Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Things I've Learned (with a Little Influence from Murphy) - Dispatcher AD

Here are some of the tidbits I've learned about life...courtesy of working in police work...
• No good news comes from calls in the middle of the night.
• Never turn down a chance to go to the restroom.
• Keep a full change of clothes and stash of personal toiletries at work.
• If the gas light goes on in the car, go to the gas station and fill up, no matter how tired you are.
• Trust your instincts
• If it can happen, it will happen!

Middle of the Night Calls
This is something parents know. But being young & childless when I started here, you learn rather quickly, in this field, that middle of the night calls means canceled plans, missed social functions and long hours...but it's usually worse for the person who is the reason for the call. I've been woken up countless times by a work related phone call. A few of them have required me to wear my dispatch hat but most have been for Crime Scene Investigations.

Go Now!
Dispatchers have bladders of steel, well at least most of us at SRPD do. At times, we work alone and the restrooms are located on the other side of the department - so, either you develop a bladder of steel accented by yellow eyeballs or you suffer the embarrassment of having to call an officer into the office to come, well, relieve you. But officers, generally HATE, working in dispatch - talk about being out of their comfort zone. They'd rather be out hunting bad guys, scaling tall building (except for Lt Pata - see his last blog!), or otherwise dealing with the public. It's kinda funny to watch them stare, with huge Bambi eyes, at the 911 phone console - willing it not to ring.

I remember one New Year's Eve (well, now very early NY Day), I was a solo dispatcher with an empty bladder (yep, I turned down my partner's offer of one last bathroom break before they left). My partner had gone home, on time, because the night was fairly uneventful. I think we had 4 officers plus a supervisor on duty. Oh, my friend Murphy (you do remember him, right?) would also be tagging along on the rest of this shift - so, everything that could happen, did happen. We got a few calls from the various bars downtown requesting us to do a walk-through. Okay, to understand this fully, you've got to understand the situation -- bars normally do not ask the police to do walk-throughs.

I remember calling one of the officers to "10-19 and contact dispatch" which was usually code for come, into the office, I need to take care of some business... yep, had to go use the restroom - but no need to shout it out to the listening world. Meanwhile, I take a call of a possible "5150" - reader's digest definition: mentally unstable person, on the east end of town. Two officers were initially dispatched. When they arrived on scene, the situation quickly escalated. The fight was literally on. They "screamed" (they'll never admit that though) for more help. The other 3 units were sent to the address and arrived fairly quickly. Meanwhile, the portable radios of the officers were being engaged but nothing was said. All I could hear is the background of the tussle happening with the 5150. The emergency buttons on their portable radios were hit numerous times [when an officer hits the emergency button, it literally sets off bells and flashing icons on my console and then ties my transmissions to that officer's radio] and I later found out the officers in the middle of the chaos couldn't hear that I had more troops rolling, more importantly, they just wanted help there now. I don't blame them. [I think one of the hardest parts of this job is knowing someone needs help, especially someone you know, and you are so close - but yet so far away. Realizing you can only do so much or sometimes it seems so little from the console.] This situation was eventually handled by carting off the offender to the crisis unit-which leaves me down an officer. And yes, I still needed to go use the facilities.

While the boys in blue where wrestling with the 5150, I was still answering calls, most of them having to do with situations at the bars and noise complaints. The calls were stacking up. As soon as the boys, let me know they were code 4 (things are under control) I did a generic dispatch letting them know that I've got calls pending at the downtown bars - where security has barely got things holding together. I'm down to 3 officers and a supervisor (one had to take the person to crisis, remember?) and me - with a bladder getting closer to full. For what seemed to be the next several hours, the gates of Hell were opened. We went from serious call to serious call...only being able to put band-aids on most because there was just so much going on. It was getting closer to 2am and the bars were trying to shut down. There were fights in the bars; there were fights in the streets...chaos. I remember units being at one bar fight where the drunken offenders were all separated and having to have cabs sent to take people home. I also remember having to pull officers of from one bar fight to go to another bar fight involving a heavy beer mug only having to re-dispatch officers to an earlier bar fight to deal with the same drunken idiots who had the cab return to the bar! Okay, if we deal with you once, it's over...if we have to deal with you again and again, (especially in the same shift, let alone the same hour or two) you're probably not going to like the accommodations we'll reserve for you. Get it?? Officers were bringing in all the in-custodies from the various bar fights to the office. It was easier to sort things out in the relative safety and calmness of the station.

