Patrick Swayze

I was thumbing through a stack of offense reports, the crimes that had occurred during the previous overnight hours, when the owner of a nightclub showed up at my office door. His business had a widely-known reputation for rowdy bar fights, stabbings, drug dealings, and shootings. He was a loud-talking man with a coarse voice that sounded as if he’d swallowed a couple of sheets of 80 grit sandpaper. He was rude, crude, and irritatingly boisterous. However, the day he sat in the chair next to my desk with his hat in hand, however, he was as meek and mild as a newborn kitten. He had troubles and he wore them on his sleeve for the world to see.

He explained to me that the local police (his club was located in a nearby city outside of my jurisdiction) had threatened to begin proceedings to classify his business as a public nuisance. Their goal, they’d told him, was to then shut down the bar and padlock the doors for good. He went on to tell me that he’d invested his entire life savings into the nightclub as well as the cash he’d set aside for his daughters’ college years, days that were rapidly approaching. Things had simply gotten out of hand and he didn’t know how to turn them around.

I asked Mr. Jones (not his real name) why he’d come to see me and not an officer in the city where his business was located. After all, I told him, I didn’t have arrest powers in the city where his club was located. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I understand you know how to clean up problems like mine. You can, right?”

At the time, I must admit, I had a bit of a reputation for taking on some of the biggest and baddest thugs on the street, and winning. Of course, I didn’t do it alone. I had the backing of a group of officers I’d assembled specifically to tackle gangs and street violence. The collection of officers was appropriately named “Street Crimes Unit (SCU).”

The word on the street was that when I was recruited by a certain (unnamed) city police department, part of the reason was to clean up an area called “The Bottom” (not the real name) where honest, law-abiding folks absolutely did not dare venture outside at night. Instead, each evening, when the sun dipped below the horizon, residents double-locked their doors and windows and then hunkered down to wait for gunfire, home invasions, and drug dealers and prostitutes who shamelessly operated their businesses from the locals’ front yards and porches.

Dialing 911 was basically a hobby for the residents of The Bottom, and, when patrol officers responded they were often on the receiving end of anonymous gunfire, rocks, bricks, and more. They were outnumbered—15 or 20 to 1.

So, in order to accomplish the task I was hired to do, I assembled the SCU, a highly skilled and fearless team of officers, sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers, federal agents, friends of mine from the state police and other state agencies, reserve officers, and a herd of canines and their handlers—both narcotics dogs and those who love to bite. We dressed in black BDUs for uniformity and for a bit of intimidation factor, and we were heavily armed.

Each night I called a briefing where I instructed everyone to be safe but to arrest as many law breakers as they could possibly nab—I wanted the bad guys to know we meant business—we headed out on a mission we hoped would produce positive results, without violating anyone’s rights. Everything had to be by the book, no exceptions. But the goal was clear. Clean up the streets. Rid the neighborhoods of violent criminals.

After the briefing regarding the operation in The Bottom, I led the long parade of police vehicles to the edge of neighborhood, an area comprised of several square blocks. We parked out of sight and earshot where the K-9 handlers gave their dogs a quick potty break. When the dogs were properly relieved we “moved in” on foot, walking as a large unit down the middle of the main street where activity was most prevalent. I’d also assigned two officers to stay behind, standing guard over our vehicles.

We were about 30 deep and 2 wide, and I guarantee you that 60 officers suited in all black with some carrying rifles and shotguns, while a pack of barking and snarling Rottweilers and German Shepherds, well, I’ll put it this way … the streets were fairly clear within a matter of minutes. We took a few prisoners—those who thought they could take on the police by firing a couple of Saturday night specials into the air, hoping to scare us away. And there were those who enjoyed a good fist fight no matter the odds.

 

Sure, I got my clothes dirty, and I came away with a few bruises and scrapes, but we won the battle. And we did it again and again until the elderly residents were once again able to enjoy their front porch swings while drinking glasses of iced tea and chatting with their neighbors.

Anyway, back to Mr. Jones. Those “street sweeps” earned me a reputation of taking on the biggest of the biggest and the baddest of the baddest. It wasn’t a totally earned reputation since it was an effort by an entire team, but I led the way so it was my face that was associated with kicking butt and taking names.

Mr. Jones asked me to come to work for him as the head of his team of security officers. He wanted me to be a bouncer. A cooler. And in the worst joint within five counties. I immediately said thanks but no thanks. Then, and it was odd to hear from this guy, he said, “Please.” And there were tears in his eyes.

Well, Friday night rolled around—yes, I’m a sucker for tears—and I stood just inside the front door of the nightclub, wearing a black t-shirt with SECURITY stamped in bold white letters across the back.

I was Patrick Swayze from the film Roadhouse. Well, sort of …

I also wore BDU’s with the pockets packed with pepperspray, a kubaton, an ASP, and handcuffs.

I showed the other bouncers how to operate a hand-held metal detector—everyone was to be scanned…no exceptions, I told them. No purses, pocketbooks, or bags of any kind. No pepperspray and no knives … of any kind. If the detector sounded off, a security team member patted them down. If they refused the pat-down, they didn’t come inside. Simple as that. I did not want to go home that night with any extra perforations in my body.

Ten minutes into this dumb move (accepting the job), I was already wondering just how dumb I was for considering this dumb assignment.

Finally, at 10:00 p.m. (my usual bedtime), it was time to open the doors. The DJ was pumping out Hip-Hop and rap tunes that pounded inside my skull and rattled my bones until I thought my skeleton might make a break for it and dash for the exit. I’m a Led Zepplin/Pink Floyd kind of guy, so the music spewing from the club’s Volkswagen-size speakers definitely wasn’t doing anything to make me feel welcome.

I peeked outside and saw a line of people snaking down the front steps, out into the gravel parking lot (I’d already made a mental note to avoid any scuffles out there, because rolling around on jagged stones can be painful), and down the sidewalk at the street. Building capacity was 800 and there were at least 1,000 people waiting to get inside to hear “DJ Jamba-Juice” or whatever the hell his stage name was. I think his real name was Terrence Smith, though.

The crowd poured through the double front doors like water going down a drain. At twenty bucks each, Mr. Jones was making a killing, and that wasn’t counting the watered down scotch and bourbons the patrons would soon be gulping, at 10- to 12-bucks a pop.

The guys at the doors used those counter-clicker-things, trying to keep track of how many people had packed inside. But doing that, scanning for metal objects, searching pockets, arguing about the pocketbook rule, and dealing with those who were already intoxicated when they arrived, well, let’s just say they lost count and the building was bursting at the seams. I swear, each time the crowd exhaled I thought I could see moonlight coming in through the spaces where the rafters “used to” meet the walls.

And, lo and behold, it happened. Somebody looked at somebody’s girlfriend and the donkey dung hit the fan. It was on and out came the knives and broken beer bottles.

I waded through the crowd of looky-loos, pushing and pulling people out of my way until I found the fight. Four men going at each other like a pack of hyenas going after a zebra carcass. Two women were scratching and clawing and hair-pulling, and this was the snatching of real hair. Their wigs were on the floor, looking like two squashed and very dead muskrats.

I started worming my way into the fight, stopping the slugging, stabbing, and cutting. Then a shot rang out. And then another, and another.

People scrambled toward the exits, knocking down the weak and the meek. The fight, though, continued with more men joining in to take cheap shots at me. So I decided to even the odds and pulled out my pepper spray and began squirting the attackers like I was spraying a bad roach infestation. I held the ASP in my other hand, ready to take out the kneecaps, elbows, and collarbones of anyone not affected by the spray. Luckily, they abandoned their intentions and headed for the door, rubbing their burning eyes and skin.

