Takin' Bacon

This “tale” returns per a request I received from a writer. She said a friend had once heard me tell the story during a presentation at the New England Crime Bake several years ago and she wanted to hear it from me. Well, since it’s rare that I present workshops at conferences these days I told her I’d tell the about the adventure here today. I know many of you have already heard it so please bear with me as I share it with those who haven’t. I call this one Takin’ Bacon, and it’s a true story. Really, it is.

Takin’ Bacon

Crime-solving is not always as easy as television would have us believe. Sometimes police officers really have to work hard to get to the bottom of a particularly complex case.

Cops use a variety of means to crack each of their cases, and one really unusual series of events comes to mind when I think about out-of-the-box methods I’d used during my career.

As most of you know, I was a police detective for many years, and part of my job was to solve major crimes, such as murder, rape, and robbery. Sure, I paid my dues early in my career by writing tickets and directing traffic, but my real passion was the puzzle-solving that’s associated with tracking down murderers.

In the Beginning

Before most detectives are allowed to investigate the more serious crimes, though, they’re normally assigned to easier-to-solve, less intricate cases, such as bad checks and stolen tricycles.

One of my introductory cases was unusual to say the least. My boss, a gruff and tough-as-rusty-nails sheriff, dispatched me to get to the bottom of a rash of stolen hogs. No, not the cool and expensive motorcycles—real pigs, as in walking, oinking pork chops.

Someone was stealing live four- or five-hundred pound porkers directly from a farmer’s hog farm, and they were taking at least one or two each weekend. The pigs (hundreds upon hundred of them) were kept in many buildings on the large farm, so my partner and I thought the best way to nab these guys was to wait inside one of the elaborate hog parlors until the criminals arrived to do their dirty deed. Our plan was simple; when the crooks entered the building we would jump up, turn on the lights, and nab the ham-rustlers in the act of felony pig-napping.

“The” Weekend

Friday finally arrived and just before dark we entered one of the hog shelters and sat down on a pair of overturned 5-gallon buckets—one apiece—where we waited for the crooks to show up. I quickly discovered that the combined stench of pig feces and urine and other foul goodies were absolutely overwhelming. I also learned that pigs are sneaky and extremely curious, and that they have very cold and very wet and gross noses. Not to mention the fact that the odor clings to your clothing and shoes and refuses to go away.

We’d been hanging out in the dark, surrounded by fat sows, for nearly two hours when we finally heard the creaky sound of rusty springs stretching as someone open a plywood door near the center of the building.

A bit of moonlight spilled inside and then disappeared as the door closed behind who or whomever had entered the pig parlor. My partner and I both drew our weapons and waited, allowing the thieves enough time to begin the act of stealing. We wanted to catch them with ham hocks in hand.

There was a period of time where we heard two voices, but they were muffled by the sound of low-pitched pig grunts and oinks. The men used a small flashlight to help find their way to the center of the area, a place that was packed with so many hogs that it sort of resembled a concert arena on a night when Taylor Swift or Beyonce’ or Elton John performs. It was Pig-a-Palooza and Pigstock rolled into one.

We figured the bandits were being selective, choosing just the right pigs—this little pig or that little pig—that would fetch top dollar at the market.

Then and unexpectedly, a bright light flashed. Then another flash followed by another and another. I realized, detective material that I was, that the bad guys were taking pictures.

Confused by their actions, but anxious to catch the guys, we couldn’t stand it any longer. So we hopped up, aimed our Beretta 9mms in the general direction of the thugs, and switched on the lights.

I was shocked, to say the least, when I saw that one of the young men was standing directly behind a female pig—a sow, as they’re properly addressed—with his pants down around his ankles and resting atop the goop on the slatted floor (the space between the slats is where pig most waste falls into a deep and smelly pit).

I was even more startled when I realized the man was actually having sex with a big, fat and dirty female pig, and his buddy was taking pictures of him while he did it.

They both stopped what they were doing, in mid-action, and looked toward us. Each man had the same deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression.

(Not the actual suspect)

(Not the actual victim)

We immediately placed the two crooks under arrest and took them to the sheriff’s office for processing (that’s “booking” to laypeople.) During my questioning of the guy who’d been caught with his pants down, the embarrassed animal lover confessed to stealing over one-hundred pigs from several different farms over the past few weeks, and that they’d taken their “booty” to hog markets and sold them for a nice profit.

At the end of his confession, the pig-stealer shook his head and asked how we found out they were going to be there that night. He added that they’d been extremely careful not to leave behind an evidence trail of any kind.

