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