My brand new SECURITY shirt was torn at the collar and my freshly laundered pants were filthy, with several drops and smears of blood on the legs and near the waistband. I looked around to see why the other bouncers hadn’t come to my aid and saw that they, too, had been involved in battles of their own. We looked a mess, like warriors who’d been away battling dragons and trolls and other evil creatures.

A few minutes later the local police arrived and they came inside ten deep, ready to clear the joint. The sergeant recognized me and immediately asked, “What the hell are you doing here?” But his question came a bit too late … I’d already asked myself that very question at least a dozen times. And to this day I still don’t know why I agreed to serve as a real-life Patrick Swayze for a night.

I did learn a valuable lesson, though, that it’s a lot safer to approach a situation such as the one at Mr. Jones’ bar, if you go in carrying machine guns while following a handful of well-trained dogs. A stick and a can of pepper juice just doesn’t cut it when the odds are a thousand to six, in the favor of the other team.

 

By the way, that was the last night Mr. Jones’ bar was open for business. Someone eventually bought it and turned the place into a family restaurant, specializing in Mexican food … where hot peppers are used as they should be … as part of the cuisine.

Working the graveyard shift was always a thorn in my side, and the reason for the ill will boiled down to the simple fact that I like to sleep when the rest of the humans I know are sleeping. Yes, I too, like to go to bed when the moon is in the sky, when birds are roosting, and when most burglars are out and about plying their trade.

If, by design, man should earn a living at the time when bats are flitting, fluttering, and circling streetlights, well, we’d most certainly have leathery wings and would sit down to plates of steaming hot mosquitos for our evening meals. We’d also have built-in night vision and we’d enjoy long walks in cemeteries. So yeah, in spite of once being a hardcore night person who for many years played guitar in bands that performed in dive bars and clubs across the south, as an officer I had a hard time keeping my eyes open once the clock struck 4 a.m. That particular time, of course, was the precise moment when the sandman began to tug downward on the invisible strings attached to my eyelids.

I prefer to sleep AT NIGHT. Thank you very much.

But, being a person who truly enjoyed receiving a regular paycheck, at 11 p.m. each night of the midnight shift rotation I’d shower and shave and then begin the process of transforming from gardener, cook, dad, husband, neighbor, repairman, mechanic, and carpenter, into the uniformed police officer known to the citizens on my watch. By the way, this metamorphosis must be completed in near silence because your family is fast asleep and already dreaming of unicorns and fairies and happy thoughts of not having to go to work or school in the middle of the night.

So, after a dab of Old Spice to cool sensitive post-shave cheeks came the installation of proper undergarments—boxers, briefs, or whatever bottom-huggers were the preference, if any. This step also included donning a pair of anaconda-strength, calf-crushing socks that’re designed to never slip downward. After all, there are not many things worse than having your socks inch toward your ankles while you’re sprinting through backyards and alleys trying to catch the guy who just robbed the clerk at Billy’s BBQ and Butt-Waxing Emporium.

Also included in the installation of the “unmentionables” was donning a cooling t-shirt. These handy articles of clothing are designed to wick moisture, ward off humidity, and reduce the beneath-the-Kevlar temperature to a manageable degree instead of the typical “bake-a-loaf-of-bread-in-under-two-seconds” heat every officer endures on a daily basis, especially the men and women who work in areas of extreme humidity.

The type of trousers officers wear depends upon their assignment and/or department policy. For now, let’s put our feet, legs, and rear end into a pair of those fancy polyether pants, the ones with the sporty racing stripes that stretch from waist to ankle on the outside of each leg. This odd-feeling material is as slick as eel snot when the eel is suffering from a bad summer cold.

Once the pants are on it’s best to leave them unfastened until tucking the front and rear tails of the vest carrier (the material that holds the Kevlar panels in place) into the trousers. I knew several officers who also tucked the tails of their undershirts into their underwear to prevent the loose material from riding up and going all wonky beneath the vest. A dress belt is slipped through each of the pant loops (more on this belt in a moment).

After the pants are in place it’s time for the shiny shoes, which, by the way, are fabricated from some sort of space-age stay-shiny-all-the-time material. The days of shoe-shining, thankfully, went out with the round red bubblegum lights perched on the tops of patrol cars. Although, I sort of missed shining my own shoes because the scent of shoe polish was comforting, much like the cooking smells at grandma’s house on Thanksgiving Day.

I say now is the time to put on the shoes because it’s far easier to do so BEFORE hitching-up the Kevlar vest, a contraption that hinders bending, squatting, taking deep breaths, and scratching those pesky itches that always occur the moment after the vest is strapped in place.

This thing, “the vest,” a life-saving piece of gear for sure, is like strapping two chunks of dense clay to your chest and back. You slip the bulky thing over your head, taking care to not whack yourself in the noggin, a blow that could induce instantaneous unconsciousness. Heaven forbid you should wake the rest of the family when your body hits the floor, right? Anyway, a quick pull on the velcro straps while mashing the hooks and loops together, and then you’re ready to reach for the shirt.

The uniform shirt is a billboard of sorts that, by way of various pins, medals, and badges, advertises an officer’s rank, length of  time in service, conduct status, how well they shoot, and even their name in case a rock-tossing “I know my rights” protester for the cause du jour wants to include it in the latest social media video. It helps to attach all of the doodads in advance because it’s a bit tedious and time-consuming.

There’s a place on the shirt that’s designed specifically for the badge. It’s easy to spot due to the two permanently sewn-in tabs that help prevent excessive wear and tear on the material caused by daily pinning and unpinning.

The shirts also feature permanent sewn-in military creases, stiff collar stays, and a slick, stain-resistant finish for repelling blood, grime, and other “goop” that could find it’s way onto the material during a scuffle or bad burrito spill.

Some uniform shirts are also fitted with zip-up fronts. If so, the zippers are covered by a thin strip of vertical material and row of buttons that serve no purpose other than to give the appearance that they’re used to button-up the shirt. Zippered shirts are great because bad guys cannot rip and pop the buttons during a friendly “encounter.”

Here’s an example of some do-dads worn by officers.

From top to bottom:

– Name tag.

– Award ribbons – Community service award, length of service, expert marksman, lifesaving award, medal of valor.

– Pistol expert (in our area, to earn this award the officer must consistently shoot an average of 95% or better on the range).

– FTO pin worn by field training officers.

– K9 pin worn by K9 officers

*Remember, ribbons and pins may vary in individual departments and agencies.

Pins on the back of name tags, ribbons, etc. are used to attach the insignias to an officer’s uniform. A small clasp (similar to an ear ring backing) is pressed over the pin tips to hold them in place.

Unfortunately, the clasps often fall off during scuffles with rowdy bad guys, and (if the officer is not wearing a bullet-resistant vest) can result in the pin tips puncturing the officer’s skin.

For a quick fix in the field, lost clasps can be temporarily replaced with pencil erasers.

So, with all articles of the uniform in place, officers are finally in position to tuck the tails of the vest carrier into the pants, button up, zip up, close up, buckle the dress belt, and then add the final piece to the puzzle … the gun belt.

Gun belts wrap around the waist, hook in the front, and are attached to the dress belt to hold it in place. Belt keepers are are used to connect the gun belt to the dress belt. Their purpose is to prevent the gun belt from falling down around the ankles, an act that could cause a bit of embarrassment, and to make drawing the weapon an extremely difficult task to perform.