I smiled because the perfect answer crept forward from that goofy spot in my head. I looked at the guy and said, “How did we know you were coming?  It’s simple, the pig squealed on you.”

He just shook his head slowly from side-to-side. After all, what could he have said to justify his little affair with Petunia?

I really should mention that the thief was married, and he wasn’t practicing safe sex with his porcine partners, if you know what I mean. So, if you’re ever having a bad day, just be really thankful that you’re not married to this guy. Unless you don’t mind that his idea of bringing home the bacon is just a bit “different” than that of normal folks.

By the way, I learned that the purpose of the pig pornography (each man photographed the other having sex with a pig) was insurance so that neither of the two men would tell on the other. If one were to snitch he’d face having the photograph sent to family members.  What I didn’t understand was why they felt the need to have a barnyard affair each time they stole a pig. Wouldn’t one photo be enough?

And I truly hope, this being a holiday weekend and all, that you’ll think of this curly little “tale” as you’re tossing the pork chops on the grill…

 

Mother would call it a ministry

Cops are a unique breed. They dress differently. They speak differently. They’re in a class all to themselves, and it’s a “Members Only” sort of group where those on the outside looking in often don’t understand what it is that officers do and why they do it.

Unfortunately, law enforcement is an operation that sometimes, to best protect us from harm, must do things out of public view. And that lack of understanding and wondering “what they’re up to” often leads to mistrust.

Some members of society reject any form of authority. Others distrust police officers because they’ve heard friends or family members say they don’t like cops. In some corners of cities, counties, and states, young children, even before they’re taught to read and write, are taught to hate the police. Then there are the bad apples of law enforcement who commit acts that go against the very meaning of their badge and oath.

Of course, compounding the trouble is the necessary secrecy involving some aspects of law enforcement, acts that can drive even larger wedges between the general population and the police. Therefore, over time, police officers metaphorically circled their protective wagons in order to survive in a world populated by people who simply don’t like them, for whatever reason(s). And, unfortunately, the circling of those wagons transformed the an already large wedge into a nearly impenetrable wall between citizens and the officers who’ve taken an oath to protect and serve them.

The wall is there. No doubt about it. But what many people don’t understand about the “wall” is that one of its cornerstones is fear—fear of abuse, fear of beatings, fear of racism, and even fear death. Yes, some people live their entire lives being deathly afraid of the police. Are those feelings justified? Sadly, in some cases, the answer is yes. But in most instances the answer is a definite and resounding NO. But, those bad apples in the barrel ruin things for everyone on both sides of the badge.

As a detective in charge of certain operations, I devoted much of my time attempting to tear down the invisible wall. I wanted people to know that police officers are human, and that we do good, and that we were there FOR them, not AGAINST them. And I still try to convey that message through this blog and through my writing. I also had the same goal in mind when starting the Writers’ Police Academy five years ago.

I knew the instructors at the WPA were the best in the business at what they do, but when I received the letter below, I also knew the event had achieved far more than helping writers “get it right.”

Finally, after all these years, there was a crack in the wall. And I want to say THANK YOU to everyone involved in the WPA for merely being you. It is because you’re who you are that someone took the time to let me know the WPA had a huge and emotional impact on their life. It’s almost overwhelming to think that the WPA actually impacted someone this way means a lot to me.

So here’s the letter (I’ve omitted names and locations to protect the writer’s identity, and, please, if you think you recognize the author of the letter, keep the name to yourself). The incidents mentioned in the letter occurred in New York City, but this could be said about any location in the country. And, by the way, I deeply appreciate the courage it took for this person, the author of the message, to attend the WPA and then to follow up with such a raw and emotional letter.

The Letter

Dear Mr. Lofland:

It’s been almost a year since I attended the Writer’s Police Academy in September of 201* and I am writing to share my experience during that weekend.

I learned about your Academy from a book on getting one’s book published (I don’t remember the title of the book) that I was skimming through in a Barnes and Noble store in early September of last year. Since I have no law enforcement background, I was looking for a way to verify that the information in the novel that I’ve been working on for some time is correct; that’s when I saw the piece on your Academy. I couldn’t believe it; especially since the Academy was being held in a few weeks. I quickly signed up and prepared to go along with my wife, my little daughter, and my mother-in-law.

The Writer’s Police Academy was a life-changing experience; but not in the way I imagined.

You see, I’ve never had a good relationship or opinion of the Police and I’ll explain why.

I was about 8 years old and it was a summer night in the mid 1970’s when suddenly I had a terrible cough just before going to bed. My mother is a praying woman and she taught us that when we’re sick God can heal us; so that night I asked her to pray for me. Quickly, the cough was gone and just before I dozed off into sleep I remember seeing the reflection of Police car lights on my bedroom wall.

