Friday, June 25, 2010

Really??? By Lt. Pata

No, I’m not kidding…...All of this is true.

I have been doing this now for 25 years. It’s a great job. I tell the new kids coming out of the academy that there is a reason they have TV shows about this job and to not mess it up by doing dumb things. I used to never believe the stuff I saw on TV until now. You really can’t make this stuff up.

Don’t believe me? How about the time two of our officers went to talk to a person about his loud birds. The officers get there on what should have been a simple call. The officer’s knocked on the door and were greeted by “Hello, who’s there?” One of the guys said “San Rafael PD.” Nothing happened. No one came to the door. The other officer knocked. A voice called out “Hello, who’s there?” The other officer said “San Rafael Police can you come to the door?” Nothing. The officers became agitated and thought perhaps the person inside could not hear them or were trying to avoid contact. So, they knocked again. “Hello, who’s there?” This time the officers responded loudly “San Rafael PD come to the door!” Nothing. The officers were beside themselves. This time one of the officers pounded on the door with his fist and shouted at the occupant. The other officer looked through a window and saw the subject inside. When the officer pounded on the door, the parrot inside replied “Hello, who’s there?”

Right after the horrible 9-11 attack, our dispatch center started to get calls that were not typical. My brother, Nick took one call from a concerned citizen about their purchased drink. The call went something like this: “San Rafael 9-1-1 what’s your emergency?” ‘Hi, for years I have been going to this juice place in town…they always get my order wrong. Always! Today, they got it right. I think you should check it out because they never get it right, something is funny about this…’ really.

Or how about this one; “San Rafael 9-1-1 what is your emergency?” ‘There is a plane way up in the sky that is spraying white stuff…there are four trails of white stuff coming from the plane.” Of course it was the vapor trail from a plane at 33,000 feet. Desperate times caused for some suspicious calls. Sometimes it’s a balancing act to educate our callers. We don’t want them to feel bad for calling, but it’s not so easy at times to keep your mouth shut and not editorialize or maybe even chuckle. Our dispatchers and records people are saints.

From time to time we get some interesting customers that walk into the PD for assistance. One such call was an older couple who came to the police department. Actually, if I knew better, I’d say the husband dragged his wife in the station…” He proclaimed loudly in our front lobby “I want my wife arrested for adultery!” He had a pretty heavy Italian accent. I met with him outside and recommended a priest or counselor, because we don’t arrest people for that kind of stuff. He was amazed that it was not a crime in America.

I remember when Officer Blair Auld and I responded to a “fight in progress” in the Terra Linda part of our city. Both of us were downtown at shift change, so we were the closest cars to respond. We drove with our lights and siren’s on, risking our lives to get to this call. I remember pulling up to the home, our brakes glowing from the heavy braking; we dove out of our cars to rescue the person in need. Like all good cops, you always “look before you leap” so we stopped and listened before knocking on the door. We heard nothing, then knocked and announced ourselves “San Rafael Police.”

An occupant came to door but he did not look like he was in a fight. We walked in and asked, “Where’s the fight?” The man was the father of his 13 and 17 year old boys. He said the fight was over, but asked us to counsel his children. Apparently the frantic call for help was to mediate an argument over who had more Frosted Flakes cereal in their bowl…

Finally, how about the woman who called 9-1-1 for an unspecified emergency in the middle of the night at her apartment complex? I drove their quickly and ran up two flights of stairs with my partner – not an easy task when you have a Mediterranean body like mine. When the woman opened the door she said “Oh hi, thank you for coming, my smoke detector needs the battery changed and I can’t reach it.” I asked her if she called 9-1-1 and hung up. She told me she did because she knew we would come fast and she wanted to get back to sleep.

You can’t make it up, and never forget them. There are hundreds of these stories. This little walk down memory lane is one of the reasons I take blood pressure pills.

Before you call for us to change the oil in your car or maybe bring you a shake, please remember -We are the police. We come to bad things and make them better. Now we do lots of jobs, like quality of life stuff. It is not always a gun battle, like on TV or the movies – and we have had those. We like to solve problems, but changing smoke detector batteries, when there is a chair nearby or an apartment manager…may not be what you want your officers to do. Of course, it if is a person who really can’t get to it or is bed-ridden, well, then of course, we will be there for you. But make cookies.