I'm running background checks, warrant checks, criminal history checks and a bunch of other stuff on the in-custodies. During the adrenaline rush, I forgot of my need to go to the restroom but as calmness was restored, the need came back with a vengeance. I remember looking longingly at the trash can, trying to think of a way to explain it to my co-worker who'd be taking over in a couple of hours about why and what I had done. As I worked my way through the uncomfortableness and pain, I was rational enough to realize it wasn't a smart move...plus, my friend Murphy was sitting in the corner as a reminder that if I did do it, someone would walk right in and catch me in the act! Calmer heads prevailed - thank goodness! Later, one of the officers calls in asking about information on one of the arrestees, we made small talk while I got the information for him, and then I asked if they were "code 4." The reply was yes. I asked if he could come in and give me a quick bathroom break. He said, "Oh, yeah I was on my way in when the crap hit the fan..." As he came in, I remember just tossing the headset at him, said "you boys are all in here, just worry about the 911s - write it all down and if it's medical or fire transfer it" and took off to the restroom. Yeah, I learned the hard way to never say no to an offer to use the restroom.

Clean Clothes & Toiletries!
Remember, I said that calls in the middle of the night do not equal good news? There have been times that I've literally rolled out of bed and into street clothes to jet to work, I can't tell you how fast I was going but my best time is about 15 minutes (no kids, do not try this at home, I’ve had vast training!) from my home to the PD parking lot. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, that means not getting a shower before heading in. Some long shifts mean I've been in the same clothes for a loooong time. It's just nice and probably much appreciated by coworker and other folks I have contact with, if I have fresh clothes to jump into after a short but much needed shower. I've been held over cause of flooding, crime and just work load.
There was one storm (another New Year's fiasco) and we were getting all sorts of calls regarding flooding and overflowing manholes. We were swamped. We were monitoring rain fall levels and rates and other neighboring agencies, including public works. The storm let up and there was a period where the calls had drastically dropped off. A joint decision was made by me and my partner that I should try to go home. As I made my way to my car, it started sprinkling again. By the time I made it to 580 the storm had started up again. Being the only fool out on the roadway, I decided to straddle the two lanes, because I couldn't see the lane markings or beyond the front of my car. The wipers couldn't keep up with the rapid rain fall. I knew I needed to go back to work and get my foolish self off the highway...but I couldn't see where I was going!!! It took me nearly 40 minutes to make it back to the department. By the time, I made it from the parking lot to inside the department, I was SOAKED! but relieved because I was safe and had dry clothes to change into. Back to work I went with Murphy at my side.

The Gas Light
Okay, most modern day cars have that little light that goes on when you have about 2o miles of fuel left. I work hard and I play hard, so usually that last thing I wanna do is go get gas, if it wasn't in my master plan. Every time, I tell myself, I'm gonna wake up early and get gas before work, I forget. Then I drive to work, with fingers crossed hoping the fumes will get me to work on time. Or, if Murphy has his fingers in the pot, I'll be called out in the middle of the night. Can you imagine have to explain why you were late showing up to a call out...um, well, I ran out of gas, I'm stuck on the side of the road waiting for AAA to bring me some gas? There are just some things, you'd NEVER live down. And getting gas in the middle of the night is not one of the safest things you can do. So filler up!

Trust your Instincts!
I've heard just about every type of call, just about every excuse of why or why not something was done. Bottom line - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Use common sense - if you think you are getting a deal or getting away with something, you aren't. You can't get something for nothing. If you are in a situation where the little hairs on the back of you neck are standing up, get out of that situation.
You know I've been training to run a 1/2 marathon. I've also taken up biking to cross-train for the running. Many times it means running or biking on my own. I always let someone know where I'm running/riding and a guestimate of how long I'll be away but usually because I have knee issues and not for safety reasons. However, there have been times where, I've gotten that feeling to just get the hell out of there. Nothing appears out of the ordinary. I've made eye contact with folks I've met along the way. I know my surrounding but I trust my gut instinct and would rather not become a statistic. There have been many times, for no apparent reason at all, I will simply turn around in the middle of a run/ride or gotten out of an area as fast as my feet would carry me. Who knows, I might have saved myself from a situation, but maybe not. I don't want to be the reason someone dials 911 or the reason why the CSI crew gets called out. Maybe I'm a product of all the 1000s of 911 calls I've taken or maybe I'm just a little overly cautious but what ever it is, I'd rather be safe than sorry. So, if you see an Asian female on a local trail, running (or riding) with a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society tag on her right shoe, who abruptly turns around mid-run, it’s probably me – either instinct is telling me to go the other way or I’ve been called back into work.

