to my second-in-command on my way to my office.  Being a good captain, he always arrived before me, scanned the incident reports from the previous evening, and briefed me on anything of note.  This morning seemed a part of that routine until he cleared his throat a little nervously, and said, "An older fellow was reported missing late yesterday afternoon.  Night shift said he still hasn't turned up."

I'm the grey guy with the grey beard in the grey suit
My captain, having known me for many years (hell, we had gone through the academy together), no doubt suspected what my reaction might be.  "Since yesterday?" I repeated, my blood pressure rising perceptibly.  "And nobody thought to call me, cap?"  "No sir.  Um...they didn't call me, either.  I just found out myself when I came in."  Every promotion brings it challenges, this was one it seemed.

The captain hastened to fill in the details: Sometime around four o'clock the previous day an elderly man had taken leave of his family to go for his daily walk on the beach.  They had seen him walking north from the 72nd street entrance.  When he had not returned within an hour they went looking for him.  By six o'clock they were in full panic mode, his wife and adult sons reporting the incident to the police.  This was during shift change, and the night shift (patrol worked 12 hour shifts from six to six) received the report.  The shift sergeant, newly promoted by yours truly, promptly contacted the beach patrol for their help in locating the victim.  All of the guards were polled and not a one remembered the gentleman in question, nor had there been any rescues involving someone matching that description.  Inquiries at the hospital proved similarly fruitless.  His car was still parked in the driveway, the keys hanging in the house.  He had no cell phone (these were still somewhat unusual at the time).  Worse still, the wife reported that her husband of more than half a century was in the beginnings of both Parkinson's disease and dementia. 
Beach Path Through High Dunes

As I mentioned in the beginning, it was a particularly hot July and, unusually for the shore, brutally humid, so dehydration had to be considered a factor here.  In other words, these were a bad set of circumstances.  A single witness had been found who thought, but wasn't certain, that she had witnessed an elderly gentleman who matched the description of the missing man, staring up at the dunes around forty-fourth street.  She thought he appeared confused.  Enlisting the aid of the volunteer fire department, the newly-promoted sergeant began a search of the dunes in the vicinity, but darkness overtook them.  And in spite of a brilliant bank of search lights provided by one of their ladder trucks, the firemen and police officers found the steep, heavily forested, dunes nearly impenetrable; the angled illumination only deepening the inky shadows.  The search had been halted around mid-night without a trace of its object, and I had been left in a similar darkness.

I set about to remedy this situation.  Declaring this an emergency operation, I requested the presence of the fire chief, rescue squad chief, beach patrol captain, the emergency management director, and the director of public works.  I also notified the mayor formally, though he was a member of the fire department so I knew that he would be on hand in any case.  Utilizing a bay of the fire department as a command post, we began to gather our forces as my senior detective, acting as my operations officer, set up tables and maps, and began to orient and coordinate the upcoming effort.  My captain was to function as my administrative officer responsible for the smooth functioning of the police department's routine operations, as well as supplying any additional police personnel I might request.  The sergeant on duty was placed in charge of logistics (vehicles, equipment, communications, etc…).  The rescue chief saw to it an adequate amount of water was distributed throughout the day, while keeping a rig dedicated to treating any searchers who were injured or overcome by the heat.  The borough finance officer was even on hand to approve expenditures for food and drink for the small army that was being assembled.

Within the span of a few hours, searchers provided by the fire department, public works, and beach patrol, as well as many other volunteers, were literally combing the town, block by block, house by house.  Considering the missing man's possible mental status, it was conceivable he could be anywhere, so I instructed the searchers to ignore nothing, including crawl spaces and to look beneath any object that he could fit under, such as a child's overturned wading pool, shrubbery, or in the back seat of an unlocked car.  It had been my experience with such cases that sometime persons being looked for hid in terror of their searchers.

As each block was combed, the various teams called in their lack of success, and the detective drew an X through another grid on the map.  Meanwhile, a state police helicopter performed aerial reconnaissance, K-9 units were sent out, and marine officers quietly patrolled the back bays in search of the worst possible result.

The day dragged on growing ever hotter and more humid.  Volunteers and officers alike were becoming fatigued and dehydrated.  Those in the dunes (which are some of the largest on the Eastern Seaboard) were exhausted from breaking brush in the  relentless heat.  By five o'clock, the mayor was growing worried about the hundreds of volunteers who had been at it all day.  So was I.  Both he and the fire chief suggested we call the search off and consider resuming tomorrow.  I was both reluctant to give up the remaining daylight, and flummoxed as to where this man could be.  By this time, we had covered nearly every possible area he could have reasonably reached.  I was looking at miles of x'd-out grids.  It was as if he had stepped through the looking glass...and this bothered me.  I didn't believe in a looking-glass.  He was still out there somewhere.  But where the hell could he be?  And I was deeply concerned about his physical condition under the circumstances.  Based on what I had knew of his advanced age and shaky health from his wife and family, I wasn't at all sure he could make it through another night.  My mind raced… then screeched to a halt. 