More later. Stay safe. Raffaello

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Tragic -- Reality. By Dispatcher Anndora

Last time I posted, I blogged about being hooked and the "firsts." There are calls that bond the "team" together. Great arrests, great police work, great out comes - high fives and all. Then there are the calls that break your heart. From the house fire that kills a family to that stuff happens to, but shouldn't happen to, kids or the elderly.

Now, let me warn you, if you are looking for a happy, high five kind of ending, stop reading now. This blog entry will be about the Tragic - about the side of law enforcement and public safety that can or will hit home and make you cry. It also make you second guess your actions...It's heavy. The names and locations of those involved have been purposely omitted or changed to protect those involved.

The date was March 21, many, many years ago. The day was supposed to be a happy one, for it was my 25th birthday. I had a cake, great co-workers (who are actually part of an extended family), lunch plans with a friend and plans for after work, not to mention the weekend. I don't remember the exact time but I do remember seeing, through the security camera, my friend waiting, in the police lobby, to take me to lunch. One partner was, a few minutes late, returning from her lunch break and the other one had to run to the restroom. Just as the latter was headed out the door, a single 911 rang. I said, "no, worries, I've got it." Famous last words, right?

In the background of the call, I heard this earth shattering wail. A kind of moaning, a sound of sheer grief and heart ache. The male caller (a neighbor), appeared to be in shock and said something like, " need to get out!" I had to prod, poke and invade to figure out what was going on and determine what kind of help they need. I was able to hear "baby" and "pool." Many of you have figured it out by now... there was a baby found in the pool. I made sure the baby was pulled out of the pool and connected the call to the San Rafael Fire Dispatcher so they could start paramedics and give CPR instructions.

As I listened to the Fire Dispatcher, I started my two only units on the streets. The baby incident was in East San Rafael. The Fire Station responding was also in East San Rafael. I knew that in order for the Medics to be able to, hopefully, provide life saving actions, they needed to be able to work on their tiny patient without interference from the parents or other bystanders. My officers would need to help ensure this. My two units were motor officers. I think they heard it in my voice and knew some thing was going on. [I've been told that the units on the street can tell when I'm about to give a "major" call out because my voice drops an octave. We are taught to use our voice to calm, to be clear and concise, to not add to the level of chaos because we are "jacked up."] The units went out, Code 3 (lights and sirens), without any question or comment.

My guys arrived to find the Medics already working on the baby. Trying to breathe life back into her tiny body as she was being strapped to a gurney so that she could be transported to the hospital. My motor guys, eventually, rode ahead of the Medics, stopping all traffic, in upcoming intersections, so the transport of the baby could be expedited. The Medics didn't have to worry about cross or on coming traffic; they could focus on the baby and getting her to the doctors. The coordination between the agencies was flawless. This was my first time, I had witnessed and been apart of such a high level of coordination. This little child had all of us working towards saving her life. We were trying to give her all the odds we could. Maybe, just maybe our efforts would be rewarded.

I was unaware of the comings and goings of my co-workers. I didn't know until later that someone gave a heads up to my friend as to what was going on and that as soon as the baby arrived at the hospital, they were going to kick me out of Communications for a breather. [Most dispatchers are pretty territorial about their calls, and will not leave the the "major" ones til it's done.] My friend would keep an eye on me for the next hour. What I didn't know was that my co-workers and supervisor were working on covering the rest of my shift. They knew I wouldn't go home but they also knew that I wouldn't be in any condition to work, no matter how much I protested. Lunch was less than celebratory. My friend and I tried to make small talk but everything ended up circling around to this last call. We ended up calling lunch early and headed back to the PD.

Upon my return, I learned the baby's name was S*(name omitted - she will be refered to as Baby S through the rest of my blog). Baby S was ultimately transported to UCSF Medical Center. Here, she would have the best care and best chance of recovery. I also learned Baby S was fascinated by the pool and water. There was a fence around the pool but someone left the gate propped open. Baby S was left under the care of a family member. The family member had put Baby S down for her nap and ultimately fell asleep himself. While he was napping, Baby S woke up and left her bedroom, eventually ending up outside and then in the family pool. She wasn't discovered missing until her mother came home on her lunch break. Her mother found Baby S lifeless in the pool. Someone pulled her out. No one in Dispatch knew how long she had been in the water.