My Friend Murphy
Okay, a version of Murphy’s law, as it applies to me, is “If it can happen, it will happen” which can make my life and my co-workers’ lives very interesting. Murphy has been sitting with me since about day one of my career here at SRPD. My first week here at the PD involved several high speed pursuits. My first year had 7 homicides – an anomaly I was assured. My training in dispatch would bring about every type of call a dispatcher could experience during their career. We would talk about a type of call and what I would do and “poof” the call would happen within the next several hours or at the latest, the next shift. Talked about suicide, got a suicidal caller. Talked about taking shooting calls, the 911 board would light up – with possible shots fired calls and would be later determined to be a homicide. Role played a pursuit call, and there real with thing would happen. Discussed how to request a mutual aid or set up a county-wide roadblock and I was in the thick of things, setting up the real deal! During my almost 20 years here, I’ve been riding along with officers while on hot calls or in pursuits. I’ve watched, first hand, officers perform felony stops. I’ve searched female prisoners. I’ve dealt with hostages, victims, prisoners, bad guys (and gals) along with children and other innocents in person and on the phone. Occasionally, I will be the one to answer the 911 call, dispatch the officers and then process the crime scene. My career, so far, has been fun, exciting, sometimes boring and tedious but as long as Murphy is by my side, it will never be dull and I will continue to earn my nick name of “S**t Magnet.”

Until the next blog, be safe - Dispatcher AD and her side kick Murphy. Don't forget you can always find me at 391@srpd.org

The Blogging Lieutenants

Okay, so is it time for our 15 minutes of fame? I wanted to say thank you to Beth Spotswood (our pseudo-agent), VidSF, Phil Bronstein, and future undercover Detective Katie Baker, for the amazing video interview and really cool commentary in the SF Chronicle. Phil, Katie and the crew came to SRPD last week and we had a great time. They got a tour of our police department and got to try Dispatcher Anndora's yummy water of the day. Anyway, we had a great time and here is the link for those of you who want to see what Ralph and I really look like. Sorry to bum you out (Beth) but Ralph doesn't resemble Dennis Farina!

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/bronstein/detail?blogid=47&entry_id=68796

Oh and I wonder if Ralph and I will get invited to some cool event in the City because of this exposure?? Come on, if Beth or Phil can't make that happen, who can?