The next day I awoke to find that my 16 year-old brother was missing. As my mother finished praying for me and I fell asleep, my mother saw the Police lights on the wall, too, and quickly ran to the window. Two policemen were surrounding my brother. What happened was that a car was stolen in my neighborhood and my brother was accused of being the person who stole the car.

My mother quickly ran downstairs and stood between my brother and the Police; the two men smelled of alcohol and their eyes were bloodshot. One Police officer pulled his weapon on my mother.

The owner of the car ran up to the officers and told them that his car was found by other officers and that my brother was innocent. One of the officers refused to let my brother go and wanted to take him in. My brother panicked and ran.

You see, we lived in the **** area of the **** and this was in the mid 70’s. Police abuse was rampant and crime and fires in the area were out of control. There was little trust in the Police from the community.

They shot at my brother as he ran down the park stairs and he was captured by other officers from three squad cars that suddenly appeared. They took him to the ******** and beat him to a pulp. My parents went to the precinct and were told he wasn’t there and had been released; it was a lie. Later on, the officers took him to an industrial area called *****, beat him some more and left him there in the middle of the night. My brother showed up at my house at 12 in the afternoon the next day.

Investigating officers reported that no such incident occurred and that one of the officers whom allegedly was present that night, whom my brother remembered his name and badge number, didn’t exist. An officer told my mother that she better get my brother out of the area or he would be killed by the police. She obliged.

Since then, my experiences with the Police haven’t been positive. There have been incidents in which I was treated well so I don’t want to over generalize but the bad has far outweighed the good. During the **** years, it was hell! I am of **** **** descent and although I am fair skinned, college educated and have worked all my life; I felt that I had a target on my back as I walked the streets or drove in the City. ….police brutality cases have only made me less trustful of the police. I have often wondered why I am even writing a novel related to the Police.

So, last year, when I went to your Academy, I was very uneasy. I was entering an actual Police Academy and was going to be surrounded by Police. I was nervous, apprehensive, and at times, felt like a hypocrite for even being there. But then the Academy started.

Friday morning began with a presentation on the Jaws of Life. The dedication and care for the public from the presenting officer just oozed out of him and impressed me. I then attended “Making a Lasting Impression” with Robert Skiff and David Pauly: I was blown away. The commitment from those two gentlemen to find the truth in order to protect the public blew me away. I slowly began to see that the Police weren’t necessarily out to get me but to protect me.

I then went to “Fingerprinting” and it was awesome. Next, I attended “Cold Cases and the Realities of Investigations” by David Pauly and Dr. Ramsland; this is where things really started to change. The openness of the presenters in sharing their knowledge was incredible. I could feel their passion and dedication to getting the truth and solving murders. More importantly, I could see and feel their humanity.

Friday evening after the Night Owl Presentation, I had to go to the Bar and gather myself. My head was spinning. Not only from the information I received in the classes but my emotions were everywhere. Then McMahan sat next to me in the bar and began to talk to me; my heart was racing and my palms were sweating. A law enforcement officer was sitting next to me and talking to me man-to-man. He is truly a gentleman. I found out he’s a dedicated dad and husband and I was humbled by his humility and integrity.

We were joined by David Pauly and Dr. Ramsland; they talked to me like I was a human being. You see, Mr. Lofland, in dealing with the Police in my past, I often felt less than human. David Pauly bought me a beer (please tell him I owe him one) and the four of us talked for a while. It was great. They are great people and their knowledge and dedication just blows me away.

Not long after that, Detective Conelli joined us and we had a brief talk; he was exhausted from his trip and needed rest. I couldn’t wait for his presentation on the following morning “Anatomy of an Undercover Cop”.

Saturday came and I was seated on the floor in Detective Conelli’s classroom (the room was full to capacity). He started out by showing a picture of “His Office” which was a building in the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. My heart stopped, I went cold, and I was almost brought to tears. I had been in many buildings like the one in the picture! He then showed us a picture of him while undercover. He had no weapons and was taking a huge risk in going into those buildings. It was during the Crack epidemic and I witnessed, firsthand, how it devastated neighborhoods.

Hearing Mr. Conelli talk transformed me. I began to see the other side of what it is to be a Police Officer. I began to see them as being on my side, for me, and not against me.

On Sunday, during the debriefing panel, I was struck by the Chief’s words and his assistant. I’m sorry but I don’t remember their names. They urged the writers present to write positively about the Police profession. They said it was very easy to portray cops in a negative light but we were witnesses that weekend to the goodness found among law enforcement professionals. I take that advice to heart.