Two belt keepers, between the two handcuff cases, loop over both the gun belt and the dress belt. They’re held together by the two pairs of silver snaps pictured here. Some keepers have only one snap. Belt keepers are worn in various locations around the belt. Specific placement and the number of keepers used is up to the officer and depends upon where support is needed.

So, once the graveyard shift officer is properly attired and outfitted, it’s time to tiptoe out the front door, taking care to not wake anyone. However, leather creaks, keys jingle, shoes squeak, and the radio crackles.

Hopefully, somewhere between eight and twelve hours later the sweaty and exhausted officer, the one wearing the now wrinkled and rumpled uniform, will return home where he/she will begin the process in reverse … and then try to sleep when the sun is high in the sky, streetlights are off, and while the rest of the family is banging and clanging around the house, the TV is blaring, the neighbor is mowing his lawn, a mockingbird is singing its ass off in the tree next to the bedroom window, and the dog is licking their face.

Oh, and let’s not forget trying to drift off to sleep while thoughts of auto crashes, shooting and stabbing victims, pursuits, fights, and battered kids and women all are flashing through their minds.

Yeah, sweet dreams, officer. Sweet dreams …

Depending upon which source is believed to be correct—Social Security or the census—Johnson Vandyke “Van” Grigsby was born in either February of 1888 or February of 1886, respectively. Grigsby, the son of freed slaves, however, said March of 1885 was the month and year of his birth.

In 1900, Grigsby and his family moved from their home in Shelby County, Kentucky to Kokomo, Indiana, the county seat of Howard County. Seven years later, Grigsby, an African-American, killed a white man named James Brown. The pair had been playing a game of five card stud poker in a saloon in Anderson, IL. when the two men engaged in a fight.

During the altercation, the men, as men often do, cursed at one another. Then racial slurs were uttered. As the fracas became intensely heated, Brown pulled a knife on Van. So Van left the bar to retrieve a knife of his own. When Van returned Brown picked up a chair and threw it at him. In response, Van lunged at Brown, with his knife, and subsequently stabbed Brown to death.

Grigsby, as the story goes, plead guilty to second degree murder in order to escape the electric chair.

Convicted of second degree murder in 1908, Grigsby began a new and extremely long chapter in life when he was delivered in a horse-drawn cart to the Indiana State Penitentiary in Michigan City. The trip lasted several days.

When he arrived at the prison on August 8, 1908, the same year the four-cylinder, twenty-horsepower Model T was first offered and sold for $825, Grigsby left behind his life as a free man and became “prisoner #4045.”

Upon his release in December 1974, inmate Grigsby had served 66 long years in the penitentiary, with 50 or so of those years spent in a ward for the insane. A doctor, though, finally examined him and declared that he was “not crazy.”

In spite of being a model prisoner who passed the time by reading (and re-reading) the Bible, a dictionary, and a complete set of encyclopedias from A_Z, he’d applied for parole 33 times before finally being released.

As a free man once again, Grigsby had to adjust to life on “the outside” as someone who’d been secluded from the world for nearly seven decades. While Grigsby’s former daily life had consisted of staring at concrete and steel and barbed wire, life beyond the prison walls passed him by, and when he finally stepped outside the front gate an entirely new world was there to greet him. The stark differences were surely like the moment in the Wizard of Oz film when things instantly transformed from black and white to vivid color. There were no subtle changes.

*The Wizard of Oz premiered on the big screen in 1939, eventually making its way to television in 1956. Grigsby was behind bars for both. Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in the film, was born in 1922 and died in 1969. Her entire life and career took place during Grigsby’s period of incarceration.

In fact, during Grigsby’s time inside, he’d missed such “firsts” as …

  • The first candy apple.
  • The introduction of Skee ball (my favorite beach boardwalk arcade game).
  • The invention of gin rummy.
  • Erector sets.
  • The painting of marker lines on roadways.
  • Electric blankets.
  • The first traffic lights.
  • Fortune cookies.
  • Hamburger buns.
  • Lincoln logs.
  • Supermarkets.
  • Tow trucks.
  • Light switches.
  • Grocery bags.
  • Toasters
  • Eskimo pies.
  • Band-Aids.
  • Water skiing.
  • Bulldozers.
  • Cotton swabs.
  • Cheeseburgers.
  • Gas chamber executions.
  • Masking tape.
  • Tilt-a-Whirl.
  • Corn dogs.
  • Recliners.
  • Bubble gum.
  • Ice cube trays.
  • Reuben sandwiches.
  • Sunglasses.
  • The first frozen food.
  • Car radios.
  • Chocolate chip cookies.
  • Electric guitars.
  • Golf carts.
  • Trampolines.
  • Parking meters.
  • Stock car racing.
  • Shopping carts.
  • Beach balls.
  • Soft-serve ice cream.
  • Yield signs.
  • Twist ties.
  • Deodorant.
  • Slinkies.
  • Tupperware
  • Credit cards.
  • Cat litter
  • Hairspray.
  • Cable television
  • Frisbees.
  • Coolers.
  • Wetsuits.
  • Barcodes.
  • WD-40
  • Ziplock bags.
  • Radar guns
  • The first man on the moon.
  • The FBI was established only one month prior to Grigsby’s incarceration.
  • 13 U.S. presidents had come and gone.
  • National Anthem was adopted.
  • U.S. engagement in Korean and Vietnam Wars began and ended.
  • Alaska and Hawaii became U.S. states.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • President Kennedy was assassinated.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
  • Grigsby’s entire life passed by in dreary stagnation while the world continued to rapidly spin and twirl and advance in gigantic leaps and bounds. Is it any wonder that when his feet did finally hit the pavement outside he’d stepped into a world that was unrecognizable to him. By the way, the first ready-mix load of concrete was delivered in Baltimore, Md. in 1913. The Hoover Dam, made of concrete, was constructed in 1936.

    It must’ve been like finding oneself on a distant planet … a new world filled with magic and awe. He most likely saw a traffic light for the first time in his life. Music and art and speech, and cars, and trains, and stores and, well, everything—all brand new and shiny and spinning and flashing and whirling and whirring.

    He was a 90 year old man who was launched directly from 1908 nearly 70 years into the future, a world where he was instantly expected to adapt. But, as should have been expected, Grigsby found himself unable to cope with such drastic change and voluntarily returned to prison, where he remained for 17 additional months before he was again released. This time, though, at the age of 91, he was out for good. He ended up in the Marion County Health Care Center, though, where he found much comfort at being told when to get up, when to eat, when to bathe, and when to go to bed. This being the only way he knew to live and to survive.

    Grigsby’s situation is all too familiar to many men and women who serve long periods of time behind bars. Time, people, and life pass swiftly by, leaving long-serving ex-prisoners confused and lonely and, upon their release, they find it difficult to obtain employment in a world that’s unlike the one they knew prior to incarceration.

    The stigma of being a convicted felon is already a huge hurdle to overcome when job searching, but add to it the lack of modern day skills and sudden forced adjustment to the unknowns makes the effort almost insurmountable without a hand up from friends and family. Unfortunately, it’s commonplace that friends and family have long since turned their backs on the folks serving extensive prison terms. That, and decent housing and educational opportunities are often unattainable for felons.

    Therefore, the exasperated former inmates often see no way to survive without returning to what they know … criminal activity.

    For these people to survive as productive citizens, somewhere, somehow, sometime, someone has to offer a true second chance. They need the opportunity to hold their heads high and not hang them down in shame for the balance of their time on earth. A means to earn back their rights and to remove the “scarlet letters” from their chests.