Shortly after my return, I was called into the Captain's office. He wanted to know how I was doing - I didn't know. Looking back, I was in shock. I remember saying I was fine. I remember trying not to cry. I remember willing Baby S to pull through. I also remember telling God that the best birthday gift I could ever have would be for Baby S to live. I also remember feeling numb. The Captain told me about how this critical incident would effect me. He made suggestions to me on what I should do to take care of myself. I'm not sure of the what else the Captain said except that he was making me come back in two days to talk to the a police psychologist. I told him I didn't want to go but I wasn't given the choice. But he did say I didn't have to talk, I could just listen. And it would be good for me. He went on to explain that he was going to have the two officers there and invite the responding fire personnel. It was something called a debriefing. He then told me Baby S was in very, very critical condition. They don't know if she was going to make it or not. He gave me the number to call at UCSF, if I wanted to check on Baby S, over my weekend.

Back in Dispatch, one of my co-workers had left and returned, bringing her young daughter in. I'm not sure, to this day, what the daughter was told. But she came up to Auntie AD and gave me the biggest hug she could. That is something I will never forget and my healing process began.

Baby S never made it to the next morning. She became an Angel sometime during the night, while I tried to sleep. Once I found out that bit of information, I was ANGRY! Angry at the person who was supposed to be watching Baby S. Angry at the person who propped the gate open. Angry that I was angry at God, at the world; angry that the sun was shining or wasn't and angry that, once again, work succeeded in ruining my personal plans. Then the "what ifs" and feeling of doubts took over the emotional anger. I remember wondering if I caused Baby S's death...When that call came in, I answered it, in the middle of the second ring. What if I had answered it on the first ring? What if I had been able to get information from the caller a bit quicker. What if this...what if that...what... A person could drive themselves crazy what if-ing every little thing. BUT, what if?! Eventually, some of the words the Captain had said came flooding back. Stuff about wondering, if you did everything you could to the best of your abilities, if you do make a difference, about life, about career choice. I remember hearing him say stuff like you do make a difference but sometimes, no matter what you do, things don't turn out the way you want them's life.

The next day, I remember reporting to work as ordered... not wanting anyone to know my part of the call because I was still dealing with the what ifs....was it was my fault?...Did I somehow delay her getting the help she needed? My Captain drove me to where the debriefing. He introduced me to the Psychiatrist and handed him a cassette tape. When everyone else arrived, at the Doctor's request, we introduced ourselves and described what our role was. Nurses, paramedics, firefighters, cops, the Doc and lil ole me were here to talk about the incident. The Doc explained that we would go around the room twice to first explain what we did and the next time what we were feeling or felt. We were told that what was said in this room, stayed in this room and no ones administration would be told what was said.

Doc chose me to go first because I took the 911 call. I told the group, I answered the 911 call, finally determined what was going on and connected the call to the FD and started my motor officers. Everyone else relayed their roles. It was soon my turn again. I remember I started to cry again and mumbled that Baby S would still be alive if I had answered the call quicker, got the information quicker and transferred the call quicker. Everyone protested my remark, but I knew the truth. To my surprise, everyone else relayed the same sentiment regarding their own roles - the what if's - they were all around us. At the end, the Doc played the cassette tape. It was a copy of the telephone and all radio traffic related to this incident. Someone timed it and told me it took less that 30 seconds for me to answer the call, figure it out, connect them to the FD and dispatch my units. I was astounded - it seemed so much longer. The Doc ended the debriefing by relaying that we were thrown together to try and stop a set of motions. We each did our job valiantly and heroically but we could not change the direction of the action. We were told about post traumatic stress, we were told what we were feeling (and probably continue to feel) was normal. I left feeling emotionally exhausted but lighter, as if a 10,000 pound boulder was lifted off my shoulders.

We were also told that our respective agencies would welcome us to attend Baby S's funeral, if we felt we needed to or wanted to. None of us committed to going to the funeral at that point but we were given the information for the services. On the day Baby S was laid to rest, we all showed up, filling a pew in the back of the church. A line of navy blue - our last goodbye to this little one, who brought us all together. I don't remember the services. I remember feeling safe among the blue line. I remember the two figures in navy blue sitting on either side of me, each holding one of my hands. The last thing I remember seeing was her tiny white coffin and the tiny flowers, the rest is just a blur.