On the plane on my way home I thought about my experience. I have a coworker whose brother is a **** Captain. I decided I would reach out to him in order to not only get information for my novel but most importantly, bury some painful experiences I had been carrying for many years. I realized that the experience with my brother had colored my view of Cops and I needed to change that.

Captain **** **** so happens to be the Captain of *** homicide. When we texted each other in order to set up a meeting, he told me he worked out of the ****! The same one in which my brother was abused. But the *** **** had since moved so I thought nothing of it. It turns out that the **** has indeed moved but the original building (in which my brother was abused) is used to house Captain **** and other administrative offices.

So, on a cold December night around 11pm I went to meet Captain ****. It was surreal walking into that building. I confessed my feelings about the Police to Captain **** and told him that if he felt uncomfortable with me that it was okay if he didn’t want to share and continue our meeting. He was very gracious and understanding. He confessed that the **** doesn’t have clean hands and didn’t have clean hands during those days in the 70’s in ***** but he shared his side of things.

I made peace with a lot of things that night, Mr. Lofland. It all started with your Academy and your gracious speakers. You have a very special thing going there. My mother would call it a ministry; something God-given.

My wish is that your Academy could be duplicated throughout the country and be used as a tool not only for writers but to bridge the gap between the Police and the communities in which they serve. I would like to see young people attend your Academies and receive healing just as I did.

I would also like to see you guys do a documentary on the Police. My vision is to have several Police recruits from several Police Academies from different parts of the country be followed from just before they enter the Police Academy to about five or more years into their careers. The documentary would show their everyday lives and their struggles and maturing process. I think the public would love it and gain a lot from such a program.

As for me, I don’t know if I will ever finish my novel or have it published. I am currently working on getting a Master’s of Social Work (MSW) so that I could work in the **** Schools helping kids in the inner city; kids much like me when I was younger. I can’t attend this year’s Academy because we can’t afford it and because of my studies.

However, I will forever be grateful to you and to Mr. McMahan, Mr. Skiff, Mr. Pauly, Det. Conelli, Dr. Ramsland, and all the others who were there last fall. I’m a better man for attending and am at peace now.

I am eternally grateful to you and to your partners. May you guys have the best Writers’ Police Academy yet and may God richly bless you and yours.

Thank you,

Name withheld

 

Cops are often the target for some pretty nasty verbal ammunition. In fact, they endure some things that would make the average person explode into a fit of rage. But police officers have to stand there and take it. It’s part of the job, unfortunately.

And always, without fail, officers should keep their anger in check, even when people say things like …

1. “I pay your salary, Barney Fife. So do your job and find the crook who stole the three dollars from the purse I left lying on the seat of my unlocked car.”

These types of comments often spill and flow freely from the lips of unemployed crackheads and other folks who often do not pay taxes.

 

2. “I called twenty minutes ago. Where’ve you been, eating donuts?”

Normally said to cops by 325 lb. unemployed geeky guys who’re standing hiding in the foyer behind a locked screen door.

 

3. “I play golf with the chief and he’s going to hear about this tomorrow.”

Words spoken by a great number of people who’ve been arrested for DUI on Friday night.

 

4. “I’ll slap you if I want to because I’m a woman and you can’t fight back. That’s the law.”

Said the sobbing female who struck the police officer’s face and quickly found herself cuffed and stuffed. “I didn’t mean it. Please don’t take me to jail. Pleeeeeeezze!” she said from the rear compartment of the officer’s patrol car.

 

5. “What’cha gonna do, tough guy? There’s six of us and one of you.”

Of course, the other five are standing behind this nutcase, shaking their heads from side-to-side, indicating they don’t wish to support their friend during his sudden and foolish moment of stupidity, a time that often precedes pain compliance and the word “ouch” shouted repeatedly by the “brave” guy as the officer “gently” applies handcuffs to his wrists. The others usually and wisely go on their way.

 

6. “That badge don’t mean nuttin’ to me. Come and get me.”

It’s at this point that, and I’ve never figured out why, the guy starts backing away while forcefully removing his gravy-stained t-shirt, typically exposing one of two classic body types—that of a beanpole with xylophone-like ribs, or a belly that resembles a sideways beer keg encased in flabby and sweaty ,undulating, hairy skin.

Personally, I’ll take the blubbery obese guy any day over the wiry one because they’re slower and easier to handle. The skinny ones, well, you have to use an extra amount of caution when arresting them because when riled they’ll climb you like a squirrel, punching, clawing, gouging, biting, and kicking, up one side and down the other.

 

7. “Umm … there’s no need to tell my wife(husband) about this, is there?”

