Friday, February 25, 2011

Good Coffee and Bad Girls by Lt. Pata

I just sat down at my favorite coffee joint in Santa Rosa, Centro Espresso, received a beautiful and expertly made Americano coffee and made my way outside next to the large oak tree. The sun is sneaking past the limbs as those annoying little birds try to serenade me into dropping some of my biscotti on the deck so they can have a snack. Not a chance. I know their kind. They start with a cute fly-by and then they land near you staring at you, head tilted to one side…staring with the one eye. Then they do the head cocked over fluttering the eye thing…It’s a cute little trick designed to manipulate me into breaking off a corner or my cookie so they can later fly away and deposit a gift on my car.

I come here when I can because it is not just the coffee it’s the people who make me feel at home here. Did I mention the coffee rocks? But the setting is pretty nice. It’s quiet. Oh, and the yoga joint next door is a nice – if not – leering location for my observations. I’m Italian, I marvel in the beauty of women. I wonder if DaVinci hung out at a little Roman espresso place.

I am traditionally not a quiet country setting kind of guy. Quiet used to be a harbinger of trouble. I can recall how the quiet actually made me uneasy. Sleep was a silent form of hell. That first few moments before unconsciousness crept into my room (or closet) and took possession of my body…Yikes! Now, perhaps because of the passage of time I seem to enjoy it. Maybe it is because I want to hear if my ticker is still whacking away as it should.

As long as we are on the subject of silence, I used to draw in my home studio late late at night. I have always liked the late night. One night I heard foot steps. Certain that it was a goof, I ignored it. Then I heard it again. I got up from my table, opened the door and looked down the hallway. Nothing. Was I going crazy- or did the previous owner of the house not disclose that Casper the friendly ghost was a non-paying tenant? Finally after the third time, I got my gun and decided to check out the entire house. Not a creature was stirring…just the freaking cat looking at me as if I was insane. Finally I took a minute to study the sound and discovered, duh, it was my heart beat in my ear that I was hearing. That little incident caused me to see Mr. Doctor – who insisted that I might want to partake in a little pharmacological pulse-blood-pressure maintenance. My resting heart rate in his office was 136. I said yes. But I am not ruling out a ghost.

Cops do sometimes get creative in the sleep department. When you work all night and then come home to a brightly lit world, you have to improvise. For me, it was the dark closet and a sleeping bag. For some cops it was tin - foil the bedroom window to keep the light out – like it’s a grow room for marijuana or something. I’m sure the neighbors loved it!

As I sit here I am trying to get my hands around the violence of the last day. I am trying to channel my sympathy and concern for the 11 officers shot in the last 24 hours. It is not just about them, but their families, the effect on the community and those cops left behind that usually do not get time to mourn the loss because they are left behind to answer the radio calls. I toss around the disparity and juggle the emotions hatched in my head from some opinions I hear on talk radio about how much we get paid and wonder, how much should a human life be worth? What is the right number? Does a cop with a Master’s degree (actually his or her family) get a higher cash-out value? Its hard to listen to this conversation when the pay-thing makes page 1 and the shootings, to include 4 officers shot in their own police station, is buried (Quite literally in some occasions) on page 3 or 4.

I have known a couple of officers who have been shot and more than I care to know of officers who have been shot at - or who have shoot bad guys. It is not like the movies you never ask. Ever. If they want to tell you about their experience, they will tell you. It is very personal in nature. People always ask me, “So have you shot anyone?” My answer is usually loaded with sarcasm (What a shocker – and notice the cool pun!) is something like: “Not today – yet.” Or “No, but maybe someday…” I don’t know, but do you suppose people ask doctors, “Hey did ya kill a patient today?”

The shooting of an officer is a sobering event no matter where you are on the planet. We feel it. It sucks. If any good comes from it, - it is that extra couple of days worth of enhanced officer safety that is infused in our bloodstream. That might come at some cost to you, our public. Usually the price to pay is the stern look; maybe the hand on the pistol while it is in the holster as we walk up on your car. No one wants to get shot.

