Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Kilo Club by Lt. Pata

Back in 1989 I was a new cop. I tested and got the best job in the world, undercover guy in the Marin County Major Crimes Task Force. It still remains one of my fondest memories and the pals I made in the unit have become life-long friends and really are like family. I worked with I think the best Marin County had to offer back then. An eclectic group of professional’s who thought outside of the box, politely teased and poked each other, but when it was time to get to work, or pick on the Fire Investigators that shared our office for a couple of months…we did the heavy lifting on serious cases and did a great job of messing with the hosers and chasing them out of our office. Regarding the best job in the world thing…OK, food taster for Food and Wine magazine and Bed – Room comfort researcher for the Four Season’s Hotels might be a better job.

We were a “Major” unit because we were not limited to just narcotics. It was our focus, but back then, there was a nice variety of criminals for us to pick on. The beginning of our unit was pretty cool. We were each hand selected for our strengths and personalities. Then Lt. Walt Kosta and then Sgt. Scott Sibbald were the team leaders. I will never forget the interview. I was totally nervous. I gave the panel all of the standard cop answers about why I wanted to be in the unit.

I think I wore a J.C. Penny Blue suit and a horrid wide tie to this little soiree. Oh, the humanity! Let me take this minute to apologize to the late Gianni Versace and Mr. Armani and Zegna. I’m certain my punishment will be purgatory consigned to a WalMart brand suit, or worse, shoes.

At the end of the questioning the stoned faced leadership thawed a little. Sgt. Sibbald looked at me and reminded me that while all of my answers were correct and very professional, that being in the unit would be “a blast” too. He was not kidding.

After I was selected I packed my bags and left behind SRPD for the Task Force. There was a certain lieutenant who was not supportive of my move and did not feel I was a good candidate, so, I had something to prove. And, prove it, I did. Neener neener neener, ya big meanie. – Oh and thanks for your office!

It was a cool experience. I remember saying goodbye to my pals and did not look back for a number of years. That was a little problematic, when one day my black and white buddies forgot what I looked like.

You see I was setting up a drug deal in a parking lot when my beautiful paramour Beretta 92F Pistol, apparently made a surprise performance. The very hip Hawaiian shirt, pulled up and over my gun which was in the small of my back. So there I am at a really nice grocery store in a really nice part of town looking like one of characters from Miami Vice on the payphone and my pistol is making friends with all of the housewives. I told you, God likes to play hide and seek with me.

Oblivious to my armed rear-end’s “how ya doin’” act, I sat in my car waiting for a delivery of cocaine. Suddenly I see a number of black and white patrol cars circling me like I was a seal and they were sharks. I am getting a little frustrated because Mr. Drug Dealer only likes to deal one on one, not with a bunch of cops as spectators. Suddenly a group of police cars pull in behind me and I hear that nauseating sound a universally recognized sound that can only be a police issued Remington Model 870 shotgun. It is a beautiful sound when you are on the trigger side and you hear the gentle steel hands of your long-legged long gun escorting the plastic canister of death to receiver of the gun. That little canister containing those 9, 32 caliber hemisphere’s suitable for non-voluntary insertion into the unwilling recipient. This time, ME!

My frustrated fog of boredom is then illuminated by the following unfriendly demand: “YOU IN THE CAR PUT YOUR HANDS UP!” My brain had the following conversation with the rest of my body…Holy @&$! My eyes dilated, the eyelids of my “ravioli eyes” opened way past their intended aperture, nostrils-open wide and take over breathing duty as Mr. Mouth prepares for babbling and, or vomiting. Hands slllllooooowwwly move from the steering wheel to the roof of the car. Lower gastrointestinal tract, secure the aft hatch!

I look in the rear view mirror and I thought I was facing the firing squad. There were 4 cop cars and all of them were pointing guns at little old me. My arms were spring activated and immediately attached themselves to the roof of the car.