Going over to the map table, I asked the detective sergeant to show me exactly where the search of the previous evening had ended.  He pointed to the spot in the dunes where we had begun the daylight effort.  "They covered everything north of this point," he assured me.  I was looking at a fairly small area of extremely steep and rugged maritime forest; all that the night shift had been able to search before losing the natural light and giving up on the artificial.  Turning to the mayor and fire chief, I said, "We can start bringing the searchers back in, but I want a team to go back to the area of the dunes night shift covered and search them again while we still have the light."  The fire chief reluctantly nodded, then got on the radio to dispatch them. 

As the dozens and dozens of exhausted, dirty, and thirsty men and women began to filter back into the fire dept. bays, their despondency was palpable.  We all hated the thought of leaving another human being, especially one who couldn't fend for himself, to endure another night alone and afraid, possibly injured.  After having spoken with the missing man's wife and children earlier that day, I had gotten a sense of their anguish.  I dreaded having to tell them we had failed again and was considering what I should say, when suddenly my portable crackled into life with an excited voice crying, "We've found him!  I think we've found him!"  Leaping to my feet, I keyed my mike and asked, "Is he alive?"  The answer was immediate, "Yeah, I think he's okay."

The headquarters erupted into cheers, and I knew in that moment that this would always be one of the highlights of my police career– I had had one of those brief, shining moments that don't happen often enough.  In truth, I had only thought of the obvious when I sent the team back to the starting point, but at that moment, I felt like Sherlock Holmes.  As it turned out, he had been hiding under a bayberry shrub very near the start of the original search.  Fearful of the Chinese Communist troops he believed were pursuing him, he had remained hidden for over twenty-four hours.  His rescuer had spotted the toe of one his shoes jutting out from beneath the heavy brush.  They had passed right by him the night before.

Chinese Communist Troop–Korea circa 1950
When I drove to his home to break the good news to his family, the whole neighborhood was out on their decks and lawns waiting for the news. Being in uniform, and unable to keep from smiling, they easily guessed the outcome, and the entire block began to cheer. It was a good day to be chief.

Postscript: The following day I penned a general order that any time an agency outside of the police department was requested to assist in an urgent matter, myself and the captain were to be notified immediately as to the circumstances. No exceptions.

02 September 2014

How To Handle The Naked Suspect


Not Your Typical Naked Suspect
The subject of this blog was suggested by a Facebook posting of our SleuthSayers brother, Rob Lopresti, in which he published a quote regarding the difficulty of arresting a naked woman.  I responded that I could testify to the truth of this statement; various witticisms were exchanged as you might imagine.  However, as a result, I warned Rob that he had planted the germ of an idea in my near-arid brain for an upcoming article.  I can picture his rather distinguished brows rising in alarm when he sees this title; Rob's thinking running along the lines of, "No...he didn't...he's not really going to write about...poor, needy bastard, so desperate for readers that he stoops to this--a literary sidewalk barker for imaginary lap dancers.  Pitiful!"

Sadly, Rob would be correct if these were his thoughts, at least the part about being desperate for readers.  Of course I'm desperate, Rob!  For God's sake I'm a writer!  However, I wish to set everyone's minds to rest about the following content: I have rated it R for mature, though in some sections it is I for the opposite.

There comes into the life of every police officer (sooner or later; rarely or often) the naked suspect.  This is not a subject extensively covered (stop snickering), if at all, in the police academies of our nation.  Mostly, they arrive unannounced and unexpected, much like Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"  Well, the police rarely expect the naked suspect.  You may wonder how professional police officers, like myself, know when a naked person is a suspect.  The answer to this is generally straightforward--when they are naked.  Once a naked person is spotted in a public venue, the police go on high alert--this is not normal behavior.  There are many motives, causes, and M.O.'s, ranging from youthful hi-jinks and drunkenness, to drug-induced euphoria and psychosis.  On a much more serious note, sometimes they are not suspects at all, but victims, but I will not be addressing this aspect in what I intend to be more light-hearted blog.     

I can offer several personal examples of encounters with the naked suspect: It would sometimes happen during a busy summer night at the Jersey Shore, that a naked person, like the proverbial deer, would appear suddenly in the headlights of our marked unit.  Sometime a herd of them.  It was equally possible, though much more rare, for it to occur during daylight hours, as well. 

Making a sweep of the beach in the wee hours before dawn might also reveal people who, through a series of events seemingly beyond their control, had also divested themselves of all clothing.  It appears that, for some, the salubrious sea air loosened the shackles of convention, rendering clothing irrelevant.