Of course some of us want to have a shot (Usually tequila and the good stuff!) but getting shot hurts. I have talked to more than a few shooting victims and they will all tell you universally, it hurts!

When I selected my pistol for work, I used some common sense and experience to find the perfect caliber. Remember I used to work at the coroner’s office, so I had some experience with bullets. It’s not necessarily the gun. It’s the bullet! So I shoot 45-caliber pistol. I am not so interested in how many bullets I have.
It is my goal that – God forbid - bullet #1 will do the trick. So to accomplish that, in this situation, bigger is better. I realize that it goes against everything suggested in my heritage. You know the .22 caliber behind the ear thing. But I am not settling a score. If I have to go down that dark road, then it is to protect you or myself.

OK, that’s a spooky little topic, lets move on to something fun. VICE!

As a new cop – who at the time looked 16, I was the victim of my older officers who decided it would be cool to put the new kid in a car and have him solicit hookers. I remember Jimmy Cook, the Intelligence Detective and another guy who now is lost on me – probably due to a few kicks in the head. They decided that it would be a good idea to send me out. I was a puppy. I had barely talked to girls, at least those who were not beating me up. Usually any conversation I had with girls was “Stop! Stop! I give!”

Jimmy Cook was a very cool cop. There are a couple of cops over the years that I looked up to who were right out of central casting for some cop adventure film like “Heat.” Jimmy was one of them. Mike Miller and Walt Kosta were also in that group. Jimmy is one of those guys who looked like a thinner, dirty blond Jack Nicholson. Especially when he is wearing his wayfarers. When the eyebrow and forehead crease broke the plane of his glasses, you could not tell the difference.

He was from the Midwest, was in the war and this guy knew how to talk to people. He was a little unorthodox, but that, I think is what made him successful. I remember once he had a call of an abandoned car in front of this apartment complex. He got on the PA system of the patrol car and announced the car belonged to a drug dealer and it would be towed in 30 minutes. I sat there as a rookie thinking we were going to get in trouble. He used the PA system at full blast in the middle of this neighborhood at 8:00AM! When we returned in 30 minutes…the car was gone. That is the “G” rated version of his magic. Of course there is more. Jimmy did not need to BS people. He connected with them on a Forest Gump kind of way – kind of like my Colombo routine, but his was genuine. The Indiana cadence made it all the more believable.

I remember way back when we did not have a Vice team. It was all done kind of at your own risk, and in your own car! So JC gave me money and a wire. We checked it all out and had a pre-arranged bust signal. Back then we had lots of young and not so young women working in a particular area known as the “track.” San Rafael was like the old west back then. It had a not so pleasant reputation in the 70’s and 80’s but if you were a cop, it was a fun place to work.

So there I was, barely able to ask a normal gal out on a date…usually sweating, nauseated and on the brink of a seizure and feeling like maybe I am going to make a boom in my pants. I am a little tentative even now because I hate rejection. I can barely look at the gal at the checkout counter of a grocery store without turning red.

I remember navigating my Mustang down the street looking for the right person to pick up. The idea was that I had to pick up this entrepreneur and drive until the gal made me an offer I could not refuse. Then I would go to where she wanted me to go to complete the “date” and call out the bust signal on the way. Now, remember, I had on a wire, so technically, I would not need to say the silly bust signal. But still, it was part of my programming. Oh and for those of you with filthy minds…no. We never did the deal. Ever. Yuck.

Scared to death, each block felt like I was on death row walking to the death chamber. Seriously I was sweating. I had a gun and all of that, but I was not brought up to talk to women the way I was about to talk to them…I would never bring up the context of this to my parents. I would however mention it at Thanksgiving dinner that I picked up a hooker – just to see if mom could pass ravioli through her nose. She never did, but for some reason my stories would always lead to a kick under the table. Usually as my stepdad wanted to know more. The quiet broke at the table when suddenly there was an “ouch!” and the wine in the wine bottle would sway from side to side vigorously as it seemed like we had an earthquake. In reality, it was mom kicking my stepdad. He was my proxy because I was too far away. Mom would usually say something like “Oh Ralphy don’t be like Beretta” referring to that stimulating and award-winning cop drama played by former Little Rascal’s star, acquitted murderer and the former Mr. Bonnie Blakely. (May she rest in peace.)