Have a great day! Lt. Dan

Friday, July 23, 2010

What goes up.....By Lt. Pata

I am completely and totally afraid of heights. I can admit it. I don’t like ladders, standing on chairs, eating on elevated revolving restaurants above the city below (unless someone else is paying, of course) and rooftops. I hate rooftops. I get sweaty and nauseated on fair rides. I pray to myself when I get on an airplane that there are no bumps and that the pilot took his or her antidepressants.
I actually try to book flights early in the morning because I was told there are less bumps in the morning. If I can’t get an early morning flight, then I make sure my ATM has plenty of room for in-flight acquired liquid anesthesia. It might say Virgin America on the side of the plane, but it’s really Gray Goose-amnesia airlines.
I admit am vertically challenged. I love terra firma. Little did I know that this job, which seems to have a firm footing on land would put me in some very uncomfortable if not nauseating situations.
I think God loves to mess with me. I believe it. Sometimes I think the good Lord sits in front of his (or her) version of the “almighty edition” of X-box and sees us little guys playing life. Just when it seems safe, I get a smoke alarm to change, maybe a spider just outside of reach, an ex-wife, or of course, Christmas lights to hang. Now, you would think that my respect for God would buy me a couple of points. I mean, I put up the Christmas lights sometimes in the most hazardous of situations. You know the reach to get the cord on the hook, 12 feet up with one foot of the ladder sinking in the dirt after a good rain, right? You would think I could get a pass on a rooftop jumper or crook running from me on a rooftop. No, of course it does not.
I remember a little while back, I was called to a transition house in our downtown. It was located in a four story building. (Reader, please pause for an important message from me, loaded with sarcasm and a little irreverent.) OK, a message to shrinks and administrators of these places….transitional housing in a FOUR STORY building is not so smart. A bad day in a one story structure is maybe falling on the lawn from your bedroom window. A bad day in a four story building will really hurt. No soft lawn, just concrete, or maybe some poor soul riding a bike or taking a walk below to break the fall. But hey, if teaching a lesson is what you want, well, by all means, shoot for the 7 story building. Bigger thump, much more impressive – and more time to do tricks on the way down.
The call at the transition house was for a jumper on the roof. Of course this was an 1800’s era building, with no elevators and really narrow stairs. My blueberry muffin down the street, with a perfectly made cup of coffee would go cold for this call. I had to go to this and there was no way I was going to quickly eat it only to temporarily store them in my stomach for them to appear again in front of my pals. I mean, I like my coffee and muffins, maybe a little too much, but not enough to experience them twice.
I lumbered up to the roof. The stairs were narrow and as I ran up them, I bounced off of the walls all the way up. It was easily 3 left turns per floor all the way up. I was dizzy when we finally arrived.
When I got to the top, with my partner, I saw that our bad day was going to get much worse. First, no oxygen tank for me to suck off of, second, no railings around the roof and finally no beautiful member of the opposite sex trying to get me to wake up, like it was a bad dream.
What’s worse than a rooftop negotiation session with an unhappy person? The gravel roof she is standing on. For all that mattered to me, it might have just been a rooftop of ball bearings. My heart stopped beating. I’m sure I looked like I was walking on a tightrope above a mine field. My feet felt like they were in concrete.
The jumper was a woman, about my size who was in a pink nighty AND –had yucky vanilla scented lotion all over the exposed parts of her body. I could actually see her arms were all shiny. She smelled like a vanilla shake and had this nighty on, but I don’t think the two worked well together. The nighty I think it was from Fredericks of Hollywood. Not my style. A little contrived for my taste, plus everyone knows black is slenderizing and the “in” color.
When I realized I was on the roof and there were rocks at my feet, (a sensory trick, by the “Almighty” used to lure me into believing I was on the ground…) I had this weird thing come over me. Suddenly I felt like there was a magnet over the side of the roof and I was made of cheap metal. This mania comes over me when I am high up. I literally feel like I am getting pulled closer to the side. Same thing happens to me on the Golden Gate Bridge, with pizza and on fire ladders.
I was not a hostage or crisis negotiator yet, so I did not have anything to offer this lady to comfort her or maybe convince her that cement poisoning was really painful. Most of my professional experiences centered on what happened after a victim’s brisk and purposeful walk over the side. I can say I am an expert when it comes to the terminal application of concrete to the body, but at the time of this incident my heart was not into this call. Don’t forget – Muffin and cold coffee! Really high up with rocks…and no railing, not good at all!
At the time my biggest crisis in life was where to find a good plate of gnocchi. I really was a simple kid with no real connection to this gal’s misery. I tried my best stuff, including my standard line of “hey have you ever been to Jamaica?” “You can’t die until you have been there.” That actually worked once, but apparently this gal was not a fan of Red Stripe Jamaican Beer and instead of being mesmerized by the thought of white beaches and people selling stuff to you that you don’t need, she walked closer to the side and looked over. My heart took one giant pump, and then stopped again. I remember saying something under my breath and she asked what I said. Ding-ding-ding! I was on to something. I did not intend this, it was not a skillful training thing, and it was an absolute accident.
I started to talk normal and looked away a couple of times. I was really good at talking under my breath. I went to Catholic school and I was no genius, so talking under my breath – asking for test answers, with a turkey sandwich chaser offered to my cheating confederate, was how I passed Biology.
My new tactic was like reeling in the big fish. It was working! She walked a little closer with each statement; I’m guessing so she couldn’t hear what the heck I was saying. When she was close enough, my partner and I took a quick big step forward and grabbed her.
Remember the lotion? Ya, the fight was on! She slipped from our hands. It was like trying to catch a chicken on a rooftop. I don’t think this gal was really interested in jumping, because after our little slip-a roo she could have just run over and taken a leap of faith.
All of us ended up on the gravel roof. The one lucky thing about the lotion and the gravel was that the little sharp rocks, used for roofing material, stuck to her skin. It made her palpable. It also poked her with just the slightest of squeeze, an unintended consequence that worked really well for me. Each time she squirmed and tried to pull away, I squeezed her arm, gently, of course. She went from devotedly suicidal to really angry. I like to call it an attention-getter. We handcuffed her and she went off to the crisis unit for a little TLC and a tune up. I have not and will never go back up there. I am certain that my place is on the ground. I like the ground. We Italians don’t do really tall buildings very well, Take the leaning tower of Pisa for example. Need I say more?
Running on a rooftop is not like a Bourne movie. It sucks. Especially so, in the dark. One night a crook was in an upper room at one of our local – by the hour – motels. I learned he was a parolee who was wanted. After I confirmed he was in the room with a woman, who I like to call an exotic social engineer, I knocked on the door with my partner.
This was early in my career, so I was na├»ve and announced “Police.” The next sound I heard was this weird sound like someone was kicking something. I was right! I looked up on the roof and could see the upstairs room window was open and a guy was kicking at the bars. My pal and I booted the front door and ran up the stairs. Just as we made the top of the stairs the suspect kicked off the bars on the windows and jumped out.
I popped out the window and noticed immediately, its dark and I am on a roof. Not my idea of fun. On TV the stunt guy gets this honor.
Like many good cops before me, I was sucked into the moment and ran after the criminal. What I, and apparently he, could not plan for, were the wires securing the TV antenna to the roof.
As he reached the end of his flight, at full speed, he tripped on a wire and fell off the roof. I actually think that was the hand of God escorting him to the pavement below, very quickly. I stopped, then carefully walked toward the edge with my gun now out as I peeked over the side. I had my best “Stop Police” voice cued up and looked over the side. Poof! Gone! This guy vanished. I was blown away. I expected a lump on the ground, but found nothing. Not even a spot where his DNA hit the deck.
I walked back to the room and down the stairs with my partner. We walked to the end of the building but could not see this guy anywhere. I looked at my partner as if to see if maybe this was a goof or a ghost. He simply shrugged his shoulders. We then went from door to door under the escape route looking for this guy.
I stopped and listened before knocking on each door. About halfway through the rooms downstairs I heard the sound of a person whimpering on the other side of the door and knew this was either my bad guy, or maybe my displaced social engineer. I knocked on the door and a non-involved party, who looked afraid, came to the door. You always know these guys; they have really big eyes and are sweating. I whispered for him to step out and said “He’s in here, right?” I got the nod. My partner and I entered and found a guy whose elbow looked like it had extra parts to it. I mean, it bent in unnatural ways. He no longer looked like big strong convict. He looked like he was in pain. Pain is the great equalizer.
I think this guy was glad we found him. The paramedics took him to the hospital and he was later escorted back to another room with bars on the window, this time not as an hourly guest, but as an invited resident of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to finish his parole time.
Remember, Always-always look before you leap. Let us know if you want more.

