Friday, August 20, 2010

"Mom, get out of the way!" By Lt. Pata

Code 3 driving is the spring-roll of police driving. It is exciting, dangerous and frustration all wrapped in a nice black and white package. Most people take their driving test and usually know what to do, of course, most of the time they don’t do it. The pull to the right thing is not an option, it really is mandatory, unless, of course you are my mom.

One day watch, years ago I was driving on Second Street in San Rafael, a pretty heavily travelled multi-lane one-way street. As I was driving around looking for my next bad person, I received that adrenaline inspired radio call “3L43 – 415 Physical…” That little phrase means a couple of things…it requires me to drive Code-3 (lights and siren) to a fight call. I and 750lbs of back up officers would drive to that call in the hope of getting there before too much damage was done to the victim. Oh the other thing is I am required to get there safely. I know, party poopers.

I went through the ritual, answered up for my call on the radio and then rolled up my window, turned up the volume to the radio, checked my seat belt and said a prayer. Police cars should include a statue of Jesus on the dash, just like my little aunt “Nini” used to have in her car, because you really take your life in your hands when you drive in a black and white, but no more so, then when you have to drive Code-3. Code -3 is the cool police term for loud noise and disco lights. It’s actually not the driving that is spooky, it’s the response from the world the second you turn on the siren. But I’m Italian and we are predisposed to driving, lets say, unconventionally. It’s so hard to drive and curse in Italian with both hands on the wheel.

Think about it, pedestrians who stop in the middle of the sidewalk and cover their delicate ears and have the “what? what?” Look on their faces as I sit patiently with my siren on waving for them to move…bicyclists, hybrid cars, big trucks, cars that should have been recycled years ago and semi-deaf mothers in Ford Futura’s that think their son is messing with them are typical hazards.

As I drove over a bridge and around a corner there ahead of me is a gold Ford that will not pull over for the nice police officer. I‘m driving 20mph with my siren blaring and lights flashing. I think smoke was coming from my ears, as it usually does when I think, but now it’s because I am not happy with the Ford in front of me. I am going to an emergency. The siren is usually the universal language and there is this woman, driving probably 20mph. That’s what you do in a 25mph zone. You drive 20; well that’s what you do if you’re my mom. So, I hit the cool siren, the “yelp,” you know the one that goes “whoop whoop whoop!” its kind of the “move over already!” version of the siren. It is also pretty good for “I can’t stop-move!” It is designed to help vibrate you or elevate your car up and over traffic, to the next obstacle.

It was after the yelp siren that upon closer inspection I noticed that the 60-something year old “Nonna” with the jet black hair could only be one of two people. My mom or Ronald Reagan in drag.
I don’t think I have seen another person, aside from President Reagan, that had that almost blue-black colored head of hair. Its funny, as a kid I remember seeing my mom wash her hair and she used to tell me it was black shampoo. Now, I know. Duh! I wasn’t so smart as a kid.

Apparently my mom thought I was just messing with her, like its something I do at 2pm in the middle of traffic. My dear mom responded with putting her left hand out the window and made the up and down waiving motion with her left hand and arm. I was familiar with as Italian sign language for “shut up.” I know this, because she used to do this from time to time at the dinner table, church, backyard, bedroom, and especially while watching Beretta on TV. By the way, Mr. Blake, thanks for ruining my life. After your ex took a dirt nap, near that Italian joint in L.A. my mom thought I was going to be an “alleged” wife murderer. Thanks pal.

My mom had a heavy accent and messed up words like “Lake Taco”, for Lake Tahoe, but with the helpful assistance of her hands and feet – oh and the wood cooking spoon and her slippers, we all understood. The kick under the table was probably her biggest non-verbal skill and it was a universal language. Even the dog got it. Mom ran the show.

