Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Hawaii.......

This blog comes to you from the Island of Kauai. I thought I’d bring you up to speed on what’s going on around the PD. It has been a busy couple of months for us. Like any family we have had people sick and injured even a death to our family and have had to muscle through it all while trying to maintain the same level of service our customers and clients have grown to like. Needless to say it has impacted the blogosphere but, I have a remedy for those moments. I have saved up a couple and they are on-deck to submit in the next few weeks. So here I sit in Hawaii, listening to the water and typing this little filler article until I can get my head around the next wave of blogs. Oh, and let me tell ya…there is a next wave…No pun intended. (Hawaii)

The last few months our team has been working with Dominican University to help them pull off the California Governor’s Debate. A huge endeavor, especially when you look at the stakes in this race and what it meant to San Rafael, not to mention the University. Now add a stabbing, shooting, miscellaneous thefts and missing people and bad stuff and you should get the picture that our shrinking staff has been working pretty steady trying to make it all work. It reminds me of a chainsaw juggling act

I have to hand it to Dominican; they did a great job of pulling off this debate in a well managed if not frenetic way. The energy level, months, then days leading up to the event could have powered a small town. Setting up an event like this is not like planning a wedding. Well, it might be if the bride and groom were polar opposites and the vows they were taking –literally “for richer or poorer” had a profound effect on everyone on their guest list…the welfare of Californian’s from the Oregon border to the Mexican border.

I will write more about this event another day, once we figure out who we want to drive the USS California, and once my medication wears off. For now, suffice it to say, I am qualified to be a Sheppard who specializes in herding cats.

In September one of our finest young officers lost his brother in a tragic auto accident. I can remember being at the range with 20 officers and police staff who were trying to learn how to deal with difficult people with the application of firepower and negotiations. During the range day, Captain Starnes announced the loss of our officer’s brother. It was like all of the air was sucked out of the room. God wound up and pitched a fastball directly to the private parts of our team. Immediately heads dropped to the ground. I watched as our officers, dispatchers and police specialists put their hands on their hips, turned and walked away from each other to have the moment alone. The wiped-out lack of expression, punctuated by the thousand-mile gaze said it all. (Hard to do by the way with shots being fired all around you. Gave me a new appreciation for our troops…)

While none of us knew this officer’s brother, it might have been anyone of our brothers. No smarty pants Ralph here. It was sobering. We all knew the struggles of this officer in growing up in a not so pleasant world – and knew the sacrifices his parents and grandparents made for their entire family. So, to hear this news was especially difficult and disappointing. Like all good cops, we took a few minutes, then immediately brainstormed on how we could rally and surround this family with what we could offer. Solving the problem and rescuing the innocent. It is kind of our way. Our dedicated and woefully inadequate but genuine way.

The day of the funeral was interesting – to say the least. I drove over to Richmond on a Saturday, with the Chief of Police. A number of our officers came on their own time to stand beside this family and our pal in his moment of need. The arrival of black and white police cars, and officers in a very weary and torn part of this city was not met initially with praise or a feeling of “come on in, we were expecting you.”

The tension could have been cut with a knife. We were not what people expected to see. I remember feeling like maybe we were being self indulgent or perhaps selfish in showing up. After all, the officer was our friend, but this was their brother. Those feelings left almost after I stepped out of the Chief’s car. The gray in the sky seemed to yield to sunlight as the hardened suspicious looks, thawed and retreated to acceptance and tolerance.

The service for our officer’s brother was amazing. More life was present at this funeral than I have experienced in both of my weddings and in all of my religious experiences. The singing was on par with any professional group on the radio or any choir twice its size. The sermon and recollection of the young life by family and friends was warm and sincere. I was in the most real and loving event than I could recall in years. The pastor acknowledged the 300lb elephant in the room, the cops. The parishioners and mourners gave us applause. I was touched. We all were.

Finally, I have to share the wonderful sight of men and women of all ages standing, singing, and I will never forget seated in my pew, looking up at the beautiful woman, maybe 80 years old, now standing, who pulled out her own tambourine from her purse and joined the young man on the drums and one on the organ as they celebrated this lost young life. As I looked up and around the room and reflected on our arrival, I wonder how many other young lives were celebrated in this hall. Well done. Attention organized traditional religion: time to take a field trip. I have an appointment with the Pope. We need a little facelift.