Until the next time......Ralph.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thanks and Do You Want to Attend The Citizen Police Academy?

Hello folks, it's Lieutenant Dan. I have to say that the blogs by Lt. Pata and Dispatcher Anndora have been amazing. I never imagined that they would receive the response they have. Anndora was asked to blog for a national blog and Lt. Pata is being interviewed by none other than Phil Bronstein today and has a life long fan in CBS Eye on Blogs writer, Beth Spotswood. So thanks to all of you that continue to read the stories about the men and women of the San Rafael Police Department.

So my other reason for writing today (and no I don't have some exciting story) is to see if there are people interested in attending the fall session of our Citizen Police Academy. This is an awesome 10 week program where each week you learn about a different function of the police department (ie: CSI, SWAT, Investigations, etc). As an added bonus, you also get to go the shooting range with an SRPD firearms instructor and go on a ride-a-long in the patrol division. We have a great time in the class and it is a great experience. The next class starts Wednesday, September 15th and it runs every Wednesday for 10 weeks from 6pm to 9pm at San Rafael City Hall. Usually the class is only open for San Rafael residents or people who work in San Rafael but I can hold some spots for some of our faithful blog readers. We have a cap at 35 in each class so if you don't get in this time, we will have another session starting up in the spring of 2011.

If you want to attend, please e-mail me at 447@srpd.org by August 13th to get your application going. Most of all, I will assure you a personal introduction of the famous blogging duo, Dispatcher Anndora and Lt. Pata. I hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Rookie Detective's First Autopsy by Lt. Pata

Ah…the autopsy. The tried and true staple of any good cop flick is the puking rookie cop into the autopsy-room garbage can. Well, there certainly is a particular unsavory aspect of being a guest to the intimate examination of another’s viscera, but I am guessing that the proprietor of said viscera has a bigger gripe, so I try to keep my lunch to myself and not share.

Of course it is every good senior officer’s job to try with every fiber of their being to make the new guy sick at autopsy, but often times the build up is worse than the event… Unless, of course, the benefactor of the examination has been missing for a week or more or succumbed to a rapid unhealthy increase in temperature change resulting in their thermally induced demise. Those still bug me a little. Sorry for the “bug” inference.

So, my peers are always making fun of my close association with the dead. It’s not so much that I have a pathological relationship with them, I’m just a little curious about what makes people tick. I was the kid who used to poke at the dead stuff on the side of the road. I look at those gems of my life as learning my first lessons into the world of investigation. Think that’s weird? How many of you slow down to get a peek at the car wreck? I rest my case.

If you are analytical with maybe a little twist of macabre and are interested in the “off switch of life”, where do you go for the answer? If you are me, you drop by for an autopsy every now and then. Dead folks are not so bad. Most of them don’t really bother you, they keep to themselves and when you are done learning from them, you can put them back in the drawer. (Go ahead and cut this Lt. Dan…I dare you.) They are not clingy and don’t stick around for long. They are usually gone in a couple of days and are replaced by new folks.

By now you know that I used to work for the Marin Coroner and San Francisco – Medical Examiner’s Office. Both were good jobs. I learned about what not to do and how to stay alive. Things like, wearing rubber boots to clean out some types of farm equipment machines…not a good idea. (Rubber is good on pavement, not so good on steel. It’s like ice skating around a hole in the ice, while a Great White shark is patiently waiting for you to slip.) Another lesson I learned was that it was not so smart to try to make a buck by recycling semi precious metals, like copper… forgetting to turn off the power to the ka-gillion watt power grid before doing so. That was my most current example. (Pun – completely intended.)