With great humility I had to turn off my siren and get on the PA system, because mom would not pull over and now the conga line of cop cars was getting bigger behind me. It’s hard to whisper “MOM MOVE OVER” on the loud speaker, but I had to do it. The only bonus was that I did not have to do it in Italian. My mom took her sweet time, but finally gave me and my pals enough room to pass her. Of course, she just stopped in the lane of traffic. I was seriously waiting for her to throw a shoe at me. Needless to say it was a topic at dinner on Sunday and everyday for about a month in briefing. Her response: “Ralphy, I thought you were being stupid, I’m, sorry.” Then she cackled her trademark laugh and passed the lasagna.

My mom was well known in San Rafael so I couldn’t even lie about who the non-responsive driver was. My mom was the gal who worked at the local See’s candies and sugared up everyone from the Chief to judges and of course cops. Her favorite pastime was to pass out stuck together deformed candy that could not be sold, then tell everyone she knew that I was born premature and with no skin. Ya, it’s now no wonder I could not get a date. She always asked Chief’s and judges, “my Ralphy isn’t being stupid is he?” Mom also always made breakfast for my team members on special days, like Christmas. She was definitely one of a kind and a class act. I miss her.

OK, sirens are obnoxious, but it is kind of cool knowing in seconds you are going to cause a little noise and panic for some and activate the “frozen in place” hormones in your unsuspecting fellow travelers on the street. We don’t do it for no reason, (Usually – OK, there were a couple of times, like when we booby trapped patrol cars at lunch breaks to activate the siren once you opened the doors, but aside from that…)

There is no rhyme or reason as to who does what on the street. Young and old, men and women make up how they will respond to the police car or ambulance driving behind them with the sirens on. It’s like musical chairs. When the music stops, or in this case when the siren starts, people just stop -or worse, they pull to the center of the road, (left).

Stopping in the middle of the road, usually at the last second, or maybe the adventurous X-games driver who pulls from a driveway, in front of you as you are passing a car on the left, is a bladder and lower gastrointestinal pressure valve moment. The only thing I have found to alleviate the lower gastro-intestinal pressure is a nice combination of multi-syllabled profanity reserved in the confines of what could be your black and white coffin.

Most people continue to drive like this because we don’t have the time or opportunity at the time to pull them over and issue a nice coupon to remind them of their driving errors – because we are busy driving to the emergency! I can recall a couple of times hunting the driver who would not pull over for me or the ambulance, but usually it’s too late to catch them so they get a pass. It’s too bad, it’s a great ticket.

I have considered the healthy application of my push bumper to the rear of the car that won’t move. I have tried it before with crooks and it works. The problem is that is usually causes some damage. Our budget doesn’t support these little maneuvers anymore, so we wait for the NASCAR moment, draft off of the back end of their car and slingshot around them when the time is right. A nice prayer to the “wrong way gods” helps so that when you do pass on the left you are not met by a semi who already owns that lane. I used to work for the Coroner’s office…people lose to semi’s. In a big way.

There are other reasons to drive Code-3, but they usually get you in trouble, but I have to admit, I have done it.

Sometimes we have to drive quickly to other events. Take for example the lunch gone wrong. Safely and quickly getting back to the station after you had a meal that did not agree with you is also important. You know what I am talking about, don’t ya?

The toxic fare that caused an unmistakable internal combustion which reminds you that it is not smart to eat at a place where they can’t spell the “food” item right on the menu. Or how about that meat-like product that you have never heard of before? I actually walked away from a restaurant once that had the words POOSH and POOL on the door. Seriously.

Officers know what I am talking about. Let me frame this shot for you…you just finished a nauseating combination of rice, beans and either seagull or squirrel, nicely disguised in a flour vessel that, when gift wrapped, looks remarkably like a suppository for an elephant. Truthfully, it can and has been any hygienically challenged food product.

After lunch you are lured into a sense of satisfaction. Within 3 minutes of swallowing your last bite…you stand up and feel the hand of God poke you in the abdomen. Huh? You think to yourself, maybe my gun belt is on a little too tight. NO no no….after your first step away from the table, you notice that your body has turned on the perspiration machine. With each step toward your patrol car you feel like your gastrointestinal tract is starting to unwind. God is playing catch and release with your lunch. You pull at the collar of your T-shirt and try to get a little cool air down the front of your shirt and bullet resistant vest. Without notice, embarrassing symptoms of your intestinal dispute become apparent and you immediately look to see if anyone noticed.