Now a couple of things were going through my mind. 1: If I get shot I am really going to be upset. 2: If I get shot, I am going to a hospital, where I dig this nurse and they are going to cut off my pants and she will see my beer-mug patterned boxer shorts. 3: #2 won’t matter, because in a second it will look like I spilled a beer on my boxers. And Finally, I knew if they pulled the trigger none of this would matter because I would be an ornament on a cold stainless steel table and some ghoul doctor would be taking pictures of me naked as they part my waterproof full body leather container and expose my insides.

It is never a good idea to negotiate with the cops when they are ordering you to do things. Especially with guns. So, I am trying to comply, but I also don’t want them to feel silly when they discover it’s me. I shout out of the window, “Jimmy – it’s me Ralph!” After I am told to be quiet and comply, I start to wonder if I owed any of these guys time off from a shift trade or something…I finally get someone’s attention and my pals put away the arsenal and dust me off. I thank them, and they drive off, probably to coffee. Of course my deal never happened and I drove out of the area quickly, completely embarrassed. I wanted to take up smoking. One gun pointed at you is bad. Four with a couple of shotguns mixed in, sucks.

The first week at the Task Force was kind of an introduction to how things used to work. But I was not selected to do things the way they used to be. We were all selected to do this job our way. Walt was the best boss. He was very supportive and he was a giant in the cop world. Lt. Kosta had worked a number of homicides and was really a star at SRPD and in the county. I mean when Detective Magazine writes a story about one of your cases, well, then you hit the big-time! He also had two master’s degrees, so he was not a slouch. Walt gave all of us enough room to get the job done. I can still remember seeing Walt standing in the door of his car at a shopping center after my team arrested a prison guard for buying cocaine to smuggle into prison. I recall handcuffing this dirty cop and hearing loud claps and someone (Walt) speaking loudly to a crowd of people in the lot “Another drug dealer goes to jail ladies and gentlemen!” The whole crowd started clapping and some sang the tune to “bad boys,” seriously, as we lead this guy away. This was a pretty cool experience.

The Task Force was located in a non-descript building, far away from any police station. Of course we were the undercover pool for the county and to do our job we all dressed funny, grew our hair and drove a combination of cool cars. Except mine, of course. My first car was a Chevy Beretta. What a dump-truck car. (Sorry to the Beretta owners of America, but seriously, yuck.)

We ended up switching cars pretty often, because some entrepreneur decided to sell a list of “Task Force” cars, with their descriptions, capabilities – like monitoring conversations (You know James Bond stuff) and license plates to patrons of local bars. Of course they were all wrong, but you have to hand it to the guy that thought that little one up. I think he sold them for $20.00 a pop. Nice. By the time I was out of the unit, I had a Buick Regal convertible, A Mercedes Benz convertible, A BMW, a Camaro and a Toyota and a few others.

One of our jobs was to attach ourselves to the feds when they came to town. The DEA liked us because we played well with others. So did the FBI and State Narcotics. Our unit had a great reputation because we worked pretty hard and were not territorial. All we wanted to do was catch crooks and send them to jail. By the way DEA does not stand for Don’t Ever Apply but FBI does mean Forever Bothering Italians. I keep trying to tell them what my dad told me, the “Mafia” was invented by Richard Nixon. That’s my pop…I love him, but he needs a little work.

One afternoon my pals were ready to leave and the DEA blew into town. The group was doing this “reach out and play with the local’s” thing. So, I was single and had no life and volunteered to go out with these guys. I was doubled up with this agent in a car in a Southern Marin restaurant parking lot when without provocation or warning, this high-roller in a really really nice car parks next to us and starts talking about ounces. Seriously, it was like Christmas. We are in a parking lot and a drug dealer pulls in next to us and starts talking about ounce deals of cocaine in what would later become my car.

The agent looked at me in amazement and asked if I heard the same thing he heard. We watched this arrogant guy (completely metro by the way) drive across the street into a secured parking lot. Well, it was not that secured because I got into it and watched in amazement as this dealer stocked the front seats of a half dozen unlocked cars with ounces of cocaine. Each car was parked next to each other and the driver’s doors were unlocked.
The suspect opened each one and slid a Ziploc bag containing cocaine under the front seat of each car. The cocaine gods were all over me. I should have bought a lottery ticket.

