Showing posts with label reservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reservation. Show all posts

29 January 2016

Why I had to Be Careful on the Reservation for A While


Map of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.
Scottsdale bounds the north (upper map) and west (map left) side,
while Mesa bounds the south (map lower) side.
by Dixon Hill

These days I don't worry too much about driving across the local Indian Reservation outside Scottsdale, but there was a time when I had to keep a sharp eye out for police vehicles while driving to and from school.

And, the real cause of the problem was that I was trying to be a nice guy.

And, because I was ignorant.  I hadn't yet learned that people didn't necessarily read something I'd written, in the manner I had envisioned while writing it.

I made my way toward fiction through the journalism field. My primary goal was to make a living writing fiction, so my first goal was to earn a B.A. that might help convince editors I was a serious writer.

To accomplish this first goal, I decided to attend the Cronkite School at Arizona State.  At that time, at least, an ASU student had to earn the majority of his common core credits during his first two years -- all spent outside the Cronkite School.

Yes. You're seeing it correctly.
SCC is the Fighting Artichokes!
After completing enough credits with an acceptable GPA, a student had to apply for the Cronkite School then had to pass the Cronkite entrance exam before being permitted to apply for the Journalism or Communication Program.

I used the GI Bill to pay for school, but had two kids at home during this time, and another one on the way toward the tail end of my sophomore year. So, I spent those first two years at nearby Scottsdale Community College (SCC) to: save money, run my small pool layout business, and spend more time around the house. Our youngest son was born about the time I entered the Cronkite Program at ASU.

By the time I was admitted to the Cronkite School, I'd worked as a reporter on a small Scottsdale paper for two years, had also spent two school years on the Scottsdale Community College paper, and finally closed my small business to permit me to concentrate on completing my degree.  Two years after entering the Cronkite School, I graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication.

But, the thing that caused me to run afoul of police on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) occurred while I was working on a small human interest story for the SCC paper.

Scottsdale Community College isn't really in Scottsdale at all.  It's actually about a half-mile outside Scottsdale, on land leased from the SRPMIC.  And, the SRRPMIC police patrol the area outside campus, while providing arrest authority on campus when needed.  A person who stole money from the SCC snack bar cash register, while I was on the paper, for instance, was apprehended by campus police, then arrested by SRPMIC police, who booked the suspect into the Maricopa County Jail.  (Yes, that's right.  That's Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail -- pink underwear, green bologna and all... though these days it serves a vegetarian-only diet with no bologna on the menu [assuming you don't count Sheriff Joe's antics as bologna].)

One day, in the school news room, the faculty adviser for the paper told me she had received permission to have a school reporter accompany an SRPMIC police officer on a ride-along during a night shift.  She thought I might be a good choice, due to my age and military experience.  I happily accepted the assignment.

When that night arrived, I showed up at the police station on the reservation and met the sergeant who would be driving us around in his SUV, while on night patrol.  He was a nice enough guy, if a bit too showy for my taste.  I wasn't worried about that; I'd dealt with showy guys in the army.

He took me out and drove his patrol route, showing me areas of interest -- such as the lawnmower repair business where he'd earned a decoration for his actions during a shootout.  We found a new car sitting empty in the middle of nowhere, which was registered to someone on the other side of The Valley.  After calling for a tow truck, he explained that young people on the reservation sometimes went to clubs in Scottsdale or Phoenix, then stole a car to drive home.  Sometimes they stripped the car after getting it home.  Other times, like this one, they simply abandoned it.  We hunted around for, and found, the keys by the time the time the tow truck arrived.

He took me through "Bunny Acres" a part of the reservation that's pretty empty except for a few houses crouching in darkness.  Elsewhere, he showed me the remains of a house that had been destroyed during a shootout between reservation gang members on one side, and the FBI supported by the SRPMIC police on the other.  He asked me not to write about that house, because standing wisdom held that gang activity on the reservation had been completely wiped-out that night, and the tribal government didn't want potential casino customers to worry about the possibility of gang violence.

Had I been a hard-nosed reporter working on an expose, I'd have countered by asking for his opinion concerning the clear gang problems two friends of mine had encountered while working as teachers on the reservation.  Those two guys, for instance, found it interesting that when they handed out M&M's to their high school students, the red M&M's disappeared from some desks, while the blue ones disappeared from others, depending on whether the kid was a member of the Crips or the Bloods.  Gang tensions influenced the daily lives of those kids in the classrooms.

As I told the sergeant driving me around, however: "No problem.  Both my editor and our faculty adviser told me to treat this as a human interest story.  I'm supposed to give SCC students a feel for what the cops paroling the streets around school are like -- what you guys go through on a daily basis. I'm not here to dig up any dirt, or get anybody into hot water.  Plus, I spent time in the military and I hold a Top Secret clearance.  So, if you find you just said something you shouldn't have, let me know and we'll talk about it.  My bosses probably won't want it in the story anyway."