I have taken a number of new officers to their first autopsy. Actually, I think I have been to small towns that had fewer people inhabited in them than people who I have been acquainted with in death. I was kind of the den-father of death for the new kids. I don’t remember all of them, but I will never forget bringing then Detective Raul Aguilar to his first.

Raul and I were in detectives back in the early part of this century. He was a sex assault detective and I was a homicide – violent crimes guy. I had the easier job. I remember getting the call from my boss asking me to take Raul out to the cemetery for his first postmortem exam. I look back on it now and it totally played out like a Hitchcock movie.

I drove my Crown Victoria to the front of our detective’s building. I remember that it was a cold but crisp-clear day. Raul and I have a great relationship, but remember it was my unofficial and non-sanctioned job to enhance this experience and do my best to reverse his breakfast intake.

Raul and I were going to a homicide autopsy. The victim was on the receiving end of an instrument normally reserved for disarticulating vegetables and rendering them into small edible parts. Some would call it, a knife, but it’s not as sexy of a word and I have been dying to use the word disarticulation for some time.

When I picked Raul up, I noticed that he was not his usual cheerful self. He was quiet, but looked great in his new detective suit. Raul is one of those terminally cheerful types. That morning, his beautiful wife clearly picked his attire and, as I suspect, she left the suit on their bed like a little deflated man for him. I was in my usual sport coat and open collared shirt. By now I knew the routine, keep a spare tie in my car and in my drawer in case I needed to look the part. I also remembered Detective Rule # 3 never wear a tie to an autopsy. Why you ask? Uh, bending over to get a closer look at something, formerly associated with non-exterior portion of the victim, will almost always cause you to have to cut off and throw away the tie. Get my sanitized drift? Ya, yuck.

I always figured that people, who dropped dead be it accidently or on purpose, by virtue of nature, karma maybe by gross consumption or as a result of some sinister act, deserved at least a detective-looking guy or gal to come to the location of their departure or discovery, looking sharp. It is the old-school respect thing that I have always had for serious crimes, but especially for the family of those who died. Breaking the news of a death, while in a Hawaiian shirt, with a gal depicted on your chest – dancing, dressed in coconut shell bikini, grass skirt and lei, is not so professional, but definitely cheery.

I’ll never forget one casual Friday where my whole team wore Hawaiian shirts (tasteful of course) and we were called out to investigate a dead guy, found behind a debris box, downtown. A citizen interacted with the team for a few minutes then asked: “Hey are you guys cops?” That was it. From that point on I always had a coat and tie nearby. Plus, honestly, I have to, I’m Italian…and yes the buttons on the Hawaiian shirts were made from coconut shells, not plastic. C’mon we’re not barbarians!

In Marin, they do not have a central morgue, so selected funeral homes and cemeteries have facilities to do embalming. You don’t need much to do an autopsy; all you need is a table, a sink, and a nice collection of shiny instruments, some jars to collect samples. Oh and a saw. You need a saw.




The drive out with Raul was kind of surreal. I remember the low volume of the radio playing in my car of some string quartet as we drove from the downtown to a really quiet and nice neighborhood. I can recall seeing and hearing the kids at the local school playing in the school yard as I looked over and saw Raul staring straight ahead not saying a word. As I drove I remember seeing the sun shining in his face and shadows of the tree lined street breaking through the bright sun, but I don’t think he blinked the entire ride.

By the time we arrived at the cemetery I drove back to the rear of the complex. I decided to point out one of the experience enhancing moments to Raul as I noticed the heat coming off the building we were going to enter. “Hey look Raul! I think they are doing cremations today.” That little statement got him to actually blink for what I think was the first time during the 10 minute ride to the cemetery. I discovered that I also possess magical powers, as suddenly I was able to blanch and discolor his face with that simple statement.

When I parked, we got out of the car and collected our police stuff, camera, notebooks and pens. As we walked toward the unmarked entrance, to the windowless room, I said “hi” to a guy who looked like he stepped right out of central casting for a horror movie. This guy was a gravedigger or “groundskeeper.” He had on overalls and a ball cap. He was also covered in dirt. I could not have set this one up any better. This guy was seated on a planter box eating a tuna sandwich. I remember him saying hello mid-chew. He had this partially chewed lump of food in his mouth. When he did this, I noticed that he was devoid of some esthetic frontal dentition. It doesn’t take a detective to figure out that explained the soft tuna sandwich and absence of a wedding ring. By now I could feel Raul’s polite but palpable tension. Raul looked like he had rode the “zipper” at the county fair – after lunch. The only thing missing was the banjo music.

When I opened the side door to the mortuary, there was a customer in the head up position. The person was not lying down, but almost standing. I am guessing they were trying to get some normal color back or maybe they ran out of space. Who knows, maybe she was the like the Wal-Mart greeter. I have to admit, I was a little taken back when I opened the door and right in front of me, was this person looking right at us. I think I actually said hello to her.