    Of course, we all realize that some of these folks will never change and prison is, without a doubt, the best place for them. But others do regret the bad choices they’ve made, and they do indeed want and welcome change.

    But to forever brand former prisoners, and to not provide a support system that keeps them current with the times and technology is, well, it’s not good for them nor is it good for society.


    Johnny Cash told Grigsby’s story in a song called Michigan City Howdy Do..
     

Police work is certainly filled with unknown and unseen perils. Without a doubt, it’s a job that comes with a long list of hazards. Aside from the obvious dangers—fights, stabbings, car crashes, shootings, etc.—one of the most gut-wrenching threats to officers is known universally as the dreaded “Open Mic.”

Open Mic – When an officer unknowingly presses the transmit button on his portable radio and is broadcasting everything he/she says and does to anyone and everyone.

And this, one cold, winter night, is when an open mic caused a bit of embarrassing grief for Captain “Jim” and a young female dispatcher I’ll call Geraldine for the purpose of this post. You see where this is going, right?

I was working late that night, wrapping up after a successful raid on a crack dealer’s house, when I heard the “dead air.” A sound, or lack thereof, that’s unmistakable and easily recognizable to officers everywhere. It usually starts out with a bout of silence, followed by faint traffic noises, a car radio playing somebody’s favorite tune, or maybe a conversation. This faux pas often occurs when an officer leans over to one side and accidentally depresses the talk button on his belt-mounted walkie-talkie. Seat belt connections are notorious for pushing the button inward. However, when the officer moves the button is released and all is well. No problem.

Sometimes, though, what comes spewing from the speaker is downright porn. You know, the officer is at home for lunch with the spouse and things get a bit heated and the next thing you know off goes the gun belt. The officer drops the belt to the floor where the radio talk button becomes jammed against the point of a high heel or a chair leg. And, well, “lunch time” is instantly broadcasted to everyone with a police radio and/or scanner. Not good. No, not good at all. No, sir.

Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 1.26.04 PM

Anyway, back to Captain Jim’s troubles.

I heard the dead air followed by the sound of voices, a man and woman. It quickly became apparent that the male was our boss, Captain Jim. The female’s voice was difficult to pinpoint. Familiar, somewhat, but I had a hard time figuring out who she was because of all the screaming … “Oh, Jim! Oh, Jim! Yes, Jim! Oh, Jim! Yeeeesssssss, Jiiimmmm!!!!

Next, I heard a bit of light smooches and then a few odd, indiscernible clicks and rattles.

Then … silence.

Suddenly, an exasperated voice spewed from the speaker in my car, and from, I’m sure, every police car radio in the entire network—city police, county deputies, state police, and every household where a police scanner sat perched on somebody’s grandpa’s nightstand. Even worldwide should someone happen to be listening in on their computer or cell phone from Padooky, Kansas, or Fryonion, Nevada, or Crookedfoot, Alaska. Or even as far away as China, Russia, or Australia. It’s possible.

“S**t! The door’s locked,” said Captain Jim.

“What?” said the female voice who I immediately recognized as that of Geraldine, one of the night shift dispatchers. “Stop joking,” she said.

“I’m not kidding,” said Captain Jim. “I forgot about not being able to open the back doors on patrol cars.” A pause, then, “I knew I should’ve driven my own car, dammit.”

“What are we going to do?” said Geraldine.

“I’ll have to call someone … oh, s**t, the mic’s open.”

That’s the precise moment when the hot microphone died and regular radio traffic resumed.

The next voice I heard on the radio was Captain Jim calling me, asking if I was available to come to his location. He told me he was at an old abandoned runway out at the county’s private airport. Meeting an informant is the reason he gave for being there. Yeah, right.

I ten-foured him and headed out to the airport, grinning all the way as I imagined the captain and Geraldine trapped in the backseat area behind the partition, waiting patiently for me to come rescue them. I also had thoughts of all the folks who’d urinated or puked or bled in the backseat currently being used as a cozy little love nest.

I drove to the end of one runway and then turned left onto the cracked and pot-hole littered asphalt of the abandoned runway, and there, parked among a stand of tall weeds and overgrown shrubs and sycamore trees, and rusty, old appliances someone had discarded, is where I saw the police car. No one was visible in the vehicle. Not that I could see, that is, because the windows were heavily steamed.

I parked my unmarked car, got out, and walked over to the rear door on the driver’s side where I grabbed the handle and pulled it open. Then I turned around and went back to my car and drove away.

Neither Captain Jim nor I ever spoke about that night. I figured what happened out there was none of my business. I do know, however, that I was never denied a single vacation request from that night forward.

 

Working the dreaded graveyard shift is bad enough as it is, but when you add the extra stress of working it alone, well, then it sometimes becomes downright dangerous. But I’ve done it, and so have many police officers across the country who work in small towns and counties. In my case it was a county—my first law enforcement assignment—and it wasn’t all that small. But our sheriff had his way of running things and few were brave enough to contradict the larger than life man behind the curtain. So working alone during the overnight shift was not uncommon. Didn’t like it, but it was what it was.

The sheriff had his reasons for the solitary assignments, I suppose. Well, sometimes the reasons were a bit shaky to say the least, such as allowing time off for several family and/or friends who served as deputies. This was so an entire group of children and nephews and close personal friends could attend gatherings, weddings, parties, etc.

The shortage of manpower left other deputies to cover for the absentees, often doing so on their days off. Or, as I stated above, it was often necessary for the remaining deputy on the schedule, like me, who was not related to the boss, to cover an entire shift/county all by your pitiful self with no one to talk to except a hollow voice on the police radio.

Stuck on E-flat

Speaking of “that” voice on the radio … OMG, if there was ever a cure for insomnia, she or he was it. Looooonnnngggg monotonous messages delivered in a single sleep-inducing tone. No change in pitch or inflection of tone. All one note. It’s as if their vocal cords are stuck on E-flat.

Grandma’s window shades

Working the midnight shift is sometimes slow and lonely, especially after 2 a.m. (10 p.m. – 2 a.m. are the action hours, usually). You spend a great deal of your late-night patrol time fighting sleep while listening to anything you can find on the radio. And you constantly fight with that mandatory piece of equipment worn by all graveyard shift officers … the invisible string attached to your eyelids—the one that attempts to pull them down like grandma’s old-time window shades. And the string uses a downward force that’s equal to three times the earth’s gravitational pull.

You’re out there with the feral dogs and cats while they raid garbage cans and dumpsters, and the back-lit mannequins guarding storefront windows in the various small towns are the only company that remotely resembles another human. Wispy tendrils of steam rise out of the storm drains, twisting and winding their way upward toward the black sky. Your spotlight reveals things between silos and tractor sheds that may or may not be there. Only your mind knows for sure. Images of a nice, warm, soft bed and pillow play on a never-ending loop inside your mind.

But there are some moments of excitement and action and working an entire county alone poses some interesting problems … like an attempt to reach  a crime scene at some point in time before your shift ends. County deputies and police sometimes must travel long distances between the location where they received the call and the spot to where they’re dispatched. For example:

The trip across our county from east to west, with blue lights and siren and gas pedal to the floor, was 40 minutes or so. That’s nonstop as a wobbly, drunk crow flies. North to south was even further. Diagonally, though, if a deputy was patrolling in the far southwest corner and received a call in the far northeast, well, let’s just say that we hoped the complainant knew how to shoot or had a pack of viscous attack dogs handy, because we’d have to stop for gas twice before we’d reach them. And that’s if our radios could pick up a signal in the deepest, darkest corners of the county.

