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.