Within 30 seconds of picking up that 911 call, my life would be forever changed. Time does help and heal. Talking about this event helps too. Usually, around the anniversary of the event, the memories sneak back up, and fortunately, I know how to deal with it. The first few years after this incident, I would get a bit moody and down, right around the anniversary. I thought it was because I was dealing with getting older, but after becoming a member our the PD's Peer Support and Critical Incident Debriefing Teams, I learned through training, the stuff I was dealing with still had to do with Baby S's event. It made sense. Since this revelation, the emotions don't tend to haunt or bother me - too much. I acknowledge them and am able to put them back in place.

The best way for me to explain this is to imagine your brain is a parking garage. Each emotion, each event, is neatly packaged in to a car. Some of these cars are pristine while others, have seen more than their share of dents and damage. Every so often, the something disrupts the parked cars and triggers one (or more of them) to pull out of their space. The cars drive aimlessly around. The trigger can be something little or something major. My triggers are not necessarily your triggers, but what ever it is, the garage attendant (your psyche?) is trying very desperately to get everything parked again to restore order. Acknowledging and dealing with the "cars" and everything that's packed into them is key. It helps to normalize the things we see no matter how abnormal things are. Avoidance only makes things worse.

In recent years, I really haven't thought about this event. When I thought about sharing some of the 'not so pretty' side of my job, this call came to mind. I didn't remember too many of the details, at first, but as soon as I started writing, the details and feelings came back. The reliving of this call, eventually brought on the waterworks. I cried thinking about the call, I cried during the writing of this blog and even the proof reading of it. But it's a cleansing experience, I guess. I had my little cries, acknowledged them and they're all parked, for now, until the something triggers something else. But hey, it was a good cry and proves, I'm still human and not a jaded call taking machine, right?

I don't know what happened to Baby S's family but I hope they got all the help they needed. I'm thankful for the support my co-workers and I got from the Department. Way back then, it was relatively still new to talk about feelings and the emotional side of the job. Very early, SRPD embraced and recognized the aspects of critical incidents, peer support and post traumatic stress disorder. Today, we have an active Peer Support and Critical Incident Stress Debriefing team that quietly keeps an eye out on the rest of our PD family and have even responded to help others within the city, county and North Bay region. We actively support a County wide team and have a working relationship with Sonoma County's team and have resources to help our people when the time comes.

I know I make a difference. I know I'm damn good at what I do and sometimes, things are just out of my control, no matter how hard I try to change it..and that's life.

Thank you for staying with me this long, it's been kind of therapeutic. Now, be safe out there.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hooked by Dispatcher Anndora

January 2, 1991 is a day I will always remember. It was my first day at SRPD as a Records Clerk - I had survived a hiring process that started with 80-100 applicants. The process took over a year to complete (from application to interview to background investigation). My first 3 days were spent in "orientation" with another newbie, Officer Wanda Spaletta (she's now a sergeant with us!). We met various people in the department and learned their responsibilities. I remember being wide-eyed, fearful of what was coming my way, excited, ready for a challenge and oblivious to how this job would change me.

My life prior to SRPD was spent in retail. I had held multiple positions with a now defunct department store chain. My responsibilities ranged from sales to Customer Service Supervisor to Bridal Consultant. I guess I interviewed fairly well because they hired me and I knew nothing about law enforcement! All during the orientation and training process, I was told to make sure I kept my friends outside of the department because it's healthy to not eat, sleep and breathe police work. [Okay, easier said than done, when you find yourself working when others are sleeping and missing parties, family gathering and holidays.] Yes, they did warn me of shift work and the chance I'd have to cancel plans based on the needs of the Department and City. Sometimes, I thought they were trying to scare me off.

I vividly remember during the orientation process, wonder what I had gotten myself into. Working in law enforcement meant I had to learn the jargon, the codes (and there are lots of them!), a new city and see people not necessarily in the best light. Remember, I came from a world where "the customer is always right" even if they weren't, to a world where folks didn't necessarily tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. My two main trainers, while I was in Records, were great. They took this kid under their arm and patiently trained me on how to take calls, cut to the chase and data enter the copious amounts of reports into the records keeping system. They challenged me, helped me deal with difficult people (and some of them were co-workers!) and helped me grow and challenge myself. I fell in love with the job. It was something or someplace where you never knew how a hot call would end, let alone the day!