Typically, our reaction to such phenomenon was not as enthusiastic as one might expect.  Think about it--is there any dignity left to the officer who arrests the naked suspect?  I think you may know the answer to that if you think about it.  You've only to picture yourself tackling a naked dude, or gal, in view of dozens, if not hundreds, of on-lookers.  And then what?  Do you normally carry around a casual-wear wardrobe in the trunk of your car?  Note: We did carry blankets in the trunks of our patrol units, though not specifically for the purpose of clothing the naked.  May I also direct your attention to the question of why, when carefully considered, you would wish to handle a sweaty, naked stranger when you have no idea where he/she has been?  And though Hollywood would have it otherwise, naked folk are not always attractive--at least to others.  They often find themselves quite lovely, hence the paucity of clothing.  In one long-running affair, we had a senior citizen who felt his nakedness on the beach, or while swimming, was something no reasonable person could object to.  He was no Jack Lalane, nor was he destined for a leading role in adult cinema.  Oddly, many beachgoers did object, especially small-minded mothers and fathers with young children.  As I once pointed out to him, "This is not France, buddy."

In another instance, when responding to a complaint of a noisy party in the wee hours, we were confronted with an array of naked suspects.  It appeared that an all-female pool party was in progress, sans swim-wear.  After a lengthy surveillance to ensure that no actual crime was in progress, we revealed our presence and quickly restored order--one of the less painful encounters of the naked sort, that I had so far endured.  Caution rookie officer: this was an exception, not the norm for the naked encounter!  Most will make you cry out, "Oh dear God, no!  My eyes...my eyes!"  At the very least, you can expect to question the wisdom of your last meal.

The aforementioned blanket may, in fact, be your best defense against the naked suspect.  Here is a technique you may wish to remember: Summoned to a domestic, my partner and I were confronted with a fully clothed husband, and a completely naked wife.  She was a very angry naked wife.  She was also very drunk and drugged-out, and using their bed as a trampoline while hurling all available objects at us, screaming, "Don't touch me!"  The EMT's took one look and said, "We'll wait outside with the ambulance."  My partner and I looked at one another and shared a single thought--blanket! 

With panther-like grace, he leapt onto the still-quaking bed, seizing her hand in a reverse-wrist take-down and bringing her face-down onto the mattress.  There we proceeded to quickly roll her into the top cover like a cocktail sausage.  It was not dignified, but it was effective, and resulted in the least amount of handling possible in the circumstances.

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Some naked suspects, as you can see from the previous example, want to fight.  As the person is clearly not armed in most cases, the option of deadly force is rendered moot.  Pepper spray is not, however.  A naked guy who feels like his face is on fire should rank highly among things you don't want to experience in this, or any other, lifetime.  Picture Edvard Munch's "The Scream," (helpfully provided) and you have some idea of the result.  Yet, the naked perp has even more to fear from the officer who's aim has been thrown off by his assault.  Should the pepper spray find other exposed areas, the suspect may feel he has been transported to a realm far beyond the understanding of mortal man, a place reserved exclusively for those condemned to the seventh ring of hell; the final stop for the violent.  There, his previous understanding of agony will become transcendental, achieving a kind of satanic ecstasy.  Do not envy him this knowledge.

So there you have it, dear readers--a smattering of knowledge and ideas on handling the naked suspect--ideas and knowledge that I pray you never have to use, or have used on you.  Nakedness is a wonderful thing if you're centerfold material, or still south of three years old, but for the vast majority of us clothing remains the most appropriate option.  Take it from someone who's seen far more than he ever wanted to, a clothed world is a prettier world.  So until next time--keep your pants on and your hands to yourself.  Still good advice in an uncertain world.

17 August 2014

In the Heat of the Night


After the shooting of young Michael Brown in a small Missouri municipality, I thought the 150 or so assembled police looked more like a scene from protests in the Middle East than what we like to think of as America. As I was pondered writing my column, I noticed a flood of other commentators thought much the same thing.
A fifty-year-old article lamented the emerging police use of the word ‘civilians’ instead of ‘citizens’. This phrasing, said the writer, not merely positions the police apart from the public, but it sets them above the people like shepherds and sheep. The article predicted the concept of serving the citizens would become lost in this new order.

Adding to this perception is the long-standing “1033 Program” by the Department of Defense, which offers military gear to police in even the smallest communities for pennies on the dollar. Tiny police departments can purchase military helicopters, armored personnel carriers, combat assault gear, mine-resistant vehicles and even tanks. This program has become a concern of both liberal and conservative thinkers. (As usual, I distinguish between liberal and conservative, and left and right, which are not synonymous.)