The moment you sit in the driver’s seat, the red alert notice transmitted from your lower digestive system to your brain is activated. (Think of the soundtrack to a submarine diving: A-OOOGA A-OOOGA!) Your hands start to sweat. You feel God knocking on the inside of your stomach…and then the cramping starts. The anatomical vice-grip starts to twist your mesentery like it’s on a taffy puller. You don’t call out that you are finished with lunch on the radio and drive as assertively as you can to the station.

On the way to the station you look at the computer screen and pray to the emergency call gods that none happen. As you drive back you scope out every possible burrito reception center on the way, but are careful not to make eye contact with any citizen because there is not room for error, no time to waste. (So to speak.)

Finally you see the finish line… the police station. The problem is that the guy in front of you is in a hybrid and is testing the gas to mile per gallon ration as he lets his car slowly cruise using the electric motor. Or he (or she) wants you to see how good they are that they are actually driving 25MPH. It’s a dirty trick. You would swear that you can hear your heart beating faster and faster…nothing else matters.

Suddenly you realize that soon, you may not actually make it to the station. Thoughts of living in exile come over you. By now you have rolled up the windows of the car, turned the AC on full blast, removed your seatbelt and have unlocked the doors. Finally, you decide to accept the written or verbal reprimand by activating your emergency lights to blow past Mr. Hybrid. As you scoot past him you accelerate like a dragster into the parking lot of the station, now removing the belt keepers and decisively sprint to the back door of the station and directly to the burrito recycling center. Sound familiar?

OK cops, be honest- How many of you reading this has activated emergency lights less than 100 yards away from the station to get to salvation?

Once you make it into the station you have the police station obstacle course to complete to get to the official police lounge. You have to code-into the back door, you have to be polite to wayward citizens who happen into the back lot and dodge their questions, lets not forget about the pigeon meteors falling from the second floor, conveniently located above the back door of the station. Once you are in you have to sneak by the sergeant who wants you on the street or wants to tell you about his or her vacation…finally you have to avoid and maneuver around the senior volunteers in the hallway.
God bless them, they are awesome, but not now…MOVE! All of this while not chancing any potential relief maneuvers that could earn you a terrible nickname, exile or clear the building and activate the alarms.

For you non-cop types, getting your trousers off in a hurry for the sake of grease infused lunch is not easy. We have this junk, you know, guns, Taser’s pepper spray and such that we just can’t toss to the side as we sprint to the executive lounge. No, no, someone thought it would be a great idea to make our uniform complicated. I am guessing this guy would later go on to design lingerie or naughty subculture accessories, made of leather and snaps. We wear two belts, and then they are connected by strips of leather with snaps, called keepers.

You just can’t leave your gun on the bench or on a seat, so it comes in with you and the second you unsnap the front keepers, if you’re a guy, watch out because your sidearm may become an impact weapon and could swing around and get you briskly in an area that would make you vulnerable, subject to nausea and certainly would activate your lachrymal system causing you to ball your brains out.

So you see, driving code-3 is not for the faint at heart or for rookies. I think everyone at one time in their life would like to drive this way. It can be fun, but totally nerve wracking. Especially if you are in an unmarked car and no one really see’s you. That is actually fun, it looks like someone dropped a siren bomb and everyone is looking around for the black and white. I do it too for grins. Then when it’s safe try to get to the call.

More? OK. Stay safe. Ralphy

Friday, August 13, 2010

All in the Name of Science by Detective Phil

My name is Phil Melodia and I am a police officer with the San Rafael Police Department. Along with being a police officer one of my other assignments is as a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI).

I am sure that the San Rafael Police Department has had some form of a CSI team since the beginning of time. In fact, we used to be called Field Evidence Technicians before the popularization of the TV show with the same name and all their spin offs.