To make matters worse, since interstates do not run diagonally, that meant dodging deer, ‘possums, raccoons, bobcats, animal carcasses, loose cattle, bears, hawks, rabbits darting about as if they’d been shot from cannons, wide-eyed owls, buzzards, bats, and thousands of nighttime flying insects peppering the windshield like gooey, sticky birdshot. All of this while zipping along at top speeds while winding our way along a maze of roller-coaster-like country roads for a good portion of the trip. Hence the reference above to the drunk crow.

Day Shift

Daytime shifts in rural areas present their own challenges. You know, like when you’re running full lights and sirens because someone has just been shot, and suddenly find yourself behind a massive multi-wheeled farm tractor that’s towling some sort of bright green or red dinosaur-like machinery with appendages that occupy most, if not all, roadway space and both shoulders? And, of course, Bubba the no-shirted tractor driver is chattering away on his CB radio while scooting along at a breath-taking 4 miles-per-hour. He can’t hear your siren over the roar of the equipment, and he never, not ever, turns around to see what’s behind him.

So you’re left with no choice but to find a shallow spot in the ditch and crash through it sending everything inside your car flying—coffee cup under the brake pedal, papers on the dashboard fluttering about like large chunks of confetti, handcuffs under the seat and, well, you get the idea. Then you plow through an acre or so of corn in order to pass the tobacco-chewer (you learned this bit of information where he turned and spat a nice wad through your open window just as you finally made your way past his mammoth tires).

Then, to top off the trip, you arrive at the scene and discover an entire family, along with several intoxicated shirtless neighbors, fighting like they’re the feature “act” in one of those ridiculous TV wresting matches. And they’ve chosen large hunting knives as their weapons du jour.

Junioorrr!!!!

So you yell out, “Junior!” knowing that at least half of the crew will stop fighting long enough to see who’s calling their given name. Doing so typically scatters the folks who have outstanding warrants or are parole or probation violators. Then you’re safe to arrest the remaining half-dozen, or so.

Of course, you’ll first you’ll have to stand toe-to-toe and argue with the wives of each of the offenders, and you don’t want to arrest them because each lovely bride has at least one crying snotty-nosed diaper-wearing kid hanging from a hip. And there’s always, always, always a barking and yelping one-eyed, three-legged dog named Bear or Blue who’s frantically nipping at your ankles during this entire mess.

Just as you’re about to ratchet the cuffs on the largest man in the entire county, the guy who bench presses officers for fun (if you only have one pair of cuffs, always handcuff the behemoth who’s most likely the one who could inflict the most amount of pain on you), your radio crackles …

“Shots fired… unintelligible …. at the unintelligible … use … unintelligible … 10-4?”

Nope, no emotion. No change in tone. No inflection.

The entire message delivered in E-flat.

Anyway, that’s how it goes sometimes when you’re working an entire shift, alone. Other times, especially at night, it can be downright nerve-wracking not knowing what’s at the other end of that driveway, the one where you hear gunshots echoing off dented aluminum siding and rusty tin roofs.

But you do what you gotta do to keep your sanity, even if it means finding the end of a long dirt road, stopping the car, turning out the lights, and closing your eyes for a few minutes as Delilah tells some poor love-sick guy, “She’s gone for good, but here’s song that’ll make you feel better about yourself …”

ZZZZZZZ ……

Police radio crackles.

Eyes open in anticipation of the latest fresh hell

Then …

“Automobile crash at the intersection of …” (All in E-flat).

And so it goes … hoping you’ll reach the crash before daylight.

In the meantime …

 

 

It’s four in the morning and fatigue is tugging hard on your eyelids. It’s a subtle move, like grasping the string on one of your grandmother’s window shades, slowly pulling it down. The move, so gracefully executed by the Sand Man, is such that you hardly notice it.

Thinking about your family asleep in their warm beds, you turn onto a side street trying and hoping to find a place to pull over. Five minutes. That’s all you need.

Shouldn’t have spent those three hours today playing with the kids when you could’ve been sleeping. Still, that’s the only time you could spare. Otherwise you’d never see them while they’re awake.

And, someone had to mow the lawn this afternoon, right? And repair the washer and fix the flat on the wife’s car. Oh yeah, tomorrow is the day you’re supposed to speak about police officers to your third-grader’s class. It won’t take long, two or three hours at the most. Of course, there’s the lunch in the cafeteria with your kid. Sigh …

Sleep. You need sleep

Your headlights wash over the back of the alley as feral dogs and cats scramble out of the dumpster that sits like an old and tired dinosaur behind Lula Mae’s Bakery. The knot of hungry animals scatter loaves of two-day-old bread in their haste to escape the human intruder who dared to meddle with their nocturnal feeding.

A mutt with three legs and matted fur hobbles behind a rusty air conditioning unit, dragging a long, dirty paper bag half-filled with crumbled bagels that spill and leave a trail of stale nuggets in its wake. Tendrils of steam rise slowly from storm drains; ghostly, sinewy figures melting into the black sky. A train whistle moans in the distance.

The night air is damp with fog, dew, and city sweat that reeks of gasoline and sour garbage. Mannequins stare out from tombs of storefront glass, waiting for daylight to take away the flashing neon lights that reflect from their plaster skin.

You park at the rear of the alley, stopping next to a stack of flattened cardboard boxes, their labels reflecting someone’s life for the week—chicken, lettuce, disposable diapers, and cheap wine.

Four more hours. If you could only make it for four more hours …

Suddenly, a voice spews from the speaker behind your head, “Shots fired. Respond to 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Back up is en route.”

“10-4. I’m 10-8. ETA … four minutes.”

And so it goes.

And goes and goes and goes …


Were Dead Ringers Saved by the Bell?

It’s believed by some that the graveyard shift (not this blog) got its name from people who accidentally buried their loved ones while they were still alive. Thinking their dearly departed had gone on to their reward, these folks unknowingly fitted a barely breathing, unconscious or comatose Uncle Bill or Grandma with a new outfit and a spiffy pine box.

Then they buried them in the local cemetery where night workers claimed to sometimes hear the dead screaming for help from below the ground. When they dug up the suspicious coffins, they sometimes discovered scrapes and scratches on the insides of casket lids, an indication that perhaps the people inside had tried to claw their way out before finally succumbing to a lack of oxygen.

To remedy the situation, caskets were fitted with a bell, and a long string that reached from the surface to the inside of the buried coffin. This enabled the “dead” person to ring the bell should he awaken after his burial. Workers could then quickly rescue the living dead.

It’s debatable as to the validity of this tale, but it makes for an interesting story, especially for police officers who have cemeteries to patrol in their precincts.


Is Working Graveyard Shift Hazardous to Your Health?

Working the midnight shift is difficult for anyone. In fact, Circadian Technologies, Lexington, Massachusetts consultancy firm, conducted a study that showed companies operating a graveyard shift may be losing approximatel $206 billion dollars annually. Why? Because workers are simply not effective when working these late-night hours.

The study also showed a higher divorce rate among midnight shift workers, more gastrointestinal problems, higher stress related disorders, and a higher accident rate. The study also concluded that there’s a much higher turnover rate among night-shift employees.