We took this guy off and found a kilo of cocaine and a huge amount of money in the trunk of his – now OUR car! We whisked him away and towed all six cars. All six cars would later be forfeited and sold at auction.

This guy thought he was Pablo Escobar or something. We get him to the county jail and roll him. Its funny these guys never hold their own. They roll over on their sources pretty easily but they like to feel like they are getting a deal. The art of the roll – to develop a client into an informant – will test your patience at times because these guys and gals are generally self-centered, and greedy. We nicely make the wannabe government informant disappear from jail because it seems that everyone knows everyone and the word gets out that the police talked to the them. It’s kind of like government sanctioned and consensual kidnapping, or “Rendition.”

I decided to let this guy cool his ego in the jail for a night and brought him down for a nice talk the next morning. The crook got escorted down to the sheriff’s office to a private room where I and the DEA agent were waiting for him. Immediately this loser starts to mouth off about what he wants and needs. He looks terrible. He has a little stubble on his face and the gel wore off. He tells me that he can’t talk to us or do anything without an espresso. Hey, it’s Marin. I have had about as much of this princess that I could have and its only 7AM. I didn’t get much sleep and one could say I was grumpy. I was not in my happy place.

I agree to get him an “espresso” – at the sheriff’s office, right!
I go over to the coffee machine in the hallway with the institutional prison quality coffee; you know the stuff that comes in a foil pack. I dump yesterday’s all day long brewed coffee into a cup. I look around and then dump some of grounds into the cup and give it a stir and bring it back. He drinks it and looks into the bottom of the cup after taking a sip and gave me one of those looks like, “OK, ya got me.” I smile back and ask if I can get anything else for him. Surprisingly, he says no. It’s too bad too because I had a great idea for a cold cup of water.

We set up the deal and like all good dope deals, we wait and wait and wait then set up the deal in a couple of locations. Dealers always want to change the location. We like to control the location because on more times than I can remember on major deals there usually is help or some other person you don’t know about hiding. It’s a huge risk, but one we try to plan for. Try is the optimum word.

Once the deal is arranged, we give Mr. Drug Dealer back his car, temporarily, of course. We set up a 5 key deal with his crime partner another pathetic pretty boy, from southern Marin. You know, tanned, manicured fingers, probably wore a little makeup. Because of the weight of the deal and the amount of money involved we pulled out the stops and manned this case with several agents and detectives.
We put my crook up on a wire and my boss and I team up in a car nearby to monitor the wire and eat Doritos. The wire car calls the shots usually with the case agent inside.

After our team is set up we sit there for what seems like forever. We wait and wait for the deal to go down. My boss and I are parked across from the meet location and we send in our crook to wait for the connection. Finally after about four hours the middle-man drives up in his foreign convertible. He gets in my bad guys car and the two of them start to talk.

After a little small talk the middleman says to my crook, “Crook, I heard you got arrested.” Of course I am now preparing to make a boom in my pants. He then says, “Lift up your shirt and show me you don’t have a wire.” My heart squeezed shut. This is my first big case and it’s going to go down the toilet. My quick-thinking criminal reminds the suspect of their long business history and blows him off. The two have a little more small talk and then the middle man says “Um Crook, you have not shaved today, you never not shave…show me that you don’t have a wire.” My informant tells the middleman that he got up late and did not shave. I’m telling you the transmission in my car was smoking because each time the guy did that, we went from park to drive thinking we were going to have to rescue this informant. My hair was starting to fall out.

Finally, the middleman says, “Crook, you’re wearing the same clothes you did yesterday and there is a helicopter up there that has not moved….show me your not wearing a wire.” My whole team is on edge, I am feeling like I am going to barf and we are ready to end this when suddenly the cocaine gods shined upon us again. The middleman’s pager goes off and he exits the car to use the pay phone.

When he does this my informant rips his wire off and ditches it under the seat of his car. OK, I dated this, right? Pager and pay phones? For those of you to young to remember,
we used to not have cell phones. Pay phones usually came in a booth and were popular places to make calls, change into superheroes outfits and pee.