As I drove my car around the track, I see a number of young, but tired looking gals wink, wave at me and do their very best to make eye contact. I felt like a rock star for a second and then Catholic guilt came over me. I averted my gaze and noticed I was breathing like I had just run a marathon. Don’t laugh! It was spooky. So I made excuse after excuse to not pick up some of them….Uh, that one has big feet, stinky looking, um, too many scars from picking her face NO! That one looks like a guy!

Finally the hooker of my dreams stepped up. She was dinky. I mean she was maybe 4-11, and was maybe 100 soaking wet. I thought, OK, considering my murky progress and success with fighting those vicious hyenas in middle school, I think I can take this one if it goes south on me.

And so, I drove around the block about three times trying to get my courage up to pull over. I am sure this gal was thinking “What is wrong with this kid?” I had this internal fight with my brain and my body to pull the car over. It was not so easy. There was this pop-up cartoon in my head of my mom looking disappointed in me and simply saying “Ralphy…” Then there was the Serpico cool cop in me flipping his hair back, reaching under the seat to feel the cold steel of my gun prior to the pull over. Game on! I pulled to the curb like a tentative teen-ager walking across the gym floor at prom ready to ask the pimply-faced girl against the wall for a dance.

When I finally pulled over, I rolled down the window and said hello. I tell ya, I was feeling like I was going to make a boom right there in my pants. I was so nervous. Ladies, if you have not noticed…you own us! You have the ability to convert a once very nice dinner into a horrible legacy in our trousers. Now channel that power into good, please. Have mercy on poor stooges like me.

So there I am. I have some issues to deal with as I open my mouth to solicit this gal. Issue #1: I have never asked for a naughty thing like this before and could not practice this script without getting slapped by someone. #2: I was certain there was a nun watching me. #3: Any conversation I had with a girl was usually as I was on my back getting strangled.

The prostitution patron saint was looking down on me because this gal made it easy. She just asked “you wanna date?” I was now a little confused. Was I to take her to a nice joint and buy her a drink and then dinner and then take her to her hotel room, where I would say good night under the lit room number sign? Or was this hooker code for – do you want to pay for special talents forbidden by some religious books?

My guardian angel of common sense gave me a nice motivating twist of my small intestines to get me back on track. I simply said “sure.” This gal was probably thinking school was in for me.

She opened the door to my car and got in. I remember her getting in with all her stuff. She had a couple of bags. I was thinking – which one had a knife in it? Was she going to execute me behind a building – starting at my particulars and work up from there? Would I scream like a big sissy? Of course she could not stab me so long as she continued to eat her fried chicken in my car! My NEW car! I guess a girl’s gotta eat – in this case between shifts.

This social worker directed me to a lonely area of the track, her place of “business” so she could commence with her version of non-taxable services. As we drove I tried to engage her in a little conversation. She was all over the place. She looked everywhere to see if we were being followed. Of course my cover was in a car behind us, but they were doing a good job of following loosely behind.

Unfortunately for me, she did not get into naughty conversation with me. She directs me to drive my NEW car down this dirt road and behind some tall grass. I was feeling uneasy because she had not said a word about the particular details of this little enterprise. Finally as we sat all alone in my car, she asked if I wanted a certain task performed without the benefit of clergy and very unceremoniously – here in the weeds. I felt like my mom would walk in on us at any moment. I hesitated, and then said, “Uh – ok.”

She named her price and I whipped out the cash. (You thought I was going to say something else didn’t you? Go to church you saucy voyeur!) Once she secured the case, I called out the bust signal. I think it was WOW; I am really going to like this…..

I waited…nothing. I said it again…WOW I am REALLY going to like this…Nothing. The gal was getting ready to explore my zipper soon and I was squirming in my seat like I had ants in my pants. I said it again…WOW I AM REALLY GOING TO LIKE THIS….as purposeful as I could and completely like I was reading a script.