A Hutchinson Group (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) study reports that women who work the graveyard shift may have a greater risk of breast cancer. The results of this study were first introduced in a 2001 Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Anyway, working the graveyard shift is a tough assignment no matter how you look at it. So tonight, when the clock strikes twelve, please take a moment to think about all the people across the country who are out there working hard to protect us and our property so that we may sleep safely. And, there are also the folks who work nightshift in factories, convenience stores, shipyards, hospitals, EMS services, firefighters, and many more.

Pigs in a blanket.

Winter night, toasty and warm.

Hot cocoa, donuts.


Sirens and blue lights.

Miles of blacktop pass beneath.

Robber, on the run.


 

Canine, growls and snarls.

Teeth, pointed, sharp, menacing.

Bad guy, “I give up!”


Bang! Bang! “Shots fired!”

Man runs, cops chase, Bang! Bang! Bang!

“Help, officer down!”


 

Children, wife, sleeping

Shirt, vest, badge, gun, shiny shoes

Night shift is lonely


 

Working graveyard shift

Feral dogs, cats, stoplights, moon

Drunks, fights, gunshots, pain, and tears


Respond to bar fight

One drunk, two drunk, three drunk, four

Five drunks all to jail


 

Drug bust, homicide

Traffic stop, car crash, break-in

All in a night’s work


 

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

Shootouts are scary


Little knife, big knife

Cut, slice, stab, and make us bleed

Yes, worse than gunshot


 

Grieving family

Loved one killed, shot by stranger

Evil surrounds us.


 

“Yes!” Five-O is here!”

Giggles, smiles, candy for all

Cops can be fun, too.

Do alcohol sales directly contribute to the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities? What about driving while under the influence of marijuana, be it medical or recreational use? Well, let’s take a very brief look into some numbers from the Commonwealth of Virginia, a state that’s responsible for all legal alcohol sales within its borders.

Alcohol-Related Fatalities in Virginia

In 2018, the Commonwealth of Virginia reported a 4% decrease in overall vehicle crashes. Fantastic, right? Well, not so fast. There was a 12% increase in alcohol-related fatalities, up from 248 in 2017 to 278. Virginia’s DMV stats show this is the highest number of fatalities involving alcohol since 2010.

These stats (above) are alarming to say the least, but solving the puzzle as to why there’s increase in alcohol-related vehicle deaths may not require the assistance of top mystery-solvers such as Sherlock Holmes or Jessica Fletcher. Instead, for facts that are plain as the nose on an elephant’s face, we can simply turn our attention to a chirpy little article written for the Capital News Service by Pedro Coronado.

It is within this article that the reasons for such a sharp increase in alcohol-related car crash deaths become apparent.

Coronado says, “Cheers! ABC Stores See Increase in Sales.”

In his celebratory piece, Coronado suggests that readers “raise a toast to the top-selling liquor store in Central Virginia in 2018, the ABC outlet at 10 N. Thompson St. in Richmond.”

The ABC store at 10 N. Thompson St. (near Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus) sold nearly $8 million in gross sales, and they had the highest profit margin in the state. Keep in mind that, in Virginia, the state operates all liquor stores, commonly known as ABC stores. ABC, of course, is the acronym for Alcoholic Beverage Control.

During the 2019 fiscal year, half of which includes at least part of the 12% increase in alcohol-related fatalities, Virginia ABC earned more than $1 billion, a revenue increase of about $72 million over sales in the previous year.

In 2019, the breakdown of income was about $197 million in store profits, $223 million in retail taxes, and $80 million in wine and beer taxes. As a result, ABC sent almost $500 million into the government’s general fund, money that’s then used to supplement education, health, transportation, public safety, etc. The rest was used for expenses such operating the individual stores, payroll, to the enforcement of ABC laws and regulations, etc.

Virginia ABC

Virginia ABC has four main sources of revenue.

  • state-imposed taxes on beer and wine sales
  • sales of distilled spirits at the agency’s stores
  • violation penalties
  • license fees.

Virginia ABC operates approximately 375 stores throughout the Commonwealth, employing over 4,000 people.

Established in 1934, Virginia ABC has earned its keep by contributing a whopping $10.3 billion to the Commonwealth’s General Fund. That, my friends, is a lot of alcohol sold and consumed.

ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement

Virginia’s ABC Special agents work directly with licensed businesses to address non-compliance issues relating to alcohol sales, and they’re tasked with reducing criminal activities involving alcohol.

ABC agents also initiate public safety investigations following incidents at licensed establishments, which often involves assisting and cooperating with local law enforcement agencies and officers. Agent duties often requires that they work in or assist with undercover operations

All Virginia ABC special agents are sworn and certified law enforcement officers, and they have statewide jurisdiction. ABC agents often work hand-in-and with local law enforcement officers in a variety of investigations. Although, when assisting local cops ABC agents typically act in a support capacity.

In addition, ABC agents may be found trekking through the countryside in search of liquor stills and illegal marijuana grow operations. I’ve personally worked with ABC agents while conducting numerous criminal investigations. I’ve also been involved in the searches for illegal stills. Yes, we found a few. We also stumbled across quite a few marijuana grow operations while seeking out illegal moonshine stills.

Marijuana-related Vehicle Fatalities

A study in the Journal of Law and Economics looked at traffic fatalities from 1990 to 2010, in 14 states and Washington D.C. Each of the states had previously enacted medical marijuana legalization .

The authors of the study found that, incredibly, traffic fatalities actually fell significantly by between 8% and 11% in the first year after the passage of medical marijuana laws. And they continued to fall for the next three years. The authors believe the explanation for the decrease is that medical marijuana may serve as a substitute for alcohol. (1)

Another study, this one lasting from 1985–2014, published results in the American Journal of Public Health. The study explored the same relationships—alcohol-related fatalities and crash fatalities relating to marijuana—but added the condition that dispensaries were in operation in each of the locations. Again, the study showed lower traffic fatality rates in those states with medical marijuana laws.

Actually, traffic fatalities decreased by 10.8% once medical marijuana became legal . However, the exceptions to the rule were two states (Rhode Island and Connecticut) who indicated an increase in fatalities. Still, overall the presence of operational marijuana dispensaries was associated with a decrease in accident fatalities. (3)


References

1 – Anderson, D. Mark et al. “Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities, and Alcohol Consumption.”The Journal of Law and Economics. Vol. 56 (2): 333-369. 2013. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/668812

2 -Santaella-Tenorio, Julian et al. “US Traffic Fatalities, 1985–2014, and Their Relationship to Medical Marijuana Laws.” American Journal of Public Health. Vol 107 (2): 336–342. February 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5227945/

3 – The Journal of Law and Economics. Vol. 56 (2): 333-369. 2013. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/668812

 

Takin' Bacon

This “tale” returns per a request I received from a writer. She said a friend had once heard me tell the story during a presentation at the New England Crime Bake several years ago and she wanted to hear it from me. Well, since it’s rare that I present workshops at conferences these days I told her I’d tell the about the adventure here today. I know many of you have already heard it so please bear with me as I share it with those who haven’t. I call this one Takin’ Bacon, and it’s a true story. Really, it is.

Takin’ Bacon

Crime-solving is not always as easy as television would have us believe. Sometimes police officers really have to work hard to get to the bottom of a particularly complex case.

Cops use a variety of means to crack each of their cases, and one really unusual series of events comes to mind when I think about out-of-the-box methods I’d used during my career.

As most of you know, I was a police detective for many years, and part of my job was to solve major crimes, such as murder, rape, and robbery. Sure, I paid my dues early in my career by writing tickets and directing traffic, but my real passion was the puzzle-solving that’s associated with tracking down murderers.