When the middleman comes back to the car, I could see my informant lift up his shirt. Once he did this, the middleman left the car and made a telephone call from the phone booth. When he returned, the informant gave us a prearranged visual cue that the deal was being completed.

Without notice and right freaking in front of us, a new guy appears from the bushes and runs across the street. The freaking mule was right next to us in the bushes! He too was watching the deal. I wonder if he needed to down a bottle of Tums to keep from getting sick like we did.

Once the mule crossed the street, he delivered a key to the middleman and ran off. The middleman gave the key to my informant and the group split up. OK, now we had a little problem. Um, where’s the dope? Who do we follow? A team split and followed Mr. Middleman while a team stayed with our informant and another team split off to follow the guy on foot who delivered the key.
Within minutes we stopped the middleman, stopped our informant and arrested the key guy. But we still did not have a car or dope and no one was talking. It’s not against the law to talk about drugs and last time I checked, it’s not a crime to carry a key. So, I now feel like I have been slugged in the gut. Of course it was nothing, just God poking me and having more fun with me. What a knee slapper! I am guessing John the Baptist and St. Raphael, the Saint who was “represntin’” for the home team here in San Rafael had a big laugh.

Our high-stakes game of hide and go seek was just beginning. We carefully delivered all the criminals back to the local police station where we tried our best to motivate some truth from our drug dealers. Of course everyone was worried they would get whacked by the source, who is now out 5 kilos of cocaine (more than 10 pounds) AND the money.
I applied that fear liberally as leverage to get one person to roll. Loudly talking to your pals like “WOW! I’d be really mad if I lost 5 Keys and all that money. Sheesh! Glad its not me!” And roll they did. Later this case would get a little dicey and Mr. Mule would end up rolling. But not until we found the drugs for ourselves.

It took a couple of hours but our group found the car in a parking lot. It had a broken window. Not what you would expect to carry tens of thousands of dollars worth of cocaine. The cocaine was wrapped up, just like you see it on TV and was lying in the hatchback, not even under a dirty sheet.

So everyone went to prison. The source was never fully disclosed, but the mule, our informant and the middleman all went to federal prison for some time. The mule however had a much harsher sentence. He was deported back to his native country after being released from prison. When he was returned, I was told by the feds that he was hanged by his fellow countrymen for violating his religion. I still have a picture of him. He was younger than 25 years old.

For perspective drug dealers: It’s not like TV. Only three things happen to dealers. They go to prison, they get killed or they start using and end up dead.
I have not seen many successful dope dealers. The guys in the big house on the hill that you see glorified in movies are few and far between. Even they get killed. One of ours ended up being the spare tire in his car left at the park and ride for a while. Eventually, like in this case, someone will talk. They always do…and it’s been my experience that the girlfriends you promised to take care of, and ex-wives really, really like to consult undercover narcotics agents for the purpose of blab therapy. Thanks girls.

More later. Ralph.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dog Watch by Lt. Pata

Night patrol rocks! If you love the dump of adrenaline and spooky night stuff, well, then let me introduce you to the main event of police patrol, the overnight shift. In San Rafael our teams work from 5PM to 5AM. It is a long night, but you usually get your second wind around 11PM. Our officers (who want to work the shift – you like them less after you have a family…) like the watch because there is less traffic to deal with, generally the admin is gone and the crooks wake up around 2.

Ahhh the criminals…. After a nice lunch of chips washed down with a little white port and Kool Aid or maybe a tasty glug-glug of a fortified “wine” the crooks usually want to play during the night watch. Oh and lets not forget the methamphetamine dessert buffet course that goes on for as long as our customers have cash… and the adventure some go through to get it, until we get them or they crash at 5AM. Sometimes literally.