I remember hearing my first police chase on the radio, during training and not understanding what was being said, therefore not understanding the gravity of the situation. I just knew by looking at my co-workers, this was something major. The situation, to our relief, would end with no officers getting hurt and the bad guys in custody. Later in my career, I was given the nick name of "S--t Magnet" because it was guaranteed if I was working with a certain Sergeant or if I said a certain word, the shift would be rocking and rolling. Looking back at it now, maybe the foundation for that nick name was established during my first year at the PD - because we had 7 homicides (I was told it was an anomaly) and everyone worked long, long days.

All I knew was, I was hooked!

During December 1992, I tested for and was promoted to Communications Dispatcher. After I completed the training process, I was challenged and tested by the field units. Some of it was in good nature, some of it was that they wanted to make sure I "had their back" when the going got tough. There are always calls that you will always remember. It's usually the "firsts." Granted, during training I handled a variety of hot calls and in progress calls, but there's the security of knowing your trainer is there, listening and guiding you through the toughest situations. The first real "oh shit" call I had I still remember vividly - it was within my first week out of training. My supervisor let my partner leave a few minutes early because she had an appointment. The supervisor told me I'd be fine and she'd be right there if something happened. I remember watching, from a security camera, the tail lights of my partner's car drive out of the back parking lot. I also remember the security camera switching to another view - allowing me to see my supervisor leave the Communications Center and walk into the main part of the department. There are two security coded doors that separate the Comm Center and the main office.

As fate would have it, my friend Murphy would wave his magic wand. As I watched that 2nd security door close, the 911 phone bank lit up! I was taking non-stop 911 calls of shots fired with a man running down the street. It was up to me and only me to get the information from the callers and the units dispatched on the radio while keeping myself and everyone else calm. I remember a "feeling" coming over me an instant before I hit the transmit button. I remember my voice was calm sounding but I was having the hardest time typing because my hands were shaking. I remember my supervisor trying to get back in, hearing her fumble the codes for the door. I remember one of my trainers from Records helping me answer the copious 911 calls that were still coming in. I remember her calling in and saying I had to pick up this certain 911 line because it was the victim. AACK! I took a deep breath and picked up the call. Meanwhile, my supervisor finally makes it in and asks what she needs to do, I gesture for her to pick up the phone calls!

While talking to the victim I learned a lot of new information, including the suspect's name and address, and kept the officers updated to what was going on. The victim stayed on the phone with me until I got officers to her. She acted as my eyes, reporting and relaying information and I was her safety line. While the 911s stopped ringing, we were fielding request for information from officers, detectives and everyone else from the radio and other phone lines. The first scene was controlled and now the officers were forming their plans and looking for the suspect. We were searching background information on the suspect, including cars, weapons and prior criminal history.

One of the officers got on the radio and said, "I know you are busy but are you clear for Channel 2?" Channel 2 was an auxiliary channel where radio traffic was less formal. I said I was. He said, "You did an awesome job, you did it exactly like you were supposed to! Fantastic!" I was stunned, that officer was the one who would test me, the one that sometimes made me feel like I had failed because I didn't have the information he, and only he seemed to want. I was floating! I guess that's when I knew I had made it as a Dispatcher! It wasn't until years later, I had the guts to reveal to him how, he was the one who always made me nervous and unsure, until that major impact moment on Channel 2. It was his turn to be stunned. I remember him saying, something like, "Really? I always knew you'd be a good dispatcher!" Remembering the Channel 2 interaction still makes me "warm and fuzzy" :) . It's funny how I can remember the events of this call vividly but probably can't tell you too much about the calls I took just yesterday.

I've mentioned before, this job is not for everyone. I know between all my "extra" duties in the Department, I've seen, smelled, touched and heard lots of things I can't share with my family or friends outside of the "business." Not because they don't want to know, but because they most likely won't understand or it's simply too frightening for them to hear the whole truth. This job does change you. Most of the time you don't deal with best of society has to offer. You learn to quickly size up situations and to read people. You develop a sixth sense, in order to survive. You learn to follow your gut instincts and to realize the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up for a reason! As a dispatcher, I've learned to listen to what's going on around me and what's not being said. Whether its on or off duty, at work or in a social situation, I've learned to listen conversations around me. I guess it's kind of like eavesdropping but for a dispatcher it's an awareness and a skill that can't be necessarily turned off.