Spoken by most of the naked people who’ve been caught in the backseats of cars on deserted dead-end roads.

 

8. “I’m gonna %$^# your mama/wife/children/mother-in-law/family dog when I get out.”

Cops hear this, and other combinations of the same thing, all the time. Spoken by every drunk in town.

 

9. “You no-neck son-of-a-bit**. Take off these cuffs and I’ll kick your ass!”

Again, spoken by everyone who blows over a .12 on the Breathalyzer. And who, by the way, had every opportunity to open their cans of “whup ass” prior to the cuffs going on. It always amazed me how the application of handcuffs saved the lives of so many officers who arrest people, especially the people who couldn’t fight their way out of a one-man boxing match.

 

10. “You and who else is taking me to jail? ‘Cause you ain’t man enough to arrest me.”

These unfortunate words normally come from the smallest guy in the room, the guy who’s trying to impress his friends. And this is the guy who, when you make the move to handcuff him, flails his arms like a windmill, with fists balled up. He sometimes breaks down into some sort of martial arts stance. And, he often reaches into his pocket, pretending to go for a weapon that isn’t there. Luckily for these guys, the hospital and excellent ER physicians are often standing by between the point of arrest and the county jail.

 

And, as a bonus, the ever popular … “I know my rights, Kojak. My uncle’s barber’s sister’s husband’s third cousin on my mama’s daddy’s side of the family used to clean the floors at a law school. So I’m suing your ass. Yeah, that’s right. Things about to get real up in here.”

See everyone in the list above.

 

Most cops have dealt with a few criminals who aren’t, well, you know, playing with a full deck. They’re not the sharpest knives in the drawers. One donut short of a full dozen.

Some of these intelligence-challenged folks, bless their hearts, go the extra mile on the dummy scale. For example:

Dumb Crooks of the Day

  • Douglas Kelly, a Florida resident, purchased and consumed what he believed to be methamphetamine, an illegal drug. Then, after consuming the meth he felt as if the drugs didn’t quite meet his expectations—didn’t deliver the high he’d hoped to achieve.

So he did what any level-headed person would do when they believe they’ve been cheated in a business deal—he called the local sheriff’s office to file a formal complaint. He asked to have the ILLEGAL meth tested for purity so he could file appropriate charges against the person who sold the drugs. Of course, deputies from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office were more than happy to oblige.

They politely asked Mr. Kelly to bring the substance to the sheriff’s office, and he did, and the deputies there did indeed test the drug which, by the way, field-tested positive for methamphetamine. Therefore, Dumb Crook Number 1, Douglas Kelly, was arrested for possession of methamphetamine.

  • The title of Dumb Crook Number 2 goes to 25-year-old Ruddy Rodriguez, who was operating his ATV illegally and extremely recklessly on city streets. While driving at dangerously high speeds he maneuvered in and out of and around traffic. He even zipped through intersections when the lights were red.

To top off his careless behavior, this dummy of the day pulled up next to responding officers and actually laughed at them, then said, “You’ll never catch me or stop me!” Then he revved up his engine and took off, driving straight onto the sidewalk where he immediately crashed into a large concrete planter box. Karma…

  • Cops often throw a nice party when one of their fellow officers is about to retire. They’re lively affairs that often take place in a local bar or pub. Such was the case when a Baltimore County PD sergeant’s retirement party was held in a back room at Monaghan’s Pub in Baltimore which, by the way, is across the street from a police station.

Enter Dumb Crooks Number 3 and 4 who picked the absolute worst time in the world to rob Monaghan’s cashier at gunpoint. Both men were instantly placed under arrest, the hard way, as evidenced by the black eyes and bumps and bruises prominently displayed in their mugshots.

  • Dumb Crook Number 5 is one of my arrests. It started with a silent alarm triggered by a clerk working in a local convenience store. When I arrived the doors were locked and the clerk who’d set off the alarm turned the key to let me inside. She was shaken to core. He hands trembled, tears spilled down her cheeks, and words rolled off her tongue at 100 mph.

After a few minutes of “Officer Friendly” smooth-talking, her anxiety eased enough to allow her to describe what had taken place. She said a man entered the store and very slowly walked up and down each aisle while nervously glancing around the place. His gaze met hers a few times and once in a while locked in on the security cameras.

Finally, the man walked to the rear of the store where he opened a cooler door and withdrew a can of beer. Then he approached the counter. The clerk said she asked to see his ID, which he produced. She studied the driver’s license and saw that his date of birthplace indicated that his age as well above the legal limit to purchase alcohol. She also confirmed that the face in the ID photo matched that of her customer. She rang up the sale and he paid in cash. The clerk then placed the man’s ID on the counter and slid it toward him.