At our little slice of heaven in Marin, we are pretty busy with stacked up calls right out of briefing until about 7 or 8PM. Briefing is like homeroom. We get together for a half hour of show and tell about the night before, do some update on quality of life stuff plaguing our community, you know barking dogs and pesky neighbors lighting bags of dog poop on fire, new law stuff and humiliate the poor rookie that drove off with the gas pump still in his or her gas tank. That sort of stuff. Oh we also read letters of appreciation from the community at the end of briefing. That sets the tone for the night. After briefing it’s steady with calls until about 11PM to 1AM – but not steady enough for a rather sizeable cup of coffee to start the watch. After a certain time the coffee well runs dry and you are stuck with institutional prison coffee.

It kind of breaks down like this: 5PM to 7PM, traffic crashes, “group fights” – some call them gang fights but lets be nice…shoplifts - for dinner- I presume, and missing kids probably at their girlfriends or boyfriends without telling mom. From 7PM to 9-ish is violence prime time. It’s our robbery, shooting, stabbing and miscellaneous ringside beat up your fellow citizen or loved one time. 9PM to 1AM is drunk at the bar time, prowler time and a couple of robbery straggler’s who missed the 7 to 9 larceny shift. No night would be complete without illicit social engineering time. The red-light is usually turned on around 5PM for the dinner crowd and goes pretty much until midnight. From 1AM to 3AM is DUI- I’m an idiot time, and crash into the building or tree time. From 1:30AM to 5AM is burglarizing cars and business time. It’s probably the same in variety and volume in just about every town.

There are a couple anomalies that pop up like miscellaneous insane acting and wannabe insane acting people along the night watch, but that pretty much sums it up. Of course in between all of this from oh, around 5PM on, is powder induced social inhibition acquisition time or for those of you less complicated, drug dealing. How ironic, and moronic, that people actually sniff up stuff that your nose tries to sneeze out.

Attention OLDER PEOPLE: Grow up! Learn the lesson from the former guy in the Righteous Brothers and John Entwistle from the band “The Who,” don’t use cocaine or really any drug – especially if you have to show your AARP card when you buy it! It will kill you. Your ticker is not designed for this stuff…that’s why you sleep 14 hours a day and play bingo.

At your golden years you should be chasing your grandchildren, eating a nice fruit compote on your dinner tray and planning your next TV show to watch. You should not be chasing the dragon. Duh.

I have to say that I am all right accommodating your expedited arrival to the afterlife and will lump you down the stairs in your new plastic suitcase if you don’t heed my warning, I have done it hundreds of times before. Think of your kids or maybe the hot ocentegenarian down the hall in 21B, but if you do want to risk it, for the love of God, do it on the ground floor and have your ID with you.

While I have you, take this from a guy that cares: don’t pretend to be young and wear black T-shirts and hit on 20 year olds. Stop trying to be hip with wearing the latest sunglasses inside, and by buying tickets to Lady Gaga. Ladies, your not off the hook either…facelifts leave scars…we can see them. Take if from a Police Artist…it’s the HANDS that betray you! Spend the money on the hand-lift not the face. Also leather or suede pants, not so sexy at 65. Remind me to tell you someday of a pathetic story in my past. All of this play 20-ish stuff will kill you. I know. Trust me. It could be part of the natural order of things. Kind of a modern thinning of the heard but let’s try the word dignity on for size. Don’t get me wrong…. I am not saying succumb to stretchy pants and other stretchy unmentionables, but a happy medium seems to work.

Ladies and Gentlemen, back to our story: Once you have figured out the nightly schedule and the seasons of the year, you know, Bank Robbery season (October to December), Stabbing season (End of May to September), Fraud season (January to March) then you have conquered what police work is all about.

Night watch is a “trip” because the world goes from brilliant color to awesome shades of gray after the big orange ball in the sky sinks past the horizon. I love it. It is an experience driving in the cool night air with the sky setting the stage. It is seemingly black in the heavens but then the night sky becomes perforated with dull orange brown dotted lines from the low-watt streetlights.

In some areas of the city it is like you live in a video game. The sky seems black and orange all night. There are so many of those low watt bulbs that they actually take over from the dark of the night and you live in this orange brown world.