Almost two decades later, you'd think I'd have seen, heard or done it all...nope, not in this field. You never know what the next 911 call will bring. My crystal ball is officially broken and I'm not a mind reader. But, I'm still hooked. I love what I do, where I do it and the people I do it with!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Working Undercover by Lt. Pata

Undercover work is fun, but it’s not as sexy as what you see on TV. For a while I was fortunate enough to be selected and worked with a very talented and dedicated group of people in the Marin County Major Crimes Task Force. Back in 1989 it was just that, a group of detectives from San Rafael PD, Novato PD, Sausalito PD the Sheriff’s Office and the CHP, whose job was to hunt down major drug offenders, work some murder cases, roll informants and provide surveillance for other agencies that needed people to fit in better. We worked hand in hand with the DEA, State Narcotics the local and US Attorney, not to mention the US Marshal’s and Customs Agents. Our leader and biggest supporter was then Lieutenant Walt Kosta from San Rafael PD.

The whole surveillance – stakeout thing is equivalent to hours of boredom, highlighted by minutes of anxiety. Following drug dealers to their massages, their lunch and dinners, not to mention a variety of encounters, waiting to see a deal or identify the “source” was tiring. Some of that anxiety was as simple as having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night while you are watching a bad guy’s house. They don’t show you that stuff on TV. How do you step out of the car and not activate the interior light in your car – giving you up to the world? Well, you use what you have…in my case it was climbing out of the sunroof! That only happened once. I got wise and took out the light after about a month on the job.

For most of my life I have been in uniforms, so this was a departure and an adventure on a couple of levels. I was a nice Italian - Catholic boy with very traditional parents who decided how my hair was going to look – all of my kid life. They were pleased when I became a cop, because I think, in part; they knew I would not become one of those “American’s with long hair.” I’ll never forget the day, when I was a kid; I parted my hair down the middle. My dad responded, in Italian, “What are you a sheep?” “Only sheep comb their hair down the middle. What’s wrong with you?”

The Task Force was kind of a coming out party for me. I grew my hair long. Then I colored it. Yes, I grew a mullet, once. I did all kinds of things with my face. I grew a “biker” moustache, then a goatee. All of that was disturbing to my parents, which I sinisterly enjoyed. My dad’s antacid intake increased exponentially. The big day for me was when I decided to put blonde streaks in my hair AND, an earring. I was so intimidated by this little act of defiance, that I could not show my dad in private. So, I picked the next best place, church. I will never forget my father shrugging when he saw the streaks, and then shouting “Oh my God!” When he saw the earring. Needless to say, it attracted a little attention. But he got over it.

Undercover work can be intimidating and scary at times. The funny thing is that there is an armada of back-up to bail you out of trouble, normally, and you usually have a gun concealed and are wearing a wire, but for some reason, there is this fear factor built in to buying drugs. You are not supposed to do it, and in narcotic’s school you see video after video of cops getting shot in drug deals. I especially remembered the one where the undercover was accidently shot by his own partners. Nice.

One time I was buying crack cocaine in a southern Marin city I was in a bright red car and I totally stood out. I pulled up to this corner and there were at least 5 crack dealers across the street. They came over and I ordered up. Buying street drugs is kind of a trick, you don’t want to give the money before you get the product and they don’t want to give up the product until they get the money. So it’s kind of like a quick trade. You also don’t want to buy a $20.00 piece of Styrofoam or gravel instead of the real deal. The problem was on this day these guys didn’t want my money…they wanted to rob me and take my car.

I remember during the robbery there were all of these hands in my driver’s window holding me back against the seat as another set of hands turned off my car. The problem was that when they did that, the microphone in my car turned off so my back-up could not hear me. My gun was under my thigh and now I was not worried about the money or the car, I did not want them to get my gun and I was busy fighting these jerks off, so I did not have a hand to spare. While I was being restrained, the bad guys were also trying to open my door and the passenger door to get to me. I had a brief flash before my eyes of these guys taking my pants and I was going end up running away, down the street, in my boxers… that little image gave me some extra strength to fight harder.