It was then when the man pulled a pistol from his jacket pocket and demanded that she give him all the money in the register. Well, apparently she wasn’t moving quickly enough so he grabbed the entire machine, snatching it free from its cables and mount, and ran out the door.

When she’d finished her narrative I started to go outside to grab my handy-dandy Sirchie fingerprint kit. On the way out I stopped to have a quick look at the countertop, and there it was, the robber’s driver’s license.

He’d not only shown the license to the clerk, providing her the opportunity to later identify him, he’d given me his name, date of birth, address, a nice photo of his face, and his social security number (Back in those days, Virginia used a person’s social security number as their driver’s license number. That is no longer the case).

So I hopped in my car, called for backup, and drove to the suspect’s home where we found both him and the stolen cash register. Oh, the gun was a pistol that had been stolen a few months prior to the robbery. And, we found crack cocaine on the stack of wooden pallets he used as a coffee table. I don’t believe he’d ever watched HGTV.

Believe it or not, this, the driver’s license thing at a convenience store robbery, also happened a second time but with a different dumb crook.

In another instance I found a driver’s license at the scene of an arson. Somehow the fire-starter dropped it on the ground. I found the ID while poking around the area as firefighters battled the blaze. He was from out of town so I enlisted the assistance of the local cops in that city to help me with the arrest. The firebug confessed to the arson after a lengthy interrogation session.

 

I try to be a forward-thinking person and I definitely believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. I don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings, if possible. Heck, I’ll even go out of my way to avoid killing a bug. Well, there are exceptions to the bug squishing—those gigantic prehistoric Palmetto bugs deserve all the squashing, smashing, and foot-stomping I can deliver. They give me the creeps. So much so that I’d almost choose to face a knife-wielding serial killer than one of those hissing, flying creatures.

And yes, I know it’s tough to avoid mistrusting a known bad guy when working as a police officer because cops deal with the folks whose mere existence is surrounded in some sort of doubt nearly 24 hours each day. Still, I try.

But there is a limit to how far a person could and/or should go. Yet, the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco has, with all due respect, lost their ever-loving minds. They’ve gone bat-&%#@ crazy, actually, and I cannot in good consciousness give them the benefit of doubt, because they’ve boarded Ozzy Osborne’s Crazy Train, and at this point in time are speeding along the tracks heading straight into the Twilight Zone.

Here’s What They’ve Done

To avoid labeling criminals or hurting their feelings, including those crooks who’ve been convicted of various crimes, the Board of Supervisors have spent hours coming up with a resolution to assign new names for bad guys, the crimes they’ve committed, and other areas of criminal behavior.

If this resolution is passed, no longer will San Franciscans be permitted use the term “convicted felon” when speaking of a mass murderer who’s served his time and is released on parole. No sir. Not in San Francisco. Instead, Carl “The Butcher” Jenkins must be addressed as a “justice involved person.” If The Butcher whacks up another victim while out on parole, the Board of Supervisors now insists that he and other repeat offenders be called “returning residents” once they’ve served their time and exit the prison for another try at life on the outside.

Going forward, a juvenile offender in San Francisco must be referred to as a “young person with justice system involvement,” or a “young person impacted by the juvenile justice system.” Drug addicts, according to the resolution, are “a people with a history of substance use.”

The 10 supervisors who voted in favor of the resolution argue that because 1 in 5 Californians has a criminal record, “words like ‘prisoner,’ ‘convict,’ “inmate” or ‘felon’ ‘only serve to obstruct and separate people from society and make the institutionalization of racism and supremacy appear normal.” Being labeled as a convicted felon, they say, brands for life, the formerly state or federal housed separator of human limbs and/or vital organs.

The resolution states that by assigning negative labels, such as convicted felon, the returning residents are wearing a scarlet letter they can never leave behind.

After reading the article about this relabeling effort in the San Francisco Chronicle, I thought…hmmm…perhaps I should come up with a few new terms of my own to replace some of the current ones that could offend and . Such as…

Kidnapper – person who relieves family of added burden of extra mouth to feed.

Arsonist – person who assists firefighters with real-life on the job training.

Burglar – second shift housecleaner responsible for the first step of rotating valuables in safes and jewelry boxes.

Embezzler – person skilled in reverse accounting.

Prostitute – stress relief expert.

Pimp – employer of stress relief experts.

Murderer – population control expert.