Ever since, then San Rafael Police Department Chief Cronin, and continuing with every Police Chief since, they have felt that a police department of our size should have a self sufficient CSI team.

In order to have a self sufficient CSI team, the police department has had to provide adequate training for all the CSI members and buy the proper equipment. We finally got rid of the converted ambulance that was our old “CSI van” and got a dedicated CSI van with all the bins and storage compartments, drop down tables, lights, and all the other necessary accouterment for a properly outfitted CSI team.

One of the new pieces of equipment that the police department purchased was an Alternate Light Source (ALS). If you have seen one episode of any of the incarnations of the CSI shows you know exactly what I am talking about. It is when the CSI investigator is using a black light in conjunction with a pair of colored safety glasses in an attempt to locate biological material left behind at the crime scene by the suspect. It makes for dramatic television and it is not nearly as technical as portrayed.

An ultraviolet light source, in conjunction with the properly colored lens, will cause bodily fluids that might not be visible with the naked eye to fluoresce and become readily apparent. Some of the bodily fluids that this technique is used locate is: blood, urine, sweat, saliva, mucus, vaginal secretions and seminal fluids. Basically, if your body produces it and secretes it, the ALS will help you locate it. The ALS is vital tool to be used at any crime scene where a sexual assault took place.

Our first ALS was the Spectroline TFK-100. The sergeant in charge of the CSI team was Sergeant Correa. He assigned me to learn how to use the ALS and teach all the other CSI investigators how to properly use the ALS. I read the instruction booklet from cover to cover.

About this time in my life, my grandfather had recently passed away. I had taken his old v-neck under shirts and brought them home to be used as rags. I came up the brilliant idea that I would take each tee shirt apply a small amount of biological fluid on the tee shirt. I would then write on the label of the tee shirt what the biological fluid was so the CSI investigator could see what each biological fluid looks like while using the ALS.

The first one, blood, was easy. I took a sewing needle sterilized the tip with a lighter and I pricked the tip of my finger. I dropped a few drops of blood on the white tee shirt.

The second one, saliva, was a little more difficult. You never realize how difficult it is to spit on demand until you have to do it. The first time I attempted, the shirt was hanging and the spittle beaded up, rolled down the shirt and fell off the tee shirt and onto the floor. I then placed tee shirt horizontal and I repeated my experiment with much more success.

The third one, urine, was easy. I used the learning experiences I had with the saliva test and duplicated my experiment with urine. I applied a few drops of urine on the third tee shirt.

The following day I facilitated my demonstration of the ALS machine to all my fellow CSI investigators. The training was a smashing success

Since then, the San Rafael Police Department CSI team has used the ALS on numerous crime scenes. I am glad that my blood, sweat, and tears have been utilized to arrest bad guys and put them away for many years.

The Rundown by Lt. Pata

Foot chases are not fair and not fun. Not even for a second. Trust me; it is not like the TV chase on TJ Hooker or one of the cop shows. Foot chases are not fair because we never have the advantage. The crook knows when the decathlon is going to begin. Sometimes you can tell by the way they work themselves up, that they will run, but sometimes these track stars just run from a standstill. The problem for the cops is that we have to drop our coffee and try to catch them. Its not an easy task running after people and not spilling a drop of your Peet’s, but it can be done. I have mastered code-3 driving (lights siren and fun) with coffee, not spilling a drop of that precious seductive brown fluid of love, but not running. I mean really, look at me, the Pata family DNA was not designed with running in mind. We are lovers, not runners. Plus, let’s face it; Italians are better at running numbers, not track meets.

Running in 100% wool uniforms, with steel toe boots on and 35 pounds around your waist oh, and a bullet resistant vest is a huge handicap, but a great excuse! Factor in oh, a “couple” of extra pounds – I like to call them safety pounds designed to thwart would be stab wounds and you get the picture of the blatant unfair nature of foot chases. I have voiced my concerns with the Amalgamated Criminal Sprint Team Union, yet my concerns have gone unnoticed now for 25 years, so I like many other veteran cops have added a little handicap to our fleet footed endeavors, a Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. The car is a nice equalizing factor in foot chases. Apply the car vigorously to the foot chase and let the runner get tired. Just when you feel the runner is sufficiently tuckered out, jump out well rested, and dump them like a cougar taking a gazelle to the ground.