Ferguson, Missouri

Much has been made of this small city’s lack of professionalism. Ferguson’s population as of the last census is 21,000 and diminishing. But in its decline, political and police presence has grown. While it's true its very white police department arrests twice as many minorities as it does whites, that’s in line with the town’s racial mix. A community sore spot is that only 5% of the police community is black and none are in positions of any real authority.

And police there have stepped over the line before. After a suspect in a savage take-down some time back turned out to be innocent, police retaliated. They charged the man with destruction of property for splattering blood from his injuries on their uniforms. Officers in Ferguson don’t appear to be the brightest loci on the thin blue line.

Large cities have at least two advantages small towns and cities don’t. For one thing, sizable cities can provide professional training. They may have their own academies and for officers, they may have the option to send candidates to degree-offering police institutes. Secondly, major metropolitan areas try to weed out bad apples, gung-ho head cases unsuitable for a profession that requires not only strength, but restraint. Small towns have less of a labor pool– and gene pool– to work with.

Side of the Angels

Here at SleuthSayers, we like to think cops are on the side of the Truth, Justice, and the American way of life. Of those who aren’t, we aren’t shy about speaking up once we know the facts. The facts in Ferguson aren’t particularly auspicious.

It looks like plenty of blame can be passed around. There’s no excuse for vandalizing and looting one’s neighbors, especially small business owners trying to eke out a living in a crumbling downtown. Even if they manage to afford insurance, it won’t fully cover damage and the months they’ll be out of business, possibly begging to become stockers in Walmart. And for what?

Looters aren’t big on reading Consumer Reports. A month from now they’ll be begging some undercover cop to buy a bagful of pink Chinese-made THC Pomposity IV cell phones that earned a meager 1½ stars in Gizmodo.

But terrible political decisions and poor policing make things worse. Here at SleuthSayers corporate headquarters, we’re begging Chief David Dean and Agent Lawton to come out of retirement and kick butt.

What we think we know

A week ago on the 9th of August, a police officer shoots and kills an unarmed 18-year-old boy with his hands raised. The young man has never been in trouble before and is enrolled in technical school to advance his education. Likewise, the officer has never previously been brought up on disciplinary charges.

After shooting, the officer, according to witnesses, does not take the pulse of the victim nor does he inform his superiors of a fatal shooting. Instead, he removes himself and his car from the scene, potentially breaking the chain of any potential evidence on the officer or the vehicle, which in this case may prove important.

Other officers present do not attend to the boy and, according to witnesses, do not allow medical personnel to offer assistance or approach the body. Instead, officers confiscate camera phones from bystanders. Evidence further deteriorates as crime scene investigators fail to to be called in for four hours.

Commanding officers learn about the shooting not from officers at the scene but, like the public, from television news.

The community initially responds with peaceful protests, but as the police department refuses to answer questions, both sides overreact. Vandals loot and damage property and 150 riot police in military gear shock the nation and the world with a military invasion reminiscent of dictatorial crackdowns.

Within days, Governor Jay Nixon calls a state of emergency, which locals refer to as ‘martial law.’ Adding to the atmosphere of authoritarian abuse in support of Ferguson cops who refuse to wear name tags, Missouri lawmakers rush a bill to the floor of the legislature that would shield the names of officers involved in any shooting from public knowledge. If that passes, a rogue cop could be involved in a dozen shootings and the public would never know.

The Police Department, and particularly its police chief, appear to be utterly tone deaf. When the President offers condolences to the family of the victim, town officials ask where are the condolences for them. Eventually Anonymous gets involved, bless their anarchistic little souls.

After out-of-control cops are caught on camera screaming “Bring it on! Bring it you ƒ-ing animals,” the Chief of Police announces he is not interested in talking with community leaders and praises his men for their “incredible restraint,” prompting a commentator to ask, “What does lack of restraint look like?”

Authorities are not finished. In a local McDonald's, police seize camera equipment, then assault and arrest news reporters. They arrest a local alderman who comes to assess the scene for ‘failure to listen.’ They teargas and beanbag a state senator at a peaceful sit-in rally who dares challenge the police chief..

When is a Cigar not a Cigar?

Up to this point, my attention shifted from the increased militarization of police departments to question how poorly the situation was being managed. Hardline authoritarianism is rarely the best solution.

Missouri Highway Patrol
Governor Jay Nixon finally relieves local police of authority and orders the Missouri State Patrol to take over.

When the state police arrive, the atmosphere immediately changes. The community welcomes them, some even hug the troopers. The mayor of Ferguson reportedly says he feels safer with their presence.

In defiance of Department of Justice requests not to further inflame the community, after relieved of command, this embattled Chief of Police– without informing the state police who've just replaced him– holds a press conference to announce that young Michael Brown has now surfaced as an after-the-fact suspect in a theft of… (I can’t believe I’m writing this) … a package of cigars.

Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson sharply criticizes Ferguson's Police Chief Thomas Jackson's unilateral press conference about the stolen cigars. This breath of fresh air only enhances the community's respect for Captain Johnson's professionalism contrasted with the self-serving broadsides by the local police chief.

The cigar evidence is somewhat tenuous but, whether or not true, the chief's proclamation smacks of a specious and insensitive smears. The police chief himself acknowledges the two incidents are unrelated, that the officer involved in the shooting was unaware of the cigar store theft.

State police vow not to let that accusation cloud the greater issues at hand. These two men epitomize the right and the wrong way to handle community policing. Ferguson’s “civilians” may have found their Virgil Tibbs in the person of Captain Ron Johnson.

13 July 2014

Impossible Things Before Breakfast, 2


Last week, I wrote about a 1997 case of where a victim appeared to have committed a murder after she was killed. Impossible, it seemed, and so it was.

This week, we move to a crime wave that plagued parts of western Europe for a decade and a half. In 2009, authorities offered an reward of €300 000 ($415 000) to bring the perpetrator– a woman– to justice.

German police, and later French and Austrian investigators, captured the DNA of a woman with few clues to her identity other than she came from a Slavic bloodline. Female serial killers are not yet as common as male killers, but this one was criminally prolific, engaging in burglary, robbery, car theft, home invasion, drug dealing, and murder– including the slaying of a police woman, which ramped up the manhunt, or woman-hunt, if you will. European news media began to call her the Heilbronner Phantom– the Woman Without a Face.

Silver Blaze

Profilers from across Europe were asked to imagine the suspect. Heilbronn police estimate 16 000 hours of overtime went into tracking the elusive woman. Concern heightened again when German investigators found the same DNA in a car used to transport three corpses, followed by the execution of a policewoman, Michèle Kiesewetter, and the nearly fatal attack upon her partner.

One clue was like the Sherlock Holmes’ dog in the night-time: Although DNA cropped up in crime scenes surrounding the German state of Bavaria, none was discovered in Bavaria itself, a sign of omission. Whether that raised eyebrows of detectives isn’t known, but two subsequent crimes cast doubt on the Phantom’s identity.

The first flag came from a fire when officers sampled a male corpse… and turned up female DNA, that of their long-running suspect. Eye-witnesses had occasionally reported seeing a man at crime scenes– not a woman– but eye-witnesses are notoriously prone to errors of identification. Investigators resampled the deceased using different cotton swabs and came up with a different result– no female DNA.

The final nail in the theory followed a shootout with a neo-Nazi terror cadre that killed two men. At the death scene, detectives found police handcuffs belonging to Michèle Kiesewetter. The Phantom DNA did not match the only woman in the terrorist cell, Beate Zschäpe, which raised doubts that the attack on police woman and her partner was committed by the Phantom of Heilbronn.

DNA
System Reset

While German tabloids like Bild ridiculed police by asking if their heads were stuffed with cotton wool, investigators quietly reexamined their methodology and the source of their instruments and test materials. They identified the real culprit– the departments’ miserly buyer of cotton swabs.

As Dr Mike Silverman discovered in last week's article, sterile doesn’t mean DNA-free. Sterilization might kill viruses and bacteria, but it doesn’t necessarily eradicate DNA strands. Police departments throughout Germany– except Bavaria– were buying inexpensive cotton buds from an Austrian company, Greiner. The company certified their Bio-One swabs sterile but not suitable for human DNA collection.

The mysterious ‘Phantom’ was none other than one of Greiner's assembly line employees. She'd accidentally contaminated countless cotton buds with her own DNA.

Credit Due

Several readers and SleuthSayers suggested further reading. Thanks to C.J. Dowse, Peter DiChellis, Fran, Eve, and Dixon.

Further reading:

27 May 2014

Chief


Courtesy of Joe Evangelista Photography
Now that's it been a few years since my retirement (two--though I can hardly believe it), I thought I might pen a few words on my time as a chief of police.  The reason for this is that I've come to understand over the years that very few people know what a chief of police actually does.  Whenever I encounter them in  fiction they are either chomping on a stogie and bellowing for some hard-working officer's badge, or personally handling crime scenes and investigations as if they have no hard-working officers at all.  Like many stereotypes, there is some truth to these examples, but only some. 

I have bellowed on the rare occasion, though it was sans cigar.  And yes, I have personally attended crime scenes, but not to usurp the duties of those assigned to the case.  Whenever I found issues that needed addressing, I mostly did so with the supervisor on scene, and in private.  I may have raised my voice on a few of those occasions, but it was probably to be heard over the screams of some guilty person wanting to confess in the next room.  As for commandeering investigations, I had enough to do without micro-managing detectives, though I did receive updates on particular cases whenever I asked for them.  Occasionally, I was guilty of suggesting different lines of inquiry, or investigative tactics.  This was not just my prerogative as chief, but sometimes useful.  After all, they were in the thick of it, while I had the luxury of standing back a bit and seeing it fresh.  But the detectives and officers solved the cases, not me.