It’s cool on nights because you get to experience the sunset and sunrise each watch. I used to park on San Rafael Hill and watch the sun come up. What sucks is seeing the lights in homes go off, as you drive down the street or see the goodnight kiss on the porch and you still have 6 hours to go on your shift. It especially sucks if your pet dog is asleep when you get home and you sleep on the couch because you don’t want to disturb her.

I actually used to sleep in my closet. OK no closet jokes this is honest sharing time. Many cops do. It is the one place in the summer that is cool and dark. Take for example the one-year I decided I wanted to work with my pal Blair. I volunteered for the night shift. It was the same year that the developer behind my house decided to build 40 new homes. Hmmmmm they start at 7AM, Ralph gets home at 7:30AM. They stop for lunch and Latin American Polka songs I lay in my sleeping bag on the floor in my closet praying to the Madonna of air hammers and drills to wash away the sound of the Latin American Polka. At 3PM I wake up and my pals are going off duty. It was a wrong decision.

When the lights go off at night you go to a gas station and load up on caffeine or chemistry enhanced stay-awake tonic stuff. When you drive by from the street, it looks like a well illuminated fish tank with your garden variety night crawlers inside. You know garbage truck drivers, cops, newspaper delivery people, off-duty strippers from the city, and a few burglars. The prison grade coffee beans imported from Siberia are yucky, but the conversation inside the gas station is pretty interesting. It is kind of a like a weird episode of Cheers.

Probably one of the most terrifying calls we get are the “Hot Prowls.” Usually these are perverted deer buck’s walking through back yards, trying to score a sexy doe, but from time to time it is actually a bad guy looking through the window. I’d pay to see a buck gore one of these guys in the behind. How cool would it be to have a turf war over backyards between big mean bucks and pathetic, creepy prowlers? Or better yet – Mountain Lions!

We run to those calls because it really makes cops mad to think that there is a guy peeking in on someone. It could be their family while they are at work. So, we don’t like these hyenas. Technically, I am thinking Santa Claus would be a prowler. Huh? That just hit me. And you can’t tell me the red nose and cheeks are from the wind. Let’s face it; he’s a gin-head.

Prowler calls get quick and stealthy response. Turning on the siren and lights is like erecting a giant billboard for the crook announcing that the Calvary is coming. So we get sneaky. Its funny but you can actually hear a siren from miles away across the city at 2 in the morning.

If Mr. Prowler listens closely he can hear the hum of a half dozen Crown Victoria Police Interceptors, their V-8’s spinning up with some smartly dressed men and women who would like to meet him. He could probably also hear the grinding of our teeth and the squeezing of the steering wheel as we quickly and deliberately drive up the street. (OK dub in the Adam-12 soundtrack for emphasis.)

Mr. Prowler could enjoy this experience with all of his senses, not just those silly ones he reserved for himself and his victim. We come fully equipped for totally sensory immersion. Let’s look at it as if it were a nice dinner: This tasting menu of police work starts with smelling the brakes of our cars as they now seem like a memory of what used to stop us. From there the main course of prowler. The police illicit behavior intervention team comes in the form of a nice group of male and female protein, carrying with them decorated metal and plastic; let’s call them the silverware of this little dish. Products named Glock, Sig Sauer, Kimber and Heckler and Koch are clearly visualized. Sounds like an East German Escort service not a cops handgun, doesn’t it?

No one likes running in the night and doing the freaking middle of the night prowler triathlon, especially with a flashlight and all of stuff hanging off our Batman belt. Running in people’s back yards, with dogs nipping at your ankles, or worse, poorly lit swimming pools, and poorly maintained fences, and yes, Mediterranean bodies like mine, having to navigate sharp slivers suitable for crucifixion or insertion into your palms or behind is not so fun.

It looks cool, but in reality, it sucks. Especially if your neighbor violated the municipal code and put a swimming pool directly on the opposite side of the fence. It’s happened. I had a pal once hop a fence during a search warrant in Richmond. His pant leg got caught on the top of the fence. Thankfully there was a swimming pool on the other side. Unfortunately he fell into the bottom of the drained 12’ deep pool. I am guessing that water would have broken the fall instead of his ankle. Ever since that, Ralphy pulls the slats off.