On one fair day in a neighborhood of our city I saw this guy hunched over in a walkway at an apartment complex. The guy looked like he was enjoying a nice cigarette. Upon closer inspection, coupled with gross cynicism and my knowledge of the area, I exited my patrol car because I knew he was not smoking a cigarette, but rather he was smoking some crack cocaine. The giveaway was the rapid look over both shoulders and the “uh oh” look on his face – decorated with very big pupils, the size of hubcaps, that activated the primal instinct in me to walk up and ask my prey how his intoxicating smoke was?

Ok, problem #1. My cover officer was not there yet. Problem #2 he was smoking a stimulant. Problem #3 stupid me asked to see the pipe. So, what would you do if the nice policeman asked to see your pipe? You would hand it to him, or her, right? Of course, so in the spirit of cooperation, my new pal handed me his pipe, hot end first.
Guess what happened next? Right, I immediately felt the thermal properties of the glass in my greedy mitts. This naturally activated the pain reception center in my brain. Mr. Hand, meet Mr. Smoking HOT pipe! Attention vocal cords its time to scream.

I dropped the pipe and waived my now incinerated hand back and forth, like maybe it would help. It didn’t. What did help though was the nice application of his fist to my face. His sudden and unexpected poke in the nose caused my brain to forget about generating a blister in my hand. Mr. Brain opened up lines of communication with the plumbing department of my body. While they decided on whether or not to cause my nose to bleed, the suspect ran from me.
After I shook off the coo-coo clock sounds and when the stars circling over my head disappeared I ran after the bad guy. This bad man was across the street running from me the moment I got my stuff together and ran toward him. I can remember calling out on the radio that I was in foot pursuit. “PD huff huff huff, L- huff huff, 20 –huff huff, I’m, huff, huff, in huff, huff, foot, cough huff huff, pursuit!”

When a unit calls out a foot chase, or any chase for that matter, we have standing orders that everyone goes. That means bring your pizza, burger or whatever you are eating with you and drive as safe as you can to get to your partner. Let the car stop go, run out of the station and drive code-3 to back up your partner. We do this because chases are dangerous. Take for example the brave officer from Santa Rosa PD who was struck by a car and injured severely. Foot chases are dangerous, especially at the end. The end of these is risky because both people are now tired and usually fighting on the ground. Fighting when your are not tired sucks (well sometimes…) fighting when you are wiped out is worse.

My brain was competing with a couple issues. I was in pain, I was angry and my ego was hurt. How could I fall for such a sucker move? Apparently there is a common sense defect located in my brain, take for example my last marriage…, it happened then too. It’s like a kid that wants to see what the nice bee is doing by the flowers. I now run from bees, but run to crooks and soon to be ex-wives. I am guessing my mom smoked in her last trimester with me.

Well, I fell for the flaming pipe move and now I was running as fast as I could to get this guy. As luck would have it, my bad guy disappeared like a ghost. Poof! Gone. I rounded a corner and my little helpers, the street folks that nod in the direction of the Olympic runner were not there. I stopped and called out the description and last known location of my bad guy.

My sergeant met with me at the apartment complex and tried to console me. I was not to be consoled. When I called out that I lost my guy, I heard the sirens across the city shut down as the black and whites continued in and started to circle the area, like killer whales looking for their next meal. I asked the sergeant if he could take me off “the board” so I could look for my bad guy. Taking me off the board is a term for making me not available. I walked back to my car and sat in it for a second thinking about how stupid I was to actually let this guy give me his flaming pipe, looked in the mirror, called my self a nice Italian name and then drove around looking for the crook.