I went for the hand that was on my ignition key and I twisted it as hard as I could. I was able to get the car started and drove away with one of them stuck in my window, for a few feet. I was proud that they only got half of my $20.00 bill as they tried to rip it from my hands. When my radio kicked on, I called out, my voice now about 5 octaves higher – that I had been robbed. Unfortunately for the criminals, the whole thing was on video tape, kind of a police candid camera event for them. They were all identified, caught and some went to prison. I on the other hand, went directly to a bar! Robbery is not my idea of an extreme sport. It was a once in a lifetime experience for me.

In the 1990’s there was a murder for hire case I was working on with my team. I had to watch the “money drop” for the murder at a gas station in Oakland. The crook was an older man. He and his paramour hired a group of amateurs to kill the woman’s husband. Well, they did, but it was not like a TV scripted hit. The murderers made lots of mistakes. As it turned out, the good guys at the Marin Sheriff’s Office figured out who the bad guy was. He rolled on this pals and set up the money transfer.

My team of heavily armed, long-haired partner’s and I set up on the surveillance spot. I was, pretending to work on my car at a gas station in a very bad part of Oakland. I had a nice Chevy Camero. I had the hood up, when along came a group of not so nice citizens. They made a couple of passes.
I had my gun in the engine compartment, just in case…I did not want to be disturbed because I needed to witness the money drop. The group confronted me with “Nice car – want to sell it?” I said no. They then said “How about we take it! (Expletives deleted.)”

I told them it didn’t work, but if they wanted it…to come and get it. The hood-up should have been a clue for these guys. (Of course my bravery was driven by my annoyance that these guys were bugging me during a real important moment and the not-so optional equipment lying in front of me on the air filter.) I was thinking this was not going to be good and I did not have a radio with me, it was inside the car. So, it was tense for a few minutes, and then the drop happened. I was able to do my job and leave as quickly as I got there. All of the bad guys and the woman were arrested for murder and conspiracy to commit murder. So it had a happy ending for us.

I really enjoyed my time in the Task Force. I felt like I was making a difference and it was during a time where we had some pretty big drug dealers in Marin, to include a member of the Cali-Cartel. Our time in the Unit also introduced us to the largest LSD manufacturing ring in the world, based out of a west Marin community with operators all over the globe, and it was the birth of asset forfeiture, where we took away illicit property from drug dealers. It was a great time to be a narcotics agent. .It was also a time where I became “one” with my hair. The ponytail is gone, but the memories live on.

You can’t make this stuff up.

More another time. Stay safe. Ralph.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Safety Tips from Lt. Dan

Good morning to everyone! I am back at work after a week of training in beautiful Folsom, Calif. That city is getting way bigger than I remember it. I enjoyed my class entitled, "Critical Incident Management" and feel like I am ready just in case.....

So, I pledged to throw out some tip of the week stuff and have failed to deliver for a month or so. One of our faithful readers of this blog reminded me, so here we go...

First off, as far as home safety, I spoke to someone who, for the safety of their family, put padlocks on their gates at home, so no one can simply open their gate and have access to their back and side yards. I understand the concern but remember in case of an emergency such as a fire, you need to be able to get out of there as quickly and safely as possible. The last thing you need to worry about is a combination or a key to unlock a padlock. This is very dangerous and I am guessing in violation of a fire code or two. Think about other crime prevention tools such as motion lighting for the areas near your gates. One of the other things that I recommend is a "Beware of Dog" sign. It really doesn't matter if you have a dog, does a burglar want to take the chance or move on to another house? I am guessing the latter.

The last safety tip for today will be about ATM awareness. I cannot think of a more vulnerable time to be a potential victim. During the day time, be very aware of your surroundings. Make sure there is no one too close to you to either harm you or steal your PIN number. At night, make sure you use an ATM that has good lighting and is not in an isolated area. There are two main points I would like to drive home here. First, your money is not worth your safety. If confronted by a criminal, give them your money. There is no amount of money that is worth your safety. One of my favorite lines, "Your ego is not your amigo!" Lastly, if you think the ATM you want to use might be in a bad spot, if you think someone might be watching you, do not use that ATM. There must be hundreds of ATM's wherever you live, pick one that you feel comfortable using!

That's it for safe and have a great day!

Lt. Dan

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Drawn to police work. By Lt. Pata

My composite artist career started at San Rafael PD in the mid 80’s. I have always been a doodler and wise guy with a pencil and pen, but composite art was actually an opportunity to do some good with my pencil, instead of evil.