I was panicking. Dread and terror took over my cerebral cortex. I had sweat rolling down my brow. This gal was making a move to my privates and got within a millimeter of the protected and secured zipper area. I think I let loose with a small gaseous eruption as the fear center of my brain took over all other functions of my body and yelped out a red alert. DANGER! DANGER! Where was my cover? I was ready to jump out of the car like it was on fire. I was not a happy boy. In fact at that time I was thinking I had to go to confession and wondered how many days I would be in church praying to balance out this sin of which I was complicit.

I now wonder if God has a rebate program or perhaps there was some prayer adjustment for work-related sin. Maybe a two for one deal or a God-pon, like a coupon but for graces. Call it a blue chip stamp program for sinners.

Time and space slowed to a crawl. I can remember seeing the knotted, blistered, work-worn spindly fingers attached to the mitt of this purveyor move in slow motion from her side toward the steering wheel release thing. As she did this I held my breath as I thought about how I was going to get out of my car – or better yet get her and all of her food and debris out of my car! As soon as I put my hand on the ejection seat handle (Uh, car door) my saviors’ arrived! Jimmy and his partner laughing as hard as I had ever seen. Ya, I was thinking it was funny too. I was thinking how funny it would be to visit them in a rest home someday paralyzed with age as I introduced the same favor upon them.

As the nice Vice officers walked up to my car the woman looked over to me and told me not to say anything. I waited until she was out of the car in handcuffs before I disclosed that I was a cop. Remember I had seen her kind in action in Junior High!

As I progressed in my career I would once again be subjected to the dank and sinister world of sexual deviance. I would eventually go on to work in our Street Crimes Unit, be sequestered in the public toilets trolling for any chicken hawk that would have me, or George Michael, and of course there were the massage parlors. All of it for another harrowing “blog” and yes, you can bet that it came up at just about every sacred family dinner, Christmas, New Years, My birthday, Thanksgiving…all of them. Would my mom pass that ravioli through her nose? Guess you will have to read on.

Stay safe. Ralphy

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sex, Drugs, and Pepperoni Pizza By Lt. Pata

Confidential Informants are a pain in the behind. Seriously. They are yesterday’s crooks and tomorrows suspects. I still have informants calling me-twenty years later because they are in trouble or need something. It is like having a relationship with a crummy business partner who is a drug addict. You know the one that takes the profits and runs to Vegas with some harpy he met hanging out by the debris box around midnight at some club.

These guys and gals are sketchy. They often think they are smarter than you or that they are living a role in some episode of “The Wire.” The reality is that most are using drugs and are probably doing some petty larceny on the side. That is my experience, of course these citizens may have changed in their pedigree and might just be good honest members of the community now. But let’s face it; even those members of the community go on to other forms of larceny. Take some members of congress, maybe a televangelist or infomercial representative for example.

I can think of a dozen informants that my team saved from long prison sentences to get to the bigger fish. It is a dirty little business and often I went home and prayed to the informant god that they would get a nice canker sore or the split on your fingers –right on the tips, you know -the ones that hurt and are usually related to a really cold day….I’d even settle for a bad case of dysentery with no toilet in sight. Seriously, these people, especially to us Italians, are a necessary, but annoying amoeba on the food chain of life. The mafia is also not so happy with these guys, but then again, according to my pop, the mafia was invented by the late President Nixon and never really existed. Ya, neither did dinosaurs pop.

Informants come in all shapes and sizes. Most were drug addicts or bad business people which is how they came to our attention. Lots and lots of them were scorned women. Guys, if you are a dope dealer, don’t make your female paramours angry.

I had one gal as an informant who was promised a music career with her drug dealer and occasional product sampler and sales associate. This gal and this guy were as exclusive as you can be when you are married hanging out in clubs and dealing dope. I mean he shared everything with her, to include the STD that keeps giving and even the blessing of a pregnancy without the benefit of clergy.

The problem for this guy was that he said a little too much in the pillow talk - “baby I love you” department. After he returned to his wife and kids from a long weekend in Vegas, she would have a little time to think, apply ointment to her new medical condition and make reservations at the local planned parenthood.

