Monday, August 31, 2015

Phonetic Spelling

Like most first-responder agencies, we use a phonetic alphabet on the radio. It's simply necessary, because so many letters can sound alike over the air. We don't use the military one (alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, echo, etc.), but one that's mostly names (adam, boy, charles, david, edward, etc.).

Having spent a huge amount of time on the radio while in the Marine Corps, I had to practice the "name alphabet" in my off time while I was in police training in order to get used to it. I used to do things like call out plates in my head while driving around, or even do it out loud when I was pretty sure somebody couldn't see or hear me. It was important to get it down so it was second nature, and I wasn't fumbling and stammering when it counted. By the time I was out on my own, I could do it without thinking about it.

A friend of mine in a neighboring agency couldn't be bothered. He would make stuff up as he went along, and part of the time dispatch didn't know what the hell he was doing. He was counseled about it several times, but that didn't seem to make an impression on him.

Finally, one night he was stopping a vehicle, and called out the plate as "1-2-3-bucket-camel-taco". He was removed from patrol duty almost immediately after. Years later, he's still working at the jail.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Have A Seat Right Over There

You may have seen the "To Catch a Predator" series on Dateline NBC a few years back. In these shows, men who had initiated sexually oriented chats with underage boys and girls (actually undercover cops) would show up at houses where they thought those kids were home alone. Once inside, they were confronted by reporter Chris Hansen, who would interview them. When they'd leave the house, they were usually arrested by awaiting officers. All of this was filmed by multiple hidden cameras.

We also do these stings within our department. Working patrol, I'm not usually involved, but twice I've been in on the actual arrest. The initial on-line portion of the investigation is handled by a special group from our Investigations Division. Rather than the elaborate set-up in a house like the one Dateline used, they typically make arrangements to meet the subject in a parking lot - usually by a fast food place or a shopping mall. We have a description of the person and the vehicle he's driving, and park in an inconspicuous spot. When the suspect pulls in, his car is boxed in by marked and unmarked cars, and he's taken down at gunpoint. The looks on their faces show that this is the ultimate "Oh-Shit!" moment of their lives. If convicted, they are looking at serious, serious prison time.

Maybe I should have more empathy for these losers. We all have our foibles, peccadilloes and kinks, and sometimes that little voice in our head that tells us a certain thing is weird goes unheeded. And I have no problem with that when it's among competent, consenting adults, and nobody gets hurt to the point that I have to take a report. But when you're bending the mind of some little kid to gain their trust, then taking them down a life-altering path just so you can get your rocks off, you need to go away somewhere for a very long time. Never mind what this person might have been willing to do to cover his tracks had it been a real kid that showed up rather than the cops. I'm checking my sympathy meter - it appears to be stuck on zero.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Hero Passes

I was once dispatched to a medical at an assisted-living facility. An 86-year-old man had keeled over and was unresponsive. I did CPR while the ambulance crew did their thing, but to no avail. I tried to recite the correct platitudes to the son, who happened to be there, and I left.

I learned later that the old guy had served in the 4th Marine Division during WWII. He fought as an infantryman on Roi-Namur, Saipan (WIA), and Tinian, and was in the first assault wave on Iwo Jima. All these landings were savagely opposed at the beach by the Japanese. Over 10,000 Americans died and over 32,000 were wounded in just those four campaigns.

These places are holy ground to we Marines who came later. We stood on the shoulders of men like him. It was an honor to have been there in his final moments. I'm sorry I couldn't have done more.

Marines and the Battle of Roi-Namur

Marines and the Battle of Saipan

Marines and the Battle of Tinian

Marines and the Battle of Iwo Jima

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How Fast It Can Happen

Officer approaches man who was confronting women in a university parking garage:

Monday, August 24, 2015

Boom Goes The Dynamite

Hold your right hand up in front of your face, palm toward you. You have four fingers kind of sticking straight up, and one thumb sticking out to the right at maybe 45 degrees, right? That's your frame of reference.

One day - I forget exactly what I was doing at the time - I was out of my squad car when I heard this very loud boom. It seemed like it was quite some distance away, but loud nonetheless. I wondered for a second what it could be, then didn't think much more about it.

About 5 minutes later I get dispatched to a boat landing on the river, a good 3 miles from where I am. When I roll up, there's a teenage boy standing there holding up his right hand. He had four fingers kind of sticking straight up, just like your frame of reference. He also had one thumb. But unlike your frame of reference, it was pointing straight down at the ground, with the thumbnail side up against his forearm. All that meat between the thumb and fingers was gone.

He had been holding a homemade firework of some description, and it had gone off in his hand. The explosion had essentially ripped through the web of his hand and down through the meaty part of the palm, all the way to the wrist. The thumb was dangling there by a thin strip of skin.

The kid looked relatively calm. He held this mangled mess up in front of me and actually asked, "Do you think they can fix this?" I doubt it, son. I doubt it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Marine Corps Hymn Redux

The Marines' Hymn is arguably the most recognizable military theme on the planet. It still sends chills up my spine whenever I hear it, even all these years after leaving the service.

The music itself is from the 1859 Jacques Offenbach comic opera Genevieve de Brabant. Ironically, it's the piece called the Gendarme's Duet, in which two French cops sing about how lazy and afraid of confrontation they are. Supposedly, a Marine officer stationed in Paris heard this popular tune, and it later was used as the basis for the Hymn.  Here is the Gendarme's Duet.

I think most people know at least the first part of The Marines' Hymn lyrics: From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.