I was not a bad kid. But I certainly found the edge of good and bad and usually stayed on the right side. When I tipped into the dark side, I usually had my trusty pen with me to document the event. Of course that form of documentation would be expressive and usually found on what I called urban canvass, or bathroom walls. Like any artist – especially a teenage boy artist, who relied on his cartoons to ask girls on dates, I had to blab about my conquests. I got the wrong kind of notoriety and found my self on more than one occasion washing the toilets or scrubbing the walls at school.

I learned my lessons from grade and high school and kept my mouth shut about my drawing abilities. But it was hard to keep the pencil holstered. I was surrounded by temptation. Beautiful temptation. You know those desk pads adorned with quite lovely white paper….well; those were the snake in my garden of evil. I was attracted to the desk pads like a moth to a flame. In a short time, you could find me in the middle of the night at the station drawing on the desk pads - on my lunch break, of course.

One day, a scribble of mine was seen on the desk by then Detective Harold Hutchinson. “Hutch” suggested that I do something with my illicit talent and told me “You should be a police artist.” I was a young officer, just out of the academy and I had no clue about how to find out about being a police artist. I would later discover that the work and contacts would come to me, once the word was out.

About a week later I was called in from the street by Det. Hutchinson. It’s a big deal getting called in by a detective or administrator when you are a rookie. The last time they did this to me, I got to kick in the door of a guy wanted for shooting his neighbor, and so, I was excited. When I pulled into the station, Det. Hutchinson pulled me aside and told me that he volunteered me to draw a sketch for another police department.

I was blown away and nervous at the same time. I had never done this before and had no training. Just bathroom walls and, on occasion, the upper arms of my old high school pals who wanted a fake tattoo.

I responded to Hutch with a resounding “I don’t think I can do it.” What I quickly learned was that it was a done deal. I was going to draw this picture. I remember like it was yesterday, scrounging up paper and some #2 pencils. I asked Hutch what kind of case it was and where was my victim. Hutch said the 4 words that lead to a huge change in my life and would make me nauseated. “It’s a double murder.”

I was a mess. I was completely panicking in my head. If I could have faked a seizure I would have, to get out of this. I came to some resolve that it was just as good to burn up on a big case as it is a little one. I figured that if I was successful, it would be a good thing. If I failed, well, then I would fail in the first couple years in my career and maybe people would forget by the time I retired.

I remember getting a ride to an advocacy facility in the city. I was told by Hutch that many people knew the suspect, but no one had a picture of her. She did not have family and no one had a picture of her. This, in the composite world, is like walking a mine field. There were so many opportunities to fail here, but, again, it was worth the try.

I completed the sketch of the woman in a couple of hours. It was my first. I was in a room full of people who knew her and were arguing about the placement of a mole. Some saw it on her left cheek, others on her right cheek. So, I put one on both cheeks. When all was said and done, I was right.

The sketch was released to the press and shown on local TV news at 11PM. I was called shortly after 11:30PM and congratulated by Hutch. The suspect was caught. She was with her boyfriend, the actual trigger-man. A motel clerk saw the sketch on TV and called SFPD. Both were arrested about 30 minutes after the sketch was put on TV. Both suspects were later found guilty and sent to prison.

The novelty of my first “hit” would wear off soon. Now the phone was ringing off the hook and I would have to try to live up to my last case. With the help of my friends (retired) Detective Frank Reed at Sausalito P.D. and Special Agent Liz Castaneda with the FBI, I was sent to the FBI Composite Art School at the Academy in Quantico Virginia about a year later.

Composite art, for me, was a life-changing skill. I have interviewed close to a thousand people over the years from all walks of life just for composite drawings. I have drawn in strange places. Once I created a sketch in a grocery store break room because the police department I drew for was so small it did not have a conference room. I have drawn in hospital rooms with gravely injured people and sometimes, I have just talked to people and not drawn any pictures.

What happened over the years was I developed a gift of asking the right questions and hearing what people are saying to me. As a result, I met some of the most courageous people I have known. People who have seen and been victims of horrible events.
Their strength has helped me grow, its’ given me some faith and perspective. It also built some life-long relationships, both with victims, witnesses and their families and with other detectives. Composite art also solidified my affair with graphite and paper for life.

More another time. Stay safe. Ralph.