I think the deal breaker for this gal was when this guy failed to appear to her “recording session” and pay for it, she was genuinely scorched with anger. That little anger, in my business is key to all good female informants. That little raging inferno of jealousy, STD and financial vacancy is the perfect storm for a good informer. And I was more than happy to help stoke that fire.
I brought my pal and a can of figurative gas with me to douse on this innocent victim of cocaine. (Sorry, huge sarcasm and not an ounce of sympathy assigned to that last morsel.) Each and every time I visited this gal – always with a female partner, I did my best to keep her from feeling sorry for this guy. How do you do that?…Easy, show pictures of him with his beautiful wife wearing a mink. It is a little trick my cousins in Italy taught me. I think a couple of senators in the 70’s went that way.
I would always end the meetings by asking her how her medical condition was and maybe dropping a flier for the free clinic in her mailbox. It worked. Don’t laugh.

My gal was really good a “playing” stupid and was really angry at this guy. So much so that she agreed to introduce another woman to him as a potential drug user and maybe another cocaine induced conquest. Of course she was a well trained and heavily armed undercover cop, but hey, they need a little love too.

Like a dog to a treat, this loser went for it. He did it because the sex / greed reception center in the brain was swollen with narcissism and unhealthy laziness which caused this guy to sell drugs instead of work. I was more than happy to accommodate his delivery and safekeeping to a state run bed and breakfast. And deliver him I did. Nine years later, I understand he has a better appreciation for women. I will write more on this maroon, another day. It is a good story.

And then…there are the control problems. I had to work with a guy once who was a huge control problem. This guy was not a bad guy by design – he was just a selfish petty drug dealing Marin guy who thought everything was owed to him. We developed this guy on a nice sunny afternoon – signed him up went through all the paperwork necessary, ran it by the D.A. and got him out of jail. He was a good informant because he could get us some weight. We were a major unit which meant we were not so interested in the gram dealers. We wanted ounces of cocaine and bigger.

After getting this guy out we had “the big talk.” I told him the rules, reminded him that the money we gave him was not his and was designated to buy drugs. We instructed him how to drive nice so we could follow him and told him to talk so we could hear him in the wire. These were rules that were not so hard to follow. Well, so we thought.

When we turned this guy loose for a planned deal, he drove like a maniac. We had cars on him trying to keep up with him. This guy took his car. Of course we searched it first and him, but we were not prepared for the Indy 500 car race just to get to the deal location. Of course he needed to stop in first for a car wash (with our money) and then dinner – I think it was pasta with scampi (with our money) and then to the meet. We would have usually tried to call this guy or drop in on his dinner, but we had no idea if the dealer was going to meet this guy there, and of course he had the radio on so loud in the car that we could not hear the phone. Personally I wanted to crash into his Mercedes like a kamikaze pilot to teach him a lesson.

The deal never happened and he was the recipient of an index finger in the chest coupled with a couple of motivating if not cathartic words from me. (Expletives deleted.) We made him pay us back, set up another deal and quickly learned that he was not able to pull off a good case for us. I think he was annoying to the dealers too. We fired him. I am not so sure what happened to this guy, but it would not surprise me if he ended up in a ditch.

Now I did have a couple of informants who were unbelievable. Some had to work off a little trouble and I had one that just wanted to help. He/she was surrounded by drug dealers and just wanted to get rid of them. Another was a nice person who worked at a place where lots of mail was handled and was exposed to package after package of drugs. This person just thought it was wrong.

So here is how is worked back then. I suspect that the informant enrollment program is still the same or very similar. 1) Select a nice target to be an informant, or sometimes they come to you via a nice note from the jail or a call to the tip line. 2) Check on their background. Lets face it…they are usually troublemakers. It’s a dirty business. 3) Meet them, make no promises and run them by the D.A. 4) Make no promises (yes again) and get them out with a court order or work with them when they get out. 5) Find out the motivation. Some people you can’t work with and you put them on the shelf. The whole deal thing on TV is a fallacy. No one really gets to walk. They get convicted and do their time. The judge and their attorney’s can make that a variable based upon their cooperation. Sorry, no free rides. I left a lot out on purpose…there is way more but it’s boring and top secret. And I’d have to kill you.