As if this emotional shot to the ribs was not enough, our organization dipped to an injury level I have not seen in more than 10 years. Some were detectives; some were from SWAT others from our patrol teams. Cynical cops always dissect the mechanism of injury and then apply their own physicality to the injury… it’s our version of water-cooler talk about the weakness of one of our own. Like the recipient of the injury was made of glass or china. That is part of the culture, and I would say “there but for the grace of God…” I am a court- recognized disabled officer who was damaged in a 1996 car accident. I get it. I can still work, mostly because I love my job and I feel like I have more to do and offer. I can work through the pain, but I have to admit getting up some days is not so easy and at times not so smart. I can do it, does not mean everyone can do it. But many before me have worked through injury and illness and I am sure after I go many more will deal with their pain in their own sobering ways. So long as those ways are not tied to the pharmaceutical industry. A couple of my friends have gone that way and sadly, they are no longer employed and others are no longer alive.

I still go to the Emergency Room a couple of times a year for the “big shot” that will fix my neck. Most of our officers have or are headed to surgery to fix their injury. It’s hard to fake that. It gets back to my saying that this job is like being in the NFL for a couple of years.

The treatment for some of these injuries, a sinister byproduct of this vocation, is second to some forms of Chinese torture. Imagine being 25 years old and having to have your nerve endings burned off to ease the pain. Or maybe a nice cadaver bone affixed to your spine? Rods, pins and screws used to hold together the frail and failing skeletal infrastructure? Sure. How about seemingly routine arthroscopic procedures to knees and shoulders almost like ordering a sandwich at a local deli?

Our department Chaplains has had a spiritual workout these lasts few months. I am sure their white collars can stand on their own from all of the use. From the death in our family, to the injury and illnesses and two very critical incidents involving young people, our officers have been navigating demons from these events with honor and valor as the robberies, crashes, domestic disturbance and violence calls do not cede to our moments of misery and seem to slide in between our “normal” calls for service, oh and the debate.

Its’ been a rough season at SRPD, but still our people move forward as we enter robbery season. Like a watch you can count on, a few days ago our first in a series of robberies started. Note to Detectives’ - stock up on legal note pads and pens – oh and keep your sport coat handy.

I can’t tell you how proud I was as a San Rafael Police Officer, an OLD San Rafael Police Officer, when I heard Officer Chuck Tirre call out on his radio that he was in foot pursuit of a robbery suspect a few weeks ago. Chuck is one of our most senior – if not the most senior officer in the organization. I love it when one of our “mature” officers runs down a young hyena as they rob or victimize a citizen. It sets the tone for the young officers that we, the infirmed and lame are not done. These young criminals have no idea. While the years do affect the infrastructure of a cop, usually in the form of ravioli deposits throughout the body, the mind and engine of these cops is ready and willing to take on any threat. Officer Tirre is a great example, well, actually, he is one of those weirdo’s that never got fat, but still, his motor was on when the robbery call came out.

The suspect picked wrong - that day. Chuck, Officer Bob Henkle, also part of the department’s tenacious “venerable” team and honorable survivor of a violent act that nearly cost him his life more than a year ago, ran this guy down into a building where he tried to hide from our guys. I ran from the police building after ordering up a helicopter from the CHP. I was determined that we were not going to lose this guy and I wanted to be there. The wise-guy in my head was chanting “neener neener neener!” because I knew this guy was done and we were going to resolve this situation professionally (Neener neener withstanding.)

In police work we get clues, delivered to us at times from the almighty. A big-big clue is when a handful of ordinary people, just trying to do their jobs, run like they are on fire from a building in all directions. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a clue from God. The bad guy is in the building. Of course those running out were normal. Once we secured the perimeter, it was time for us “abnormal types” to go in. The adrenaline was palpable. I recall hearing the shouts of our people on the radio and live from inside a phrase that is a “gut bomb” for anyone in the business- “we are not code 4!” What they were saying in polite hurried police talk was: ‘get the %$#@ inside we need help!’ While maintaining a perimeter, those who could go in-did. When I got inside I saw the suspect kicking, screaming and resisting the best he could on the floor. Of course he was a gang member who was threatening to kill our officers while they tried to subdue him on the floor. Of course good overcame evil and our client was arrested and taken to the hospital for evaluation, prior to being booked. When a suspect is acting pretty violent, we take them to the hospital in an ambulance first to avoid any conflicts that might occur, like maybe a cardiac arrest.

Attention bad people – hereinafter are clues that your criminal ways have betrayed you this fine day: One: Sgt. Wanda Spaletta, a great street sergeant, who is not shy about overcoming resistance from suspected criminals (wink) is the boss; Two: Sgt Coale a weightlifter who has to turn sideways to walk through a doorway is on duty; and Three: The likes of Officer Tirre, Officer Sabido and Officer Henkle all seasoned vets who are hip to your wily ways are working and have arrested people probably before you were born.

Good overcame evil and the “alleged” bad man was arrested. I love the word alleged…the press use it all the time. It is a dishonest word, but one used all the time because apparently we always arrest the wrong guy – or gal.

So from Hawaii, stay safe…bruddah! Ralph.

Next few weeks – A blog on fighting fair, an archeological dig and who knows…