To get the complete picture, the puppy landmines all over the backyard, the ones your husband or the kids were supposed to pick up, well they provide that nice, but stinky ice skating experience but is only fun while you are upright. And of course, the bigger the dog, well, ya know….better the Apollo Ono experience. Of course, as luck would have it, the crook never – ever steps in it. We usually do. It is like there is a doggie poop magnet in our shoes. Thankfully you don’t realize it in the chase as to not distract your attention; it usually comes to you in a nice aromatic experience when you get back in the car take a deep breath, clear the call on the radio and settle into your seat and accidently transfer the nauseating yuckiness to the brakes and accelerator. Get the picture? Now add the floor heater and 6 more hours of this lovely experience.

Of course most of our prowler calls happen in nice places that are heavily landscaped with rose bushes, lemon trees with sharp mean fangs, poison oak, and ivy with rats lounging beneath and did I mention mean dogs? Ya, for some reason Mr. Guard dog loves to let the prowler into the back yard, hopefully to devour them, but more times then not only becomes a hero after we get there. “Woof woof woof - Grrrrr!” A couple of times I can recall, man’s best friend becomes “Mr. Magoo” and bites or gets angry at the wrong guy! I tell ya I have wanted to give a number of dogs the walk of shame back to his or her kennel. Nice job Lassie.

I have pictures of me after a nice foot chase in one of these little palazzos. I looked like I wrestled a bear or was tossed in the Cuisine art. I guess the rose bushes worked, but on the wrong guy!

After a couple of years you learn to do cool things to catch or help you catch prowlers. Human nature dictates that if you are a pathetic letch, and you enjoy late night walks in people’s back yards you will run once discovered, down hill. You could almost set a watch to that little theory. Makes sense, who really wants to run up hill? Some of these aspiring rapists go to ground and try to sit it out. That’s why we call our pals at Novato PD to take their puppy for a walk. You would swear you could hear that guttural demon soundtrack the second the door to the K-9 car opens. Makes you wonder if the dog’s badge number is 666. We used to have 2 police dogs and I swear they were alligators with a toupee. We all loved them because they brought a new element to police work. I truly believe those dogs saved our behinds because people do not want to be a lunch or chew toy for them. It is also cool to have them around the station. I’d swear I caught one sharpening his teeth one afternoon while drinking a cup of blood. To whom it may concern: We need them back.

For training one time a while back, I decided to volunteer to wear the bite sleeve and hide in a car. Mistake. Once again the common sense meter, the one that is supposed to keep me out of the emergency room, away from the altar and from drinking water in Mexico was not functioning.

I love all of these tough guys and gal cops who come back from Taser training and always ask, “Hey did you get Tased?” “Well how are you gonna know what it’s like to testify in court?” (A small note to my silly friends: I am not shot regularly in training to testify what that’s like too. . .but I’d be happy to help you demonstrate.”) As far as the dog sleeve adventure, well, I was feeling frisky and I thought it was an extension of petting. So I was wrong. I’m still in therapy for that little mistake.

Sgt. Rick Clary, a true hero in our department, used to be one of our dog guys. His dog, “Max” was one of the best. I am serious I used to look for the buttons and fabric in the post lunch remains (know what I mean?) This dog used to run so fast that it looked like those cartoon animals with the wheels for feet. I was always too afraid to look this dog in the eye. I thought some satanic demon was going to jump out of its pupil and devour me. It was like looking at one of those mesmerizing pinwheel’s slowly spinning, capturing your attention, and then your soul. I’d swear I felt like I was in a trance when I looked at his pooch. I could hear a doggie voice in my head say “unleash me; pet me with the hand that is holding the sandwich…..gooooooo noooooow.”

We had another dog that was operated by Officer Joel Fay, “Rocky.” This pup was not as angry, but let me tell ya, equally effective. Joel’s dog would not hesitate to jump in the fight. One Christmas Eve in the 90’s a soon to be chew-toy decided to rob a convenience store using a gun. OK, that usually equals 10 years off of everyone’s lives. His for the minimum time he is going to get in the joint and ours for the stress of running into them and the possible shoot out.

