Thursday, December 23, 2010

On your mark. Get set…. By Lt. Pata

Alrighty, so I get it. My blogs are not blogs at all…they are short stories. Guilty. Since I started on this little adventure, I was not sure what I was doing, so I called my little contributions -blogs. Um, they clearly are not. To give you an example of my technological shortcomings, when I started police work I used to write everything in pencil. Now, it is the computer. So it’s not hard to imagine that I am “challenged” in a computer way. I have cyber envy. I am digitally vacant.

My versions of the “blogs” are small morsels of my past, comingled with some of the present. Next thing ya know POOF! they go on a little longer than desired. It’s a curse. Its funny but the only time my trap is shut is when I am typing this thing. Also- remember that I can’t type and talk at the same time. To fall head first into the stereotype, I am Italian and, well, ya know the whole talk with your hands thing…for me its true.

The response to all of this blog stuff has been pretty amazing. Who would know that people were interested in this stuff? I mean after all me and my pals are not some big-city cops doing the shootout a night thing. (In reality – even they don’t do it each night. And thank God for that.) But their stories I’m sure are just as interesting. Actually, the way I look at it, they are really lessons in some ways. But I have been blessed – and at times cursed – with a great career surrounded by huge personalities in a very interesting community. I have to take a few lines and thank Beth Spotswood from CBS5 eye on blogs and Phil Bronstein at the Chronicle for giving us a little time and recognition on their own blogs and for seeing what we are really trying to do, which is chip away at some stereotypes and let you look over the wall to see there are really no big surprises.

I am a regular Joe, or Giuseppe, I guess. I just happen to come from a cop heritage that rubbed off on me, my brother Nick, my sister Diana (an ex-FBI employee and probably a spy) and maybe someday my boy. But he is kind of leaning towards being a paleontologist. I don’t care what he does. Really. I want my little guy to just love his job as much as I love mine. And, of course, buy daddy a nice Harley or Indian motorcycle someday. I just hope he does not do what his Cousin Dave did and join the freaking fire department. Holiday dinners are tense at our house. I guess every family has a black sheep. Ours is more like mutton. Thanks Dave.

I goof on myself, my family and “others.” It is a flaw, a weakness in my construction. I keep names out of it and try to be sneaky with some details that – if disclosed might make things a little too specific. It’s all true and in most cases there was a witness. Of course I have paid off the witnesses or they had an accident and are no longer with us. (wink)

Police departments are supposed to be a microcosm of society. And our little slice of heaven is just that. We have a nice variety of employees with piercings, tattoos, and people of all walks of life, color, religious beliefs, cultures, gender preference and political affliction.

It makes our world interesting and provides our customers some balance and absolutely some empathy and flexibility. It also keeps the old guys like me young and a devotee of the urban dictionary. All of the divorces, deaths, kids, births, marriages, financial issues-all the stuff our community suffers or celebrates, we do too, both at work and at home.

Suiting-up at work is not unlike getting ready for war, a paintball match or maybe for a few rounds in the ring. For those really sensitive types that saw the word war…yes, I know, we are not at war with our community. Trust me; someone will bristle at that little word. But take a look at what we wear. Bullet resistant vests, guns, bullets, tasers all of it wrapped in a nice 100% wool package. Oh and leather. Lots of leather.

The transformation is kind of cool to watch. A variety of fresh faces, like Officers Anthony Augustyn – usually on his way in from law school, Geoff Bowker, maybe Kim Larkey or Rob Cleland casually make their way across the parking lot and into our back door in their jeans, shorts, flip-flops with their iPods blaring and sometimes dragging behind them their suitcase, yes suitcase, with their work stuff in tow. All smiles until they hit the locker room.

The sardine can we call a locker room is small, cramped and the lockers – relics of WWII submarines -I suspect, are small. We shuffle things all over this little compound, kind of like a kid in high school with lockers in all of the buildings storing our things all over because we ran out of space in 1964. Closet poles are all over the place with jackets and rain gear hanging in long forgot corner’s of our police basement. The former briefing room is now the patrol officer equipment, helmet and gas mask storage room. Our guys and gals keep their suitcases there which contain report forms, gloves -maybe a snack or two and of course the obligatory Penal or Vehicle code. For those of you dying to know…the ladies have their own locker room. For those of you that thought otherwise, go to church. Now.

Not that I watch, but having been through the ritual of getting suited up for work is kind of a work in progress. First all of any sense of your past world is removed. You take off the shirt with the questionable graphic logo, or maybe the peace sign or whatever might actually indicate your bias.

The switch is almost religious in a weird way. The officers, me included, keep their religious medallions on or in the front pocket of their vest. Some have special tokens or mementos tucked in the front pocket where the Kevlar plate designed to slow down if not stop a higher caliber bullet resides. I keep a laminated photo of my son and a star with my girlfriends badge number in here. Some officers have painted in white on their black colored vests their blood type and donor status on the vest, a grim reminder of what this job can become in a moment. It is a desperate and polite message to the trauma center about what they might need quickly and what their wish would be in the event of the unthinkable. While we are on this happy subject, we also have locker letters and final arrangement documents for our peer support team to access in the event of that day.

Before the vest, you put on the black T-shirt. On hot days you use the material that wicks away the moisture. Doesn’t really help because on a hot day you could easily sweat off a couple of pounds of water. Where does it go? To your bullet resistant vest, of course. Now repeat this throughout the year and VIOLA! You have a lab experiment strapped to your body. A seasoned veteran officer could be found on the hottest of days – maybe in the walk-in cooler at the local 7-11 sitting on a stack of comfortable cases of beer.