As chief I had six main duties:

First amongst them was simply to lead; set an example and establish standards for performance and acceptable behavior--policy making.  The buck stops with the chief.  He sees to it that his officers receive credit for work well done, and he takes the heat when his department drops the ball.     

Second would be the budget.  Without money being applied wisely and well, operations and effectiveness begin to suffer.  I never once went over budget.  It can be done.

Third is personnel.  As chief, I had the final say in hiring...and sadly, sometimes firing.  I signed off on the performance evaluations of sergeants and above in my department.   I also had the final say on promotion to the next higher rank.  The down side to this, of course, was the disappointment, and sometimes resentment, felt by those not selected.  It could be keen and heartfelt.   

Liaison.  As the chief you become the public face of the department.  You get to attend a lot functions and host a number, as well.  You deal with many, many people.  In my case, I answered to a mayor who was also the director of public safety.  But he was only one of many masters: The county prosecutor is the chief law enforcement officer at the county level in New Jersey, and so was in my chain of command when it came to criminal law, and search and seizure issues.  The borough council expected my attendance at every meeting and got it.  They controlled the purse strings and crafted ordinances and it was my duty to advise them when it pertained to public safety and order.  Several citizens groups also asked for and received my time.  In addition, I worked cheek by jowl with the fire chief, the rescue squad captain, the beach patrol, public works manager (a very useful person when it comes to major storms, flooding, blizzards, etc...), and the director of emergency management at both the municipal and county levels.  I was also a member of the county police chiefs association and attended their monthly meetings, as well.  These were just the ones I dealt with on a regular basis...there were others.

Discipline: It was also my duty to oversee the disciplinary process and internal affairs investigations.  If you want to know what stress feels like, just picture yourself telling someone you've known for decades, and personally like, that you're suspending them from duty and taking a big chunk of their pay for a month.  And don't forget to remind them that they will no longer be eligible for promotion.  Oh, by the way, my wife wants to know if your wife is available to pitch in at the school Halloween party next week?  Get the picture?  Sometimes IA's can result in dismissals and even criminal charges.  It's not for the faint of heart, trust me, but it is terribly important to the health and integrity of the department.  Good officers (the vast majority) want bad officers (a tiny minority, thank God) gone.  Their jobs are hard enough without them.

Finally, a category that I'll simply dub "Wearing the Hat."  Whenever anything big goes wrong, or when the bad has temporarily overcome the good, you show up.  It can be a major fire scene, a child's drowning, a toxic waste incident, catastrophic weather event, or civil unrest.  You stop what you're doing, whether it's vacation, dinner with friends, or your wedding anniversary; put on your chief hat (sometimes only figuratively) and go to the scene.  Though in many cases, there is nothing more to be done than what is being done--you still go.  Why?  Because citizens are reassured when the head honcho arrives, and the officers try a little harder when they know you care enough to be there.  There's no down side to it.  The opposite is true for the absentee chief.  Sometimes, there are things that can be done, or usually, facilitated by the chief, but I'll save that for another post.

As for the resolute, square-jawed person pictured above, he has left the theatre.  I am now long-haired and sporting a scruffy goatee.  Occasionally people drop loose change in my coffee cup.  I don't know why. 








 

        

              

03 February 2013

Eye in the Sky


by Leigh Lundin

Drones part 1: Eye in the Sky

If you don't know the acronym UAV, you're so out of date! Predator drones and the overhead gadgets police use to spy on your backyard barbecue are called UAVs– unmanned ariel vehicles– UAV, for short.

unmanned Predator drone
Those drones we've read about in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq? They were developed for use in combat territories, not against our own citizens. But once out of the bag, did anyone seriously expect they wouldn't be deployed here at home?

I'm torn, partly from techno-geek attraction, partly because I don't like putting soldiers in harm's way, but partly because I don't like the idea of killing from the heavens. But now we face another factor– unarmed drones are being deployed against American citizens. Not only can they violate your air space, they can violate your personal space.

Since 9/11, civil liberties have been pouring down the rathole of 'homeland security', most notably from the Orwellian-named US PATRIOT Acts I and II. They've been stripping basic rights when you weren't looking and now we have one more way to spy– against ourselves. Wasn't this what we were taught was so evil about other governments?

That's not to say I don't think domestic drones can have a positive purpose, but without well defined rules, expect them to be misused and abused. Cases have already surfaced of drones spying on ordinary citizens going about their own business on their own property.