We went to a drunk driver arrest, worked a small traffic accident, and drove around some more.  We drove past a house that had a big pack of dogs running around out front.  The sergeant slowed and swung the SUV over toward that side of the street, quietly calling out the window to them.  As the dogs began to stand and prick their ears, he turned to me and said, "These guys always let their dogs out; they never put them inside or put leashes on them.  The law says they can't be out here without leashes, and I could arrest their owner.  But, we try to help people remember to do the right thing, without arresting them if we can."

By then, the dogs were barking and jumping, frantically chasing the SUV as we drove down the road on the right side again.  As the front door opened, and the owner came out, yelling at the dogs, the sergeant called: "They need to be on leashes if they aren't penned up!  Get them inside!"  Then he turned to me as he rolled up his window, saying, "This way, it wakes him up, so he pays the price, but he doesn't have to get involved in the legal system."

A short while later, we got a call about a domestic violence dispute with shots fired.  That was the one and only time the sergeant turned on his flashing lights and siren.  The only time he drove at anything above the speed limit.  Just about the only bit of excitement all night!  (If you don't count a pack of barking dogs chasing your car.)

But, even the domestic violence dispute was over by the time we arrived.  The man with the shotgun had been arrested and everyone else was being assisted by advocates.

When I wrote the story, I aimed for the human interest piece I'd described to the sergeant.  I emphasized the idea that the department practiced what they called "Community Policing," using the sergeant's own parallel about how they tried to police the SRPMIC employing common-sense alternatives to arrest, the way Andy Taylor policed Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show.  I illustrated this idea by outlining the way the sergeant had dealt with those loose dogs.

I was so proud of the result that I even dropped several copies of the student newspaper at the police station, so the guys could read it.

When I was on the way out, however, a lieutenant stopped me.  "You're the guy who wrote that story in the college paper, right?"

"Yes, sir.  Did you like it?"

His face clouded.  "We got a problem.  That sergeant who took you around is in hot water."

I was horrified.  "Why?"

(Okay, so this isn't a word-for-word recreation of our conversation.  But it is pretty close, I think.  I mean, this happened 16 years ago or so.)

We went into his office.  "Did you really have to compare us to Andy Taylor and Mayberry?  Why did you do that?"

"Well.  He did it.  He explained that was what you were doing.  And I thought it was a great idea!  So I explained it.  What's wrong?"

"It didn't occur to you that folks might read that, and think we were all a bunch of Barney Fife idiots -- shooting ourselves in the foot all the time!?"

I felt like an idiot, myself.  I shook my head.  "I'm sorry.  That never occurred to me.  I just thought I was comparing you to a guy who did a good job of keeping the peace, and gently keeping folks from stepping out of line.  That's why I wrote about the dogs."

His head snapped up.  "That really happened?  Just the way you described?"

I nodded.  He was pretty angry, but it was the truth.  "Yeah.  Just the way I said."

"And he said that stuff, about intentionally making all those dogs bark to wake up the owner?"

"Yeah.  Why?  What did he do wrong?"

"Damn!"  He scanned the story and put his finger on a spot.  "This part here -- where he went to the shooting with red lights and siren -- how fast were you going?"

I shrugged.  "I don't know.  It was dark out, and I couldn't read the speedometer from where I sat." I was pretty sure we'd been doing about sixty, but I knew that was the wrong answer.

"Did you feel in danger when that happened?  Did you think he was driving too fast for the dark conditions out there?"

I shook my head.  "Absolutely not.  What did he do wrong?  What's the problem with the dogs?  He did it so he wouldn't have to arrest that guy."

He laid down the paper and looked at me.  "Well, the problem is: That's a little thing called "Disturbing the Peace."  And it's illegal!  You had a tape recorder with you.  I saw it.  Did you record all this?"

"Yeah.  I did.  But, I didn't mean to get him in any trouble."

"Do you have those tapes with you?"

They were in my car, but I'd had enough basic journalism training to know how to handle that question.  "I always have to give them to my editor.  They belong to the paper."  (Please note: I did not say I had ALREADY given them to my editor, just that I HAD to, and that they belonged to the paper.)

"So you don't have them."

"No."  They weren't on my person.  They were in my car about fifty feet away, in the parking lot.  On the front seat!

"Okay.  I'm going to let you go.  But, you need to bring me those tapes, because we need to use them.  And we may need to call you to testify in court.  If you don't bring those tapes back, we can issue a warrant.  Understood?"

I nodded.

Back at my faculty adviser's office, I told her what had happened, and what I'd said to the lieutenant.

"You actually told him the tapes are newspaper property?" she asked.

"That was the advice I got, when that local editor came to speak to one of my classes."

"Give me the tapes."  I handed them over.  "Okay," she said.  "Now they ARE newspaper property.  And he'll need a court order to get them from us."  Then she looked at me.  "But, you'd better be careful when you drive across the reservation to come to class.  They might try to arrest you.  Here's my card; if they arrest you, call me."

Maybe that police officer just wanted to scare me, or something.

But that faculty adviser wasn't joking.  She was worried.

That was over a decade ago, so I don't worry too much anymore.  Heck, I don't even know where I put her card.

But, for a while there . . .

See you in two weeks,
— Dixon