The "halls of Montezuma" refers to the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War. In 1847, Marines led an attack on artillery emplacements within the Mexican army stronghold, Chapultepec Castle. The elimination of the artillery allowed other forces to enter the citadel. Some other pretty good, albeit non-Marine, fighters present included Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and George Pickett (of Pickett's charge).

The "shores of Tripoli" refers to the Battle of Derne during the First Barbary War. In 1804, 1st Lt. Presley O'Bannon and just eight Marines spearheaded a force of 500 mercenaries in assaulting Derne, Tripoli. O'Bannon raised the American flag on the fortress wall. He was later awarded the Mameluke sword by the Ottoman Empire monarch's representative. Swords based on the Mameluke design are still worn by Marine officers today. It looks like this:

Put it all together, and it sounds like this: Please stand at attention while this plays!

Monday, August 17, 2015

I Lied

I'm dealing with a very large, very belligerent DWI. We're standing in his driveway, and he's refusing every instruction I give him. Then, he squares up to me like he wants to fight.

Officer Cynical: "Shane, I'm not going to fight with you. I'm just gonna taze your ass. Now turn around and put your hands behind your back."

Shane: "Fuck you."

I start to put the habeus grabbus on him, and he immediately resists. In about 3 seconds, he's pig-piled by me and the three other cops who showed up to help, cuffed and stuffed. Why waste a perfectly good Taser cartridge?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Captain Obvious

Yes, I do know you're not going to run from us. Yes, I do know you're not going to fight us. Because three of us have you pinned up against the side of this building so you can't. Yes, I do know we're fucking assholes. Thank you for reminding us.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Monday, August 10, 2015


When I ask someone something like, "Is there anything on your person or in this vehicle that I need to know about? Drugs? Weapons? Anything like that?", I often get one or more of the following responses:

"Not that I know of."

"I loan my car out to a lot of people, so I don't know."

"These aren't my pants."

"I don't think so."

"On me?"

"In this car?"

"Can you repeat the question?"

"Do I need an attorney?"

"There shouldn't be."

"I'm not gonna lie."

"I'm gonna be honest with you."

"If there is, I don't know anything about it."

All of these responses mean the same thing. All of these responses mean "yes".

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Today, a guy wanted to report that he had parked his car in his apartment building parking lot last night, and when he got up this morning the back end of the car had been moved 4 feet to the right. The front end was just where he left it; just the rear end had been moved.

There was no damage to the car and no marks on the ground. I told the guy that I couldn't think of any crime that would apply to those particular circumstances, but I'd keep my eyes open for any apparatus that might enable someone to engage in such activity.

I did not tell him to not drive with a .25 BAC, which would likely reduce or eliminate the likelihood of such mysterious circumstances recurring.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Bond. James Bond

You fell for the first e-mail from Somalia, and wired money to help the woman who said she needed it to come to the U.S.

Then, you fell for the second e-mail from Somalia, saying the woman had been kidnapped on her way to the U.S., and wired money to pay the ransom.

Now, you've gotten a third e-mail, asking for yet more money for airfare. She's even e-mailed you a copy of her passport, and you want me to confirm its validity.

It's hard for me to fathom why you never asked yourself why you, of all the people on the planet, were selected to solve this case of international intrigue.

But you have to believe me when I tell you I don't have the resources to run the passport number to see if it's real. You'll have to call the U.S. State Department. And no matter how many times you call me up and yell at me, and call my supervisor and complain, we're both going to tell you the same thing. Your money is gone, man. Gone.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

There's One Problem With Traffic Stops

You eventually have to walk up there, even when it's a murder suspect and you don't know it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Coming Close

Last winter, I stopped a guy in a full-sized pickup. I knew his license was suspended, and that he had a minor local warrant. The streets were slippery with ice and compacted snow.

I exited my squad, and began to approach the driver's side window. When I got about halfway there, the guy suddenly floored it. He made this screaming, fishtailing, U-turn, and the next thing I know he's barreling right at me. There was nowhere for me to go, so I just stood there like a dumbass, screaming at him to stop. If I hadn't leaned backward as he went by me, his outside rearview mirror would've taken my head off. And lucky for me, the ass-end of the pickup was fishtailing away from me as he went by, or it probably would've killed me.

I was confident he'd head home, and sure enough his pickup was in the parking lot of his apartment building when I got there. I didn't need to call for back-up - cops were flying in when they heard me call it out on the radio. Several of us went up to his apartment, and of course he wouldn't come to the door.

Meanwhile, another officer was in the parking lot, and calling out on the radio that he could see the guy looking out the window. He compared the face looking out at him with the guy's mug shot, and reported it was one and the same. We were going in there one way or another, so I got a master key from the building manager.

I repeatedly tried the key. Every time I'd get it partway turned, the guy, who was obviously standing on the opposite side of the door, would turn the deadbolt knob the other way. Finally, a brainstorm. I carry a multitool on my duty belt. I got it out, put the pliers on the head of the key, and cranked it. Leverage is a beautiful thing. The door flew open, and three of us piled inside.

The guy went over on his ass as we barged in, but started fighting right away. He didn't stand a chance. I had the pleasure of hooking him up and dragging him to his feet. The guy looked me square in the eye and said, "I didn't try to run over you, you know." Of course not.

Months later, it went to trial. The DA contacted me and asked if I'd consider reducing the endangerment charge to a misdemeanor. I told him absolutely not. Ultimately, he pleaded guilty to all of it, and was sentenced to a year in jail.

I hope he rots in there.