The Little Plane that Couldn't

Like boys with the latest R/C plane, our local law enforcement is delighted with their new toy. While issuing solemn assurances to the press they won't use drones to observe security precautions of, say, Mrs. Trudy Boomdacious tanning by her pool at Nº 31 Sunkist Lane, they can hardly contain themselves until they can go out and play. Hey, I can't blame them.

But, as we learn from time to time, high technology is beyond some officials. From our Texas reader Vicki comes this article by Jim Hightower about Montgomery County's new flying gadget. When showing it off, it seems the sheriff dragged out all his goodies including a Bearcat troop transport with full swat team. It looked great, but unfortunately, the sheriff's department hasn't learned how to drive… or at least fly.

Yep, they crashed their spanking new drone.  The little plane committed suicide when it smashed into their armored transport.

Hightower reports the Bearcat survived, but not the Constitution.

Boys and Their Toys
child predator

But wait! There's more!

The drone that grew out of R/C toys has itself become a toy. On Amazon, people like me of twisted mind and sense of humor have been piling on the review comments. Warning: I said twisted, for example:
"At last! A Child Predator!"

"With my son's birthday fast approaching, I simply couldn't fathom what to get him. Last year we had purchased for him the Home Waterboarding Kit and buying him the same present two years in a row just seemed wrong...fortunately I found this! I love to watch the maniacal gleam in his eye as he imagines seas of Pakistani women and children before him and screams 'Death from above!'. It reminds me of all the joy I got from the My Lai Massacre playset I had as a child. Shock and awe!"

"(My son) just loves flying his drone around our house, dropping Hellfire missiles on Scruffy, our dog. He kept saying that Scruffy was a terror suspect and needed to be taken out. I asked him if Scruffy should get a trial first, and he quoted Lindsay Graham, Senator: "Scruffy, you don't get a trial!" I was so proud. I think I'll buy him some video games that promote martial law for Christmas."

"I just have to say that the educational value of this toy is GREAT. I just tell my son: This is what the West is using to kill the Rest. We fly these wonderful planes carrying bombs and we drop them on people we sort of think are terrorists and other people…"

"Not very educational, as the software is point-and-click, and the targets' death screams all sound the same. Not durable either, since they tend to crash between smoking, charred corpses."

"This is the best toy ever. Finally, I can pretend that I'm a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize!"
Oops, I'm droning on and on…

13 September 2012

From the Bristol Blotter


I get to spend the weekend at the pen - I know, I need to start behaving better - so I am busy getting ready for that.  So, to prove that there are just as many crazies outside as in, (as well as to give myself a little breathing room) I submit the following.  These are all from a friend of mine in Tennessee, who provides me with "The Bristol Blotter" - available on-line and on Facebook.  All true, sadly, hilariously true:
From the "it's so hard to get off their radar" list:
* Someone called from to report “a suspicious black sports car that followed him home from Walmart [and] keeps riding by his residence.”

You have something that I want:
* A guy reported that his “baby’s momma locked him out and took the tags off his car.”

* "his girlfriend threw him out and he needs to get in and get his clothes because he has an interview tomorrow."

One man's exam is another man's...
* A man told police that another guy assaulted him “while attempting to give him medical treatment.”

Buyer's remorse takes various forms:
* Police went to a car lot where an “irate customer,” upset over his recently purchased car, threatened to run over the sales manager. Store employees said the angry customer “circled the parking lot, stopping in front of the sales manager, began revving up the engine causing excessive smoke, and lurched forward stopping short of striking the sales manager.” The manager in question was afraid that the unsatisfied customer would return “because of his explosive demeanor.”

With friends like these:
* A man reported that his “friend” of four years pulled into a nearby alley, got halfway out of the car wielding a knife and said, “I got something for you.” The man, who knew only his friend’s first name, responded: “If you want to fight, come on” and started toward his antagonist. The friend then scurried into his Oldsmobile and left.

From the "if it were only that easy department":
* When a man had his sister’s cell phone turned off “due to payment issues,” the sister got mad and threatened to vandalize his car. The sister, in turn, told officers that the brother “had been leaving threatening letters on the windshield of her vehicle.” Police told them to stop leaving one another messages.

Also known as, "You called us for WHAT?":
* Some kids were “playing baseball in the road.”

* Someone came in to report they’d lost their license plate, but weren’t sure where or when.

* "she advised she'd been drinking all day..."

* A man "found a bird in his yard and it can't fly ... wants to speak to an officer."

* A woman told police she was taking some medicine that she's been taking daily for about a month but she doesn't know why she's taking it.

And my favorite:
*Someone called to report a suspicious squirrel... 
 
Good luck with that one, officer! 