In the Beginning

Before most detectives are allowed to investigate the more serious crimes, though, they’re normally assigned to easier-to-solve, less intricate cases, such as bad checks and stolen tricycles.

One of my introductory cases was unusual to say the least. My boss, a gruff and tough-as-rusty-nails sheriff, dispatched me to get to the bottom of a rash of stolen hogs. No, not the cool and expensive motorcycles—real pigs, as in walking, oinking pork chops.

Someone was stealing live four- or five-hundred pound porkers directly from a farmer’s hog farm, and they were taking at least one or two each weekend. The pigs (hundreds upon hundred of them) were kept in many buildings on the large farm, so my partner and I thought the best way to nab these guys was to wait inside one of the elaborate hog parlors until the criminals arrived to do their dirty deed. Our plan was simple; when the crooks entered the building we would jump up, turn on the lights, and nab the ham-rustlers in the act of felony pig-napping.

“The” Weekend

Friday finally arrived and just before dark we entered one of the hog shelters and sat down on a pair of overturned 5-gallon buckets—one apiece—where we waited for the crooks to show up. I quickly discovered that the combined stench of pig feces and urine and other foul goodies were absolutely overwhelming. I also learned that pigs are sneaky and extremely curious, and that they have very cold and very wet and gross noses. Not to mention the fact that the odor clings to your clothing and shoes and refuses to go away.

We’d been hanging out in the dark, surrounded by fat sows, for nearly two hours when we finally heard the creaky sound of rusty springs stretching as someone open a plywood door near the center of the building.

A bit of moonlight spilled inside and then disappeared as the door closed behind who or whomever had entered the pig parlor. My partner and I both drew our weapons and waited, allowing the thieves enough time to begin the act of stealing. We wanted to catch them with ham hocks in hand.

There was a period of time where we heard two voices, but they were muffled by the sound of low-pitched pig grunts and oinks. The men used a small flashlight to help find their way to the center of the area, a place that was packed with so many hogs that it sort of resembled a concert arena on a night when Taylor Swift or Beyonce’ or Elton John performs. It was Pig-a-Palooza and Pigstock rolled into one.

We figured the bandits were being selective, choosing just the right pigs—this little pig or that little pig—that would fetch top dollar at the market.

Then and unexpectedly, a bright light flashed. Then another flash followed by another and another. I realized, detective material that I was, that the bad guys were taking pictures.

Confused by their actions, but anxious to catch the guys, we couldn’t stand it any longer. So we hopped up, aimed our Beretta 9mms in the general direction of the thugs, and switched on the lights.

I was shocked, to say the least, when I saw that one of the young men was standing directly behind a female pig—a sow, as they’re properly addressed—with his pants down around his ankles and resting atop the goop on the slatted floor (the space between the slats is where pig most waste falls into a deep and smelly pit).

I was even more startled when I realized the man was actually having sex with a big, fat and dirty female pig, and his buddy was taking pictures of him while he did it.

They both stopped what they were doing, in mid-action, and looked toward us. Each man had the same deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression.

(Not the actual suspect)

(Not the actual victim)

We immediately placed the two crooks under arrest and took them to the sheriff’s office for processing (that’s “booking” to laypeople.) During my questioning of the guy who’d been caught with his pants down, the embarrassed animal lover confessed to stealing over one-hundred pigs from several different farms over the past few weeks, and that they’d taken their “booty” to hog markets and sold them for a nice profit.

At the end of his confession, the pig-stealer shook his head and asked how we found out they were going to be there that night. He added that they’d been extremely careful not to leave behind an evidence trail of any kind.

I smiled because the perfect answer crept forward from that goofy spot in my head. I looked at the guy and said, “How did we know you were coming?  It’s simple, the pig squealed on you.”

He just shook his head slowly from side-to-side. After all, what could he have said to justify his little affair with Petunia?

I really should mention that the thief was married, and he wasn’t practicing safe sex with his porcine partners, if you know what I mean. So, if you’re ever having a bad day, just be really thankful that you’re not married to this guy. Unless you don’t mind that his idea of bringing home the bacon is just a bit “different” than that of normal folks.

By the way, I learned that the purpose of the pig pornography (each man photographed the other having sex with a pig) was insurance so that neither of the two men would tell on the other. If one were to snitch he’d face having the photograph sent to family members.  What I didn’t understand was why they felt the need to have a barnyard affair each time they stole a pig. Wouldn’t one photo be enough?

And I truly hope, this being a holiday weekend and all, that you’ll think of this curly little “tale” as you’re tossing the pork chops on the grill…

 

Mother would call it a ministry

Cops are a unique breed. They dress differently. They speak differently. They’re in a class all to themselves, and it’s a “Members Only” sort of group where those on the outside looking in often don’t understand what it is that officers do and why they do it.

Unfortunately, law enforcement is an operation that sometimes, to best protect us from harm, must do things out of public view. And that lack of understanding and wondering “what they’re up to” often leads to mistrust.

Some members of society reject any form of authority. Others distrust police officers because they’ve heard friends or family members say they don’t like cops. In some corners of cities, counties, and states, young children, even before they’re taught to read and write, are taught to hate the police. Then there are the bad apples of law enforcement who commit acts that go against the very meaning of their badge and oath.

Of course, compounding the trouble is the necessary secrecy involving some aspects of law enforcement, acts that can drive even larger wedges between the general population and the police. Therefore, over time, police officers metaphorically circled their protective wagons in order to survive in a world populated by people who simply don’t like them, for whatever reason(s). And, unfortunately, the circling of those wagons transformed the an already large wedge into a nearly impenetrable wall between citizens and the officers who’ve taken an oath to protect and serve them.

The wall is there. No doubt about it. But what many people don’t understand about the “wall” is that one of its cornerstones is fear—fear of abuse, fear of beatings, fear of racism, and even fear death. Yes, some people live their entire lives being deathly afraid of the police. Are those feelings justified? Sadly, in some cases, the answer is yes. But in most instances the answer is a definite and resounding NO. But, those bad apples in the barrel ruin things for everyone on both sides of the badge.

As a detective in charge of certain operations, I devoted much of my time attempting to tear down the invisible wall. I wanted people to know that police officers are human, and that we do good, and that we were there FOR them, not AGAINST them. And I still try to convey that message through this blog and through my writing. I also had the same goal in mind when starting the Writers’ Police Academy five years ago.

I knew the instructors at the WPA were the best in the business at what they do, but when I received the letter below, I also knew the event had achieved far more than helping writers “get it right.”

Finally, after all these years, there was a crack in the wall. And I want to say THANK YOU to everyone involved in the WPA for merely being you. It is because you’re who you are that someone took the time to let me know the WPA had a huge and emotional impact on their life. It’s almost overwhelming to think that the WPA actually impacted someone this way means a lot to me.

So here’s the letter (I’ve omitted names and locations to protect the writer’s identity, and, please, if you think you recognize the author of the letter, keep the name to yourself). The incidents mentioned in the letter occurred in New York City, but this could be said about any location in the country. And, by the way, I deeply appreciate the courage it took for this person, the author of the message, to attend the WPA and then to follow up with such a raw and emotional letter.

The Letter

Dear Mr. Lofland:

It’s been almost a year since I attended the Writer’s Police Academy in September of 201* and I am writing to share my experience during that weekend.