While you can wash the liner of the bullet resistant vest, you can’t really wash the vest. So, the sweat and yuckiness is yours to keep until you get a new vest every 5 years. Nice huh? I like to call it “patina.” Some guys like Cpl. Mike Byers think its bad luck to wash the liner, kind of like a baseball player’s superstition and hang the vest like it is some sacred relic. It’s a nice little olfactory gift as I walk past his locker each day.

On cold days you wear layers of stuff. Maybe long underwear and of course the black T-shirt. About the black T-shirt. It is relatively new to us. We have been wearing it about 10 years now…that’s new. It used to be we wore white T-shirts under our uniform but we felt that it is kind of a give-away to a crook. If you work nights, the white shirt doesn’t work well with the blue uniform. I am a traditional kind of guy, so I like the white T-shirt, but as a safety thing, I get it. We are all about not being seen when we don’t want to be seen.

After strapping on the vest over the T-shirt then comes the 100% wool pants or maybe if you are a contemporary kind of cop you have on the cargo shirt and pants. I like the cargo pants. They are comfortable and they have a material that will stop from ripping in the very likely event of a tear. There is also a large selection of pockets to put your stuff in. The new pants and shirts come with rubber knee pads and elbow pads built in a very Smart idea, but not very official police-like for me. It doesn’t show well, and let’s face it, some of what we do is kind of showy and so it is not what you wear to a funeral or a council meeting…-Same thing.

Gotta have boots! It is the next thing that will cost you a mint and you put on because in reality it is the only thing that looks cool in uniform pants and it does have some utility. You can buy the mortuary boots, you know the cardboard ones that will last you a month or spend the money and get the good ones. The $200.00 brand is made with love and waterproof material. The good ones are also really light, an important feature if you have to run after a crook.

From the boots you put on the gun belt or the “Sam Brown” belt. OK, this should your first clue that this might be a sketchy job. We wear two sets of belts. Yep. There is the regular black belt that keeps the trousers up and then the utility belt, yes like Batman’s belt, that keeps your weapons and adjunct equipment properly stowed. This belt is attached to the other belt by way of mysterious straps of leather adorned with shiny snaps. Seriously, you would think the Marque de Sade was the designer of this uniform – or maybe Michael Jackson’s wardrobe guy.

The belt holds the gun, two sets of handcuffs, gloves, radio, ASP brand “baton” (an impact weapon) Extra bullets? Check! They are there on the belt too. All of it has a purpose and all of it is used virtually every night.

Our “stuff” is loaded up and checked in the locker room. The gun and electronic control device (Taser) are checked outside for obvious reasons.

When I see football players or baseball players in the locker room I think of our team getting ready. Not to play, but to provide our service and to prepare for whatever might come our way. Will tonight be the night we get in a shooting? Will all of my guys and gals come in at the end of the watch, in one piece, much-less alive? The game face goes on when the uniform goes on. It is a state of mind. Don’t get me wrong, it is not like a church here, briefings are very spirited and there is some time to yuck around, but the air seems different in our building than when it did just before you walk in. And not just because Mike won’t wash his vest carrier or because of the dank, musty smell of the dungeon we call a police station.

When these courageous and selfless officers come out of the locker rooms, whether it be the men’s or women’s locker’s they are ready to go. You can see the change in behavior from the moment they passed the backdoor into our little, dark, cramped world.

Some people have said we look mad or maybe mean. OK, sometimes we do. It is part of the game-day ritual. Take a look at the football player on the bench. How about the stare from the bullpen? It is the same mechanism, with just different results. It is state of mind stuff.

The job will sneak up and get you if you pretend to be Deputy Barney Fife. There is some science that the “friendly” or passive kind of cop has a problem getting killed. That is not to say the roulette wheel will not land on your number – no matter who you are. Take a look at officers who are getting killed. They are well trained heroes who were greeted with misfortune. As I write this two officers have been killed in the last two weeks. One last night. It is all about balance, fate, training and luck.

After the uniform and briefing, it’s time to strap on your office, a two-thousand something Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. This is a boring looking, but fast little car. It has been the industry standard for a number of years, both as cop cars and as taxi’s. But that has all come to an end. Ford stopped making them. Soon you will see all kinds of new cars hitting the street. It is actually pretty exciting.

Once you hop in the car, you check out all of the stuff that makes it your office. The mobile data terminal, the first aid kit, the stop-stick, the high-powered rifle and the bean-bag shotgun. The mobile data terminal is what we get our calls on – actually we are dispatched on the radio, but the details, the dirty little details -are on the screen. The MDT’s also give us criminal and contact info with photographs, car info, you name it, and you can get it on our MDT’s. And to those who would feel a little irregular about all this info based stuff, all of it is audited and checked and encrypted. It keeps us honest and totally transparent. The stop-sticks – they are a James Bond like device that will flatten tires of bad guys (And good guys alike who forget they are on the road) who are trying to get away. A car chase with the stop-stick deployed usually will be good for a set of police car tires. It happens.

Here I am trying to make this a simple more bloggy type blog and I am already five pages into it. And I am just getting started. So in order to facilitate the function of the blog, I will stop. Yep, to my critics I say – There ya go!

Stay Safe – Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Ralph.