27 December 2011

New Jersey Confidential


I've always liked titles that included 'Confidential' in them.  You know what I mean, titles like "Hollywood Confidential", "Park Avenue Confidential", "Palm Springs Confidential"...well, you get the point.  There's the promise of forbidden knowledge contained within the pairing of almost anything with the word 'Confidential'.  Probably some adult content too, if you know what I mean. 
However, the knowledge that I am about to impart doesn't have any of that.  Okay, so it's not forbidden, so how about not particularly well-known...unless you happen to an insider in the small world of Jersey law enforcement?  "What's that to me?" you might ask.  Maybe nothing; maybe a lot, if you happen to set a crime story in the Garden State or have a character that is a Jersey cop.  So wise up and  follow me, if you dare, and remember, no matter what happens, you didn't get this from me.

We do things just a little differently in Turnpike country.  When you're sandwiched between New York City and Philadelphia you've got to do things differently.  It's not easy playing David to two Goliaths, you know.  So here's what we cooked up on the law enforcement front just to keep 'em guessing: In your part of the world I bet they call a major crime a felony, right?  Cross the big line here, sweetheart, and you get slapped with an 'indictable'.  That's shorthand for indictable crime.  That's what they're called here; it's how it's written in the law books.  And you can keep your misdemeanors to yourself, too, while we're on the subject; try one of those on and we'll write you up for a 'disorderly persons offense'.  That's got more words but is easier to spell.  Makes it better, I think.  And this doesn't just stop with legal violations: We have county prosecutors in Jersey instead of district attorneys.  Okay, so maybe it doesn't roll off the tongue as trippingly as, "Hey Chief, you've got the D.A. on line one," but it is different; kinda homey, and that's they way we like it.

But all that is just words; let's go over a few details on how we get things done.  Here in the "Cockpit of the Revolution" the police are prohibited from going through the garbage you just put out at the curb for pick-up.  In order to accomplish that which your refuse collector, or any other passer-by, may do with impunity, we must obtain a search warrant.  We are not completely unique in this restriction, believe it or not, as our sister state of Hawaii has a similar, cutting edge, law on the books.

Let's say that you just got arrested for driving while under the influence (DWI, we call it; not DUI...yeah, you heard me...DWI).  Let's further posit that you are newly arrived from Kyrgyzstan and are therefore ignorant of the English language.  This will not save you from being read your rights.  The Great State of NJ has thoughtfully provided a website that provides a reading of said rights in any of fifty foreign tongues.  This is the wonder and majesty of Trenton.  Of course, if you happen to be from Kyrgyzstan this may be the first time you've ever had any rights given to you in the first place.




In order to protect the innocent, or at least the not-guilty, NJ further insists that all interrogations for indictable crimes be videotaped.  The cozy chats that we once enjoyed with our clientele are sadly a thing of the past.  Oh for the days before all this invasion of privacy.

Let me give you a scenario: We'll say that you're a uniformed officer on patrol.  You roll up to a stop at an intersection and look to your left.  "What lo?" says you, as Tommy Sunshine comes strolling along; fixes his wee beadies upon your stalwart visage; then turns on his heel and boogies for all he's worth in the opposite direction.  'This cannot bode well for the safety of our citizens,' you thinks.  'Pursuit?' you asks yourself. 

Finish that vente latte, brother...you got nothing.  Not here in the Garden State.  Case law has established that our citizens can decide to hot-foot it anywhere and at any time of their choosing, and Five-0 is not to read anything into it.  People get impulses.

Now, if you can tie little Tommy's sudden urge for distance betwixt himself and his protector-in-blue to something more, such as he's in a known drug trafficking area; there's a warrant for his arrest; or maybe he's just coming out from behind a store that has an alarm clanging away and it's four in the morning, well then, maybe you'll get some exercise after all. 

New Jersey has the death penalty...did you know that?  Neither do we apparently, as there's not been an execution in this state for well over a quarter century and probably much longer.  Courts have sentenced a number of murderers to death during that time but no one ever quite gets around to the dirty deed.  So, let's just say that we have a 'life until death' penalty, shall we?

Lest you think we're soft on crime, let me throw you this curve ball--we don't need no stinkin' probable cause to search someone for stolen library materials!  That's right, Lopresti, all you've got to do is point a finger and we're taking 'em down.  We like our libraries here; make no mistake about it.

So there you have it, gentle reader, a litany of the strange and the zany quirks of Jersey law and its enforcement.  It's not a comprehensive list, but it does give you some of the highlights, as well as a flavor for how we do business in the 'big' little state when it comes to policing.  I hope you enjoyed the tour.  Now if you'll follow me we'll finish our little chat about those 'rights' of yours...Oops...that was a lot of stairs, wasn't it?  Sure, I'll have rescue here in a jiff, but while we're waiting, how about that confession you've been dying to make?  And look, the silly camera is working again...how about that?