There were always female informants (Usually ex-wives or ex-girlfriends) that wanted to use their wily ways to perhaps convince you they had more to offer than working a deal. There were the strippers and adult film stars who came to the meetings dressed provocatively and had that apple in their hand. (Genesis – old testament)

We never met these gals alone and in private on purpose. Ever. Some have suggested naughty unlawful behavior as proof of their commitment. (Punishable by death in some countries) Of course later on they could potentially exploit this to get themselves out of trouble. I had one gal ask for consent to have sex with her dealer apparently to close the deal. She explained that this was part of her routine. We, of course said NO in about every language we knew. I was not so sure how I would explain the child support payments from the County of Marin to the taxpayers, I but I knew it would be on page 1 of our local paper. I have never wanted that kind of fame. But some went that way. I had a guy from one of my dope schools end up going to prison because he played house with an informant. Of course she snitched on him the second she was caught with drugs.

I met one young lady who was barely 18 and dropped out of school. She did not have a clue how to buy drugs but thought she could because it seemed cool on TV. I used her once to call a wanted felon. I had his phone number but knew he would not show up for me…presumably because I was not his type…at least until he went to prison. I had her put on her best squeaky voice and had her call him. It was beautiful. She called and gave him her first name.

When he drew a blank…she worked him over. “What you don’t remember me?” He took the bait like a trout at the fish hatchery. He suddenly “remembered.” Of course he was right, they had never met, but again, the greed / sex center of the male mind is unbelievably transparent, shallow and malleable. She suggested they have a nice pizza together and perhaps do something naughty afterwards.

The primal caveman response in his brain took over. This guy had pin wheels in his eyes. The trance was almost audible. He was like a cartoon zombie walking with his hands up toward his hypnotist. He was a prisoner to his privates and the direct hormonal conversation between them and his sex /greed center, leapfrogged over the “common-sense too good to be true” portion of his brain and delivered him to our humble and wanting hands.

Of course we arrived two hours early to have a pizza – part of our “cover.” This guy was disappointed when six of us introduced ourselves inside the pizza joint after we sat next to him at his table. After a year on the run, he was captured and taken to the big house. And, of course, he had some party dust in his pocket for the after show with his date. Sucker. God I love this job.

…Back to our interview with the young woman and about what she was going to do with her life. She told us that one day she wanted to be an adult film star. Seriously. Again I was looking around for the Candid Camera and “gotcha!” I forgot about her until a year later when a nice package was delivered to the PD in a paper bag with my name on it. The package was delivered to my then den-mother at the PD, Nellie who was working in the front office. I was back in patrol from my time in the Task Force and received the call to the station. Sweet Nellie handed me the package and I pulled out the box inside right in front of her.

The box was a commercial videotape that displayed a number of unclothed men and women in geometric and may I add non-ergonomic positions doing unimaginable and transformative things. I think Nellie saw it as I jammed the box back in the bag quickly and ripped the bottom out as I was so embarrassed and a little scared at what I saw. I slowly removed the video tape box far enough to see the autograph and note from my former wanna-be informant wishing me well and announcing her triumphant arrival in the adult film business. Of course I had to watch the video in the privacy of my home with a number of my friends and had to self medicate my self with a foamy beverage as I witnessed the depravity and exploitive script for this young lady. Some excerpts were reviewed a couple of times to validate her acting skills. Of course all of us had this look like a dog that hears a strange sound, head tilted to one side, eyes wide open.

Well that’s it for now. I have to send a “Oy!” to SRPD Pal Marina Simoncini with the Australian Federal Police- a reader, Suzi Kim with Santa Monica PD also a reader and of course all of my new pals from the SMILE conference weeks ago in Santa Monica. I also want to recognize Jimmy Hoffa, not a reader, as far as we know. Stay safe. Ralphy.