I learned about your Academy from a book on getting one’s book published (I don’t remember the title of the book) that I was skimming through in a Barnes and Noble store in early September of last year. Since I have no law enforcement background, I was looking for a way to verify that the information in the novel that I’ve been working on for some time is correct; that’s when I saw the piece on your Academy. I couldn’t believe it; especially since the Academy was being held in a few weeks. I quickly signed up and prepared to go along with my wife, my little daughter, and my mother-in-law.

The Writer’s Police Academy was a life-changing experience; but not in the way I imagined.

You see, I’ve never had a good relationship or opinion of the Police and I’ll explain why.

I was about 8 years old and it was a summer night in the mid 1970’s when suddenly I had a terrible cough just before going to bed. My mother is a praying woman and she taught us that when we’re sick God can heal us; so that night I asked her to pray for me. Quickly, the cough was gone and just before I dozed off into sleep I remember seeing the reflection of Police car lights on my bedroom wall.

The next day I awoke to find that my 16 year-old brother was missing. As my mother finished praying for me and I fell asleep, my mother saw the Police lights on the wall, too, and quickly ran to the window. Two policemen were surrounding my brother. What happened was that a car was stolen in my neighborhood and my brother was accused of being the person who stole the car.

My mother quickly ran downstairs and stood between my brother and the Police; the two men smelled of alcohol and their eyes were bloodshot. One Police officer pulled his weapon on my mother.

The owner of the car ran up to the officers and told them that his car was found by other officers and that my brother was innocent. One of the officers refused to let my brother go and wanted to take him in. My brother panicked and ran.

You see, we lived in the **** area of the **** and this was in the mid 70’s. Police abuse was rampant and crime and fires in the area were out of control. There was little trust in the Police from the community.

They shot at my brother as he ran down the park stairs and he was captured by other officers from three squad cars that suddenly appeared. They took him to the ******** and beat him to a pulp. My parents went to the precinct and were told he wasn’t there and had been released; it was a lie. Later on, the officers took him to an industrial area called *****, beat him some more and left him there in the middle of the night. My brother showed up at my house at 12 in the afternoon the next day.

Investigating officers reported that no such incident occurred and that one of the officers whom allegedly was present that night, whom my brother remembered his name and badge number, didn’t exist. An officer told my mother that she better get my brother out of the area or he would be killed by the police. She obliged.

Since then, my experiences with the Police haven’t been positive. There have been incidents in which I was treated well so I don’t want to over generalize but the bad has far outweighed the good. During the **** years, it was hell! I am of **** **** descent and although I am fair skinned, college educated and have worked all my life; I felt that I had a target on my back as I walked the streets or drove in the City. ….police brutality cases have only made me less trustful of the police. I have often wondered why I am even writing a novel related to the Police.

So, last year, when I went to your Academy, I was very uneasy. I was entering an actual Police Academy and was going to be surrounded by Police. I was nervous, apprehensive, and at times, felt like a hypocrite for even being there. But then the Academy started.

Friday morning began with a presentation on the Jaws of Life. The dedication and care for the public from the presenting officer just oozed out of him and impressed me. I then attended “Making a Lasting Impression” with Robert Skiff and David Pauly: I was blown away. The commitment from those two gentlemen to find the truth in order to protect the public blew me away. I slowly began to see that the Police weren’t necessarily out to get me but to protect me.

I then went to “Fingerprinting” and it was awesome. Next, I attended “Cold Cases and the Realities of Investigations” by David Pauly and Dr. Ramsland; this is where things really started to change. The openness of the presenters in sharing their knowledge was incredible. I could feel their passion and dedication to getting the truth and solving murders. More importantly, I could see and feel their humanity.

Friday evening after the Night Owl Presentation, I had to go to the Bar and gather myself. My head was spinning. Not only from the information I received in the classes but my emotions were everywhere. Then McMahan sat next to me in the bar and began to talk to me; my heart was racing and my palms were sweating. A law enforcement officer was sitting next to me and talking to me man-to-man. He is truly a gentleman. I found out he’s a dedicated dad and husband and I was humbled by his humility and integrity.

We were joined by David Pauly and Dr. Ramsland; they talked to me like I was a human being. You see, Mr. Lofland, in dealing with the Police in my past, I often felt less than human. David Pauly bought me a beer (please tell him I owe him one) and the four of us talked for a while. It was great. They are great people and their knowledge and dedication just blows me away.

Not long after that, Detective Conelli joined us and we had a brief talk; he was exhausted from his trip and needed rest. I couldn’t wait for his presentation on the following morning “Anatomy of an Undercover Cop”.

Saturday came and I was seated on the floor in Detective Conelli’s classroom (the room was full to capacity). He started out by showing a picture of “His Office” which was a building in the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. My heart stopped, I went cold, and I was almost brought to tears. I had been in many buildings like the one in the picture! He then showed us a picture of him while undercover. He had no weapons and was taking a huge risk in going into those buildings. It was during the Crack epidemic and I witnessed, firsthand, how it devastated neighborhoods.

Hearing Mr. Conelli talk transformed me. I began to see the other side of what it is to be a Police Officer. I began to see them as being on my side, for me, and not against me.

On Sunday, during the debriefing panel, I was struck by the Chief’s words and his assistant. I’m sorry but I don’t remember their names. They urged the writers present to write positively about the Police profession. They said it was very easy to portray cops in a negative light but we were witnesses that weekend to the goodness found among law enforcement professionals. I take that advice to heart.

On the plane on my way home I thought about my experience. I have a coworker whose brother is a **** Captain. I decided I would reach out to him in order to not only get information for my novel but most importantly, bury some painful experiences I had been carrying for many years. I realized that the experience with my brother had colored my view of Cops and I needed to change that.

Captain **** **** so happens to be the Captain of *** homicide. When we texted each other in order to set up a meeting, he told me he worked out of the ****! The same one in which my brother was abused. But the *** **** had since moved so I thought nothing of it. It turns out that the **** has indeed moved but the original building (in which my brother was abused) is used to house Captain **** and other administrative offices.

So, on a cold December night around 11pm I went to meet Captain ****. It was surreal walking into that building. I confessed my feelings about the Police to Captain **** and told him that if he felt uncomfortable with me that it was okay if he didn’t want to share and continue our meeting. He was very gracious and understanding. He confessed that the **** doesn’t have clean hands and didn’t have clean hands during those days in the 70’s in ***** but he shared his side of things.

I made peace with a lot of things that night, Mr. Lofland. It all started with your Academy and your gracious speakers. You have a very special thing going there. My mother would call it a ministry; something God-given.

My wish is that your Academy could be duplicated throughout the country and be used as a tool not only for writers but to bridge the gap between the Police and the communities in which they serve. I would like to see young people attend your Academies and receive healing just as I did.

I would also like to see you guys do a documentary on the Police. My vision is to have several Police recruits from several Police Academies from different parts of the country be followed from just before they enter the Police Academy to about five or more years into their careers. The documentary would show their everyday lives and their struggles and maturing process. I think the public would love it and gain a lot from such a program.

As for me, I don’t know if I will ever finish my novel or have it published. I am currently working on getting a Master’s of Social Work (MSW) so that I could work in the **** Schools helping kids in the inner city; kids much like me when I was younger. I can’t attend this year’s Academy because we can’t afford it and because of my studies.

However, I will forever be grateful to you and to Mr. McMahan, Mr. Skiff, Mr. Pauly, Det. Conelli, Dr. Ramsland, and all the others who were there last fall. I’m a better man for attending and am at peace now.

I am eternally grateful to you and to your partners. May you guys have the best Writers’ Police Academy yet and may God richly bless you and yours.

Thank you,

Name withheld