Raul and I navigated our way past the overnight guests who were resting eternally, in their small but functional wood and metal cottages. We made our way into the autopsy room and met the rent-a-pathologist. I remember the room was cold. I also remember the doctor was preparing his equipment for the autopsy. I offered a little gracious “hey how ya doing-how are the kids?” while putting on the mask, as he got his sample jars ready. It was part of my disarming tactic designed for Raul’s impending and calculated cerebral tornado I was trying to stir up and eventual evacuation of his stomach contents. I was feeling frisky. I admit it…I am a bad man.





Raul stopped short of entering the room willfully as the surgeon unzipped the bag containing the once vibrant, if not artificially, and usually unlawfully-stimulated life of a petty criminal. This guy met his demise the night before at the hands of an old friend.

Its friends like this, who would be by your side as you leave the planet that really demonstrate the meaning of “friend for life.” Actually, he was more like behind him at the time of expiration, not by his side. He also gave his pal a pat on the back, several times, but forgot to remove the steak knife from his meaty fist. Remember, if you, the victim, do not consent to being stabbed and you die, well, then those “friends” are just despicable murderers.

I told Raul that I had to use the bathroom. He quietly said he also had to use the restroom. I walked across the ceramic tile-showroom that is every autopsy-embalming room and opened the door to the inner sanctum of the mortuary. The casket storage room and, yes, the cremation room.

Picture a dark room with a distant light leading to an open door about 50 yards away. That light was our passage to salvation, the restroom. The serenity of the dark room with the light struck me as having a weird coincidence to what people, who have described a similar circumstance from returning from their near-death experience. The dark room became a little brighter, after the technician opened the door to the retort (cremation device), as we started to walk toward the restroom. While you are visualizing that little vignette - pipe in the sound of heavy-duty fans.

I made it to the restroom, but Raul didn’t. I think I said something to Raul and looked over my shoulder only to find he was no longer behind me. Raul retreated to the autopsy room, which – all by itself was not so safe for his psyche either, but better in some regards, than the room before it with the standing deceased person and her friends and way better, if not colder, than the cremation room.

Raul never became sick, and I could not bring myself to enhance his already perfect storm of nausea and fear. He remains my valedictorian in death 101. Raul was not so happy during the procedure, but never complained. He stood with his back against the corner wall like he was hung on it and took pictures of our victim using the telephoto lens, but still, he stuck it out. The pictures by the way were all of my back. Thankfully this case never went to trial because the bad guy pled guilty.

I am certain Raul is a different man for it. I think that was his first and last autopsy. Raul is now a sergeant and doesn’t have to go to these anymore. I’m telling you, he’s missing out. I’ve gotta go. I’m hungry.

Trust me, there’s more. Stay safe – Ralph.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Always Eat Your Dinner! By Lt. Pata

Early in 2004 (or so) I was called by nightshift and told that one of our local street guys was in a fight with another guy at a flophouse in our city. The fight was over a girl. The bad guy kind of saw himself as the big-brother type in this community and thought my victim was taking advantage of this girl’s not so brilliant mind. The suspect decided to invite the victim over for a little talk. Not a good idea.

The talk leads to a declaration of love from the victim, and his plans to enter into the sacrament of marriage with his inamorata, to whoever would hear it in the apartment. This could have been touching had the victim asked the girl’s father, and maybe did it with a little panache, you know, dinner, candle, bottle of fortified wine, down on a knee…uh maybe a ring! I feel qualified to make this statement because I have done this a few times. I would just not be the right guy to give the bride and groom to be the “pick wisely” talk. Instead my victim would rub his undying love for his girlfriend in the suspect’s face – at her apartment.

What Mr. Victim did not know, was that Mr. Suspect had planned on intimidating him or even killing him with a rather sizeable knife. The suspect kind of set up the confrontation by placing a knife in a location that he could get to it. Of course you know what happened next, right? Wrong, he did not kill him, but he did stab him. Some would later argue that I killed him. Let me explain…

Of course the suspect stabbed the victim. This would not be interesting if he just left really angry. So when my victim tries to leave, the suspect perforates him, oh about 3 maybe 4 times in the back. Thankfully, the victim had a Mediterranean type body, much like mine, but a little heftier, and the knife never made it through the nice protective layer of fat. See? Another reason to eat all of your dinner.

The victim’s problem was not so much that he was stabbed, but that he had some very professional and thorough care at the local trauma center. When he arrived with his new sharp-force wounds, he was taken to surgery where they gave him another sharp-force wound. After they unzipped him, they found that he was saved by a few too many desserts. Kind of interesting isn’t it that the treatment for a stabbing is…another stabbing. Medically sanctioned, of course.