My pals left the area and I started to circle around the neighborhood. I drove in circles for about 30 minutes, mumbling to myself. I think I actually growled at a person who said hi to me. I was like a hungry person looking for a sandwich. Finally the moment arrived…I found him.

I saw the suspect walking slow away from me up a short street and I called out that I had my runner in sight. He did not look back, so I was able to be sneaky. (Dub in the soundtrack to the movie Jaws here…)

I called for a perimeter and directed cars to where I thought the suspect would run towards. I waited and drove my car at idle speed behind the suspect who was now about 60 yards away. When my pals called out that they were in the area, I unbelted my seatbelt and rolled up to the suspect with my door opened. My window was down and as I got closer, I could feel my heart pounding and my salivary glands foaming up. I had a cartoon flash of me playing Wiley Coyote tying his dinner handkerchief around his neck with a fork in one hand and a knife in the other just before I reintroduced myself to him.

I looked over at the suspect and simply said “hi, remember me?” The suspect looked at me and appeared exhausted. After casually looking at me, his eyes popped open wide and he ran from me again. OK, this was getting ridiculous. We did not have a helicopter and dog available so we were going to have to do this the hard way.

The urban runner did the fence Olympics and hopped from one backyard to the next. There was no way I was doing the fence circuit, especially since I had black and whites all over the place. Also the potential for harming yourself in immeasurable and unmentionable ways was too great. I told everyone to sit still because I knew this guy was going to pop out on a city street soon. For once, I was right. I saw the suspect run from between two homes and across a street…towards a dead end.

I was so happy. I think I started to tear up. I was planning for our reconciliation and reintroduction as I ran toward the suspect. As soon as I went to ground and ran after the suspect I saw my pal Detective Blair Auld pull up in a patrol car and jump out. It’s like I could hear the angels singing when he got there. I’d swear I saw a bright light encircle his body when he bailed out of the car.

OK, about Blair, he is the size of a doorway. He is a sizeable lump of protein. Blair, or as we call him at work, Bull, is not a huge runner, but he is a weightlifter type, so I was happy to see him arrive to help me convince the bad guy to give up. Usually all Blair has to do is get out of the car and bad guys start to cry, become incontinent, perspire or hand over their Kaiser card.

I ran around a corner and saw my suspect trying to pull himself up a 6 foot fence. I told him to stop and ya know what? He didn’t. Imagine that. I grabbed this guy off of the fence and gently escorted him to the pavement below. We both ended up on the ground and I flipped the suspect on his stomach and he continued to fight. Unfortunately for both of us, we could not prepare for the locomotive that was out of control coming down the tracks.

With out notice, I could hear a chugging sound and both of us looked up toward the street. When I looked up, I saw the unmistakable and irrevocable lumbering of my partner Blair coming toward us. Now, we were not code 4 (cool police talk for okie dokie) so there was no reason for Blair to slow down, except for maybe keeping me, his buddy, out of the emergency room.

My senses shut down and I could see everything slow down. This happens a lot, it’s called tunnel vision and it usually is my body’s way of numbing me for the impending impact of the 250lbs sledge hammer disguised as Blair. My attention was now diverted toward him. His image became slow, blurred and the only thing I remember seeing were his wide open blue eyes, constricted pupils and the flapping of his jowls as he took each step. I’d swear smoke was puffing out of his nostrils too. You could have easily superimposed the image dog from Turner and Hooch running toward the bad guy in that movie.

I think the crook shouted in really slow garbled and plaintive-nnnnnNNNNNNOOOOoooooo! Well, the suspect might have well been a red cape and Bull ran through it. The brakes on the locomotive did not take and we all collided. All of us ended up on the ground. The up side was that it was really easy to handcuff this guy after being struck by the human wrecking ball. The brisk application of Blair ended the fight and remarkably, no one was hurt. We all picked ourselves up, brushed off the dirt and politely walked back to the patrol car. It would be my guess from the litany of apologies our suspect was handing out, that he would go on to walk, not run, from the cops in the future. I love my job.

More another time. Ralph signing off.