Okay, this silliness could on and on and on. But the real solution to removing the scarlet letter and stain on a convicted felon’s record is to provide attainable but stringent goals for them to achieve. And once those goals are met they’re able to first regain/earn their lost rights, and then move toward clearing their record after, say, a decade or so of a stellar lifestyle. Of course, I’m not speaking of career criminals and violent offenders. Instead, I’m addressing first-time, nonviolent offenders, for example.

Until this is done, a real second chance, the scarlet letter will always remain attached. They’ll always feel unclean and not worthy of living a decent life. They’ll forever be forced to work menial jobs because most employers won’t hire a former prisoner, and those who do rarely trust them.

Convicted felons are are barred from obtaining employment and/or licensing in certain fields in certain states, such as health care, child care, security, public office, cosmetology, barbering, boxing, wrestling, EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), and acupuncture, to name a few. Also, many felons are prohibiting from working as volunteers in places where the public, especially children, are involved, even if their crimes had nothing to do with kids or stealing (drug possession, for example).

Public housing is often denied to convicted felons. Therefore, without a deceit home and no job or educational opportunities available, the temptation to reoffend is great. When the stomach growls and cold rain is pouring down on their heads, well, survival instinct kicks in and they go for what they know.

But changing the names assigned to convicted felons does absolutely nothing to alter the stigma. Call ’em what you want, but in the minds of the public, whether or not he’s called a convicted felon or a formerly incarcerated person, until real change is made, the revolving doors on our prisons and jails will forever be spinning.


I know, I never offer opinion, opting to write only about fact. This has been my rule. But today I made an exception. Therefore, I am now a one-time official evader of fact-based information who delivered a personal view based on information that does not align with a certain set of beliefs.

 

A dead woman crying: murder in the rain

I’ve seen more than anyone’s fair share of murder victims. More than I’d care to count, actually. I’ve also seen a variety of methods and instruments used by killers to achieve their goal(s)—gunshots, edged weapons, etc.

Some victims were poisoned; others were killed by hanging, strangulation, fire, torture, beatings, blunt instrument bludgeoning and, well, you name the manner and instruments used to kill and I’ve probably seen the end result. Unfortunately, it’s not long before dead bodies—the victims of senseless violence—quickly begin to stack up in the old memory bank.

Sure, cops get used to seeing carnage. They have to in order to survive the job. Still, there are cases that cling to the outer fringes of the mind, remaining fresh in our thoughts for many years. These, the often thought of, aren’t necessarily the most gruesome or the most difficult to solve. Not at all. In fact, what sticks with one officer may not affect another in the same way.

A few homicides occasionally creep back onto the “replay” reel inside my brain—the killing of children, the crazy guy who hacked his sister-in-law with an ax because she wouldn’t give him money for a pack of cigarettes, the kid found hanging from an extension cord in an abandoned factory, and, of course, the case I’m about to describe to you. It came to mind recently because of rains we’ve received lately here in Delaware.

The storms came at night, bringing brilliant displays of zig-zagging lightning followed by earth- and window-rattling thunder. Windblown raindrops the size of chickpeas pounded against our windows and rooftop. This is how it was the night I saw the dead woman crying, and it was the morning after when I had the unpleasant task of doing the “death knock.”

So slip on a pair of boots and a raincoat and join me on a brief journey into my memory. And yes, sometimes tales do begin with the weather…

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It was a brutal storm that night, one that delivered a hard-driving and bitterly cold winter rain. Accompanying winds tugged hard against my long, school-bus-yellow rain coat, sending its tails fluttering and flapping, exposing my brown over tan deputy sheriff uniform. It—the uniform—was not waterproof. Not even close.

The ground at the crime scene was extremely muddy, and with each step my once shiny brown shoes collected gobs of thick, wet soil until it felt as if bricks were tied to the bottoms of my feet.

These were the deplorable conditions in which I met the crying dead woman.

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Raindrops the size of gumdrops pelted her smooth and round caramel-colored face. They gathered and pooled at the corners of her eyes, eventually spilling out across her cheeks like tiny rivers following the contours of her flesh until they poured from her in miniature waterfalls.

It was one on one—me and the victim.

Passenger door open.

She’s lying there,

Bottom half in, top half out.

Her face aimed at the sky.

Rain falling into her open mouth.

Cheap dollar-store tennis shoes and half-socks, the socks her youngest daughter—the seven-year-old—called baby socks.

Her wet hair, mingled with mud, sticks, and windswept leaves.

Power lines crackled and buzzed overhead.

The yellow Magnate beam, a spotlight on her dim gray eyes.

No life.

No recollections.

No dreams.

Not a flicker.

Tire tracks.

Different pattern than the rubber on her Chrysler.

Driver’s window down.

Three rounds—one to the head and two to the torso.