The next day, I took then Sgt. Masterson with me to the trauma center, so we could have a little talk with the victim who was resting uncomfortably in the ICU. I could plainly see he was not in a good mood. Maybe he was worried that the suspect would give his betrothed away at the pending sacred event. I mean, really, if you get stabbed for just announcing the engagement, what could befall you if you go through with it?

Despite having all these tubes in him I was able to get a good statement. Sgt. Masterson and I left him so he could rest in peace. Unfortunately, he literally took us up on that. At about 6PM I got a call from my boss advising me that my victim was dead. I told him he was mistaken, because I just saw him, talked to him and found out that none of the stab wounds was life threatening.

I did that Candid Camera thing and looked around and out the window to see if maybe my pals were outside of my home looking in for a gag during my dinner. But no one was there. The tone of my voice changed and I said, “You’re not kidding, are you?”

The next call came from my friend, Coroner’s Investigator Pam Carter. I asked her what happened. She told me that as a result of the surgery and the stabbing, the victim had a heart attack in the ICU. All of the stress on his body from the event caused his demise. That, my friend, equals murder. Guess who ended up going back to work, minus dinner?

I arrived at the police station around 7PM and re-read the report. I knew the suspect and victim from past contacts as a street cop and thought I could use that familiarity to get a statement. I took a partner with me and drove to the Marin County Jail where he was housed for the stabbing. As far as this guy knew, he was there for ADW, assault with a deadly weapon.

Now this guy is intimidating. Not because he wants to be intimidating, he is just a big guy with a really big stomach. He had bright red hair and a scraggly beard. His hair was all over the place, frizzy and it was falling out on the top.

I made nice with the bad guy when he came in. I am not big on handshaking murderers or prostitutes for that matter, but I gave him a complementary bottle of water, courtesy of the County of Marin, and sat across from him. This guy was weird. He acted like some bad “B” list movie character I had seen, but did not have the smarts to pull it off completely.

He tried the “tough guy” stuff on me. Amateur crooks and the kids always try this. He was not a kid and had been around, but I think he had been kicked in the head maybe one too many times to be an effective with his Hannibal Lechter act. He tried to lead the conversation, so I let him. Some good comes from that. I love it when these guys use stuff they have seen in the movies to try and get me to believe their story.

I liked doing the Colombo thing and I acted like he was in control, until I had enough to slowly pick his story apart. My favorite move was to ask suspects to be the cop. Then I would present the case to them and ask them what they would do. Many would arrest themselves. It’s beautiful when they say this clearly over the audio and video tape recorders. It’s pretty cool when you get to play that in front of 12 jurors. I tell ya, Perry Mason can’t help them of that little courtroom drama.
This guy was not making a move. He was not buying my sales pitch and frankly I was starving and wanted this game of cat and mouse over. I finally had enough and told him those life changing words: “Brother, you’re under arrest for murder…he died. That - (pause for emphasis…) is murder.”

What happened next was spooky. He looked me in the eyes and started to grind his teeth. I am telling you, I expected him to spit out a dozen teeth. This guy was literally chewing his molars. I would not have been surprised if someone later told me the jail had to call out their dentist that night. My fillings started to get sore watching this guy.

This guy gave me the creeps. I remember I pushed back away from the table and prepared for a fight. I was waiting for this guy to flip the table over and squeeze my neck. Instead, he took the plastic cap from his water bottle and bent it in half with two fingers. Try that some day. It is not so easy. All of this as he stared in my eyes and never made a statement. The only two things he moved on his body were his jaws and his right thumb and forefinger. He did not say a word for what seemed like an hour, but was only maybe 3 minutes. Seriously-freaky!

When he was done doing his homeopathic dental work, he said “OK” and we were done. I wanted to get the heck out of that room and go to a church. This guy seemed possessed. It was a new kind of anger for me. I needed to light a candle and say a little prayer to whatever patron saint handled the “weird events” department of heaven. I left the jail at about 11PM and drove back to the station.

I now had a date at 8:00AM with the autopsy surgeon and another visit with my victim. This guy had a few too many knives in his life in the last 24 hours. It was time for him to finally get that peace he deserved, of course after another appointment with yet another knife.

I ate a bag of chips out of the police dining facility (vending machine) on the way home. I remember I had classical music on in the car and tried to crunch my corn chips to the music and maybe come up with a beat. I sometimes listen to classical tunes to decompress or to help me think. I also went over the events of the last 24 hours.

Morning was a few hours away and I needed to start to plan my case for the next day. Sleep would not come without a little help from a handful of my friends, Tylenol PM’s. I don’t mind telling you that sometimes, I play war with them. They never seem to stand up, but that’s ok, I act like Godzilla and eat them as they scream all the way down to my stomach.


Stay safe. See ya around the block. Ralph.