We never find these guys near the scene. Usually by the time we get the call, the crook is long gone. Of course, not that night. Maybe it was a Christmas present from the robbery gods. As our officers rounded the corner, there was our bad guy and he had a GUN! There were a number of us that pulled up to this guy, including Joel and his wonder dog, For a split second I wondered, what am I doing on Christmas Eve, with a man with a gun in his hand directly across from me…and then the little man on my shoulder walked down my spine and put his boot directly in my behind. Suddenly everything became clearer…he had a gun, but so did I. Time to go to work.

My pals and I bailed out of our cars and used our best motivational speaking to get this guy to drop the gun (at gunpoint of course). When that didn’t work, we decided to introduce him to our canine motivator. Rocky was like the Anthony Robbins of motivation for crooks. Usually they saw Rocky and did absolutely everything the nice police officer wanted. But this guy was drunk and wanted to fight Rocky. The situation was going from bad to worse. I was really worried for Rocky, because I knew Joel was going to send in Rocky to take one for the home team if needed. Sorry pet enthusiasts, Rocky like all police dogs are loved and treated better than some humans, but when the rubber hits the road, they go in first.

Suddenly Joel made the decision to send Rocky in for an intimate introduction. Rocky ran so fast that in a blink he went from the car and attached his dentition to an area just left of the bad man’s privates. Now, believe it or not, that crook did not scream or anything. He simply looked down at the dog that clearly needed to get a better bite. And so he did. When Rocky repositioned his chops, he clearly made an impression on all of us. The crook with his gaze downward looked up, his eyes grew in size disproportionate to his face, his mouth dropped open and some unintelligible language was passed forcefully from his vocal cords to the rest of mankind. It resonated with all of us. He dropped the gun and all of us, back at our cars made a collective groan. The up side was this guy got a nicely wrapped present for Christmas from his new friends in the emergency room. Wonder if he unwrapped it on Christmas day?

I once saw Rick’s dog get so angry at the bad guy that he turned to Rick and snapped at him to let him go so he could have a nice criminal entrĂ©e. Or how about the time I saw the pooch go in a house to get an armed crook and used his nose to move the kitchen table this guy was wearing as a deterrent to his pending dog dentition perforation. The dog actually went under the table, got a nice grip and pulled a 150lbs guy out- tugging all the way. I tell ya, I felt like a proud uncle. So it would make sense that I would put the sleeve on, right?

I hid in our corporation yard like I was a kid playing a dangerous game of hide and seek. I’d swear the dog smelled fear, or perhaps that little pressure relief moment when I saw Cujo running toward me. That dog must have been cheating when he counted to 10 because he ran right at me.

I was in the middle of a number of cars and this dog was like on a mission to eat the nice officer. I wanted to take a timeout and protest the cheating, but the dog, now with glowing red eyes, or so I thought, was on a mission.

I put the sleeve way out ahead of me so the dog would not miss and get my face. And get it he did. This dog grabbed the sleeve and bit like he was possessed. His bite broke my watch under the thick canvass sleeve.

I mean the teeth, the slobber, the growling, and the inability to talk him out of it. I even tried to throw him off by yelling – “Look free steak!” Didn’t work…I was used to most of that from a past matrimonial experience, and had equal luck. (Just kidding dear…)

If you don’t have a pooch readily available, the poor man’s way of tracking down prowlers is simple. Park your patrol cars in the street, but space them out, kind of like a perimeter. Roll down the windows and turn off the motor then look down the street. This is not scientific, but I tell ya, it works. You will hear dogs’ barking as the crook goes from one back yard to the next, you might see lights turn on and you should hear stomping on the plants as the crook runs away. Another less heard, but equally pleasant sounding noise is the screams of pain as these suspects break a leg or fall into the cactus.

Weekend nights are the best. I love them. But I also like my new life away from work. Usually. Of course I wink to the overnight felony gods as I tuck my Blackberry good night. Wondering if this will be the night I am jostled from sleep with a call from the sergeant announcing the next “big one.”

More later. Ralph