Five empty casings.

Pistol.

Not a revolver.

Half-empty wine bottle.

Cheap convenience store label.

Not her brand according to the ladies in her church group. “Oh we don’t drink. Neither did she. Except on special occasions. Yep, it must have been something or somebody really special for her to drink that stuff.”

“Was there a somebody special?”

Eyes cast downward.

Blushes and eyelash flutterings all around. “Well … she did stay after Wednesday night preaching a few times. But they were meetings strictly about church business. After all, he is the Reverend. A good man.”

More blushing.

A stammer or two.

A good man.

The rain comes harder.

Droplets hammer her open eyes.

She doesn’t blink.

A dead woman crying.

Footprints.

Two sets.

One walking.

Casually, perhaps.

The other, long strides.

Running away, possibly.

Zigzagging to the woods.

Bullet lodged in base of a spruce pine.

One round left to find.

Water inside my collar, down my back.

Shivering.

Cloth snagged on jagged tree branch.

Plaid shirt material.

Blood?

Still visible in the rain?

The missing fifth round?

Maglite never fails, even in torrential rain.

Light finds a shoe in the underbrush.

It’s attached to the foot of an adult male.

Dead.

Bullet in back.

The fifth round.

Coming together nicely.

Church meetings.

Reverend.

Two lovers.

Special wine for special occasion…

A good man.

Sure he is.

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Morning sunshine.

Tiny face peering from window.

Waiting for Mama?

A lump in my throat.

Scent of frying bacon in the air.

I raise my knuckles to the door.

It’s the worst job in the world,

To deliver…

The “Death Knock.”

Door swings open.

Worried husband.

“No, she didn’t come home after church. Called friends and family. Nobody knows.”

Husband, devastated.

Questions unanswered.

Children cry.

“Yes, I have ideas. 

And I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Tire tracks match.

Pistol found.

Preacher hangs head in shame.

Special occasion.

To profess love.

But…

Another man.

Another lover.

Angry.

Jealous.

Handcuffs.

Click.

Click.

Murder.

No bond.

Prison.

Today, our rains have stopped.

But I’m thinking of the crying dead woman and her kids, her loving husband and, of course, baby socks.

Special occasion?

Good man?

Yeah, right.

 

During the course of their days at work, officers hear many excuses, threats and, well, dumb statements. Here are a few I’ve heard over the years.


Me – “Sir, do you know how fast you were driving?”

Driver – “I do, but I’m not telling you that I was going 87 when I passed where you were sitting because you’ll give me a ticket.”


Drug dealer – “You can’t arrest me because you didn’t tell me you were an undercover cop before I sold you the crack.”


Murder suspect – “She was already dead when I killed her.”


Murder suspect – “Yeah, I was in the house. But I didn’t kill that guy in the bedroom. Oh wait, you didn’t mention a dead body, did you?”


Man arrested for fighting – “Take off these cuffs and I’ll whip your a**,” he said to me as I drove him to the hospital for the treatment of injuries he received while resisting arrest.


Man found sitting in the middle of a busy highway – “I’m from Mars. Your laws don’t apply to me. Go away.”


Man who resisted arrest – “You’re not man enough to … Ow! Ouch! I give up!


Burglary suspect – “I must’ve been sleepwalking, officer. I went to bed around ten and woke up inside this strange house just as I heard someone yell, ‘Police!.’ Honest, I don’t know where I got these gloves and tools.”


Robbery suspect – “I ain’t scared of that dog … Ahhhhh!!!! Make him stop biting me! Ahhhhhhh!!!!!”


Tough guy – “I. Will. Knock. You. Out. Take one more step and—”

My grandfather drove an ice truck back in the day. In fact, I still have the tongs he used to muscle around massive 300-pound blocks of the frozen stuff. In his day, ice was made using a salt-brine process inside an “ice plant.”

The ice-making room was a vast expanse that contained a huge in-floor tank of the briny liquid in which large metal cans containing fresh water were submerged. Each tank was fitted with a wooden lid with a small opening where a pencil-size rubber air tube was inserted.

As the water began to cool, air was blown into the water-filled can. Doing so kept the water in motion, a process that allowed most of the air bubbles to rise and escape. This is what made sparkling, clear ice. Ice containing air bubbles is cloudy and unappealing. And, of course, not solid through and through.

Each metal can was fashioned with inverted creases that, when the ice block was completely frozen, those indentions formed the “score lines” that divided the ice into specific sizes. After approximately three days, the ice was ready to “pull.”

Using overhead hoists, workers attached chains to the metal cans and “pulled” them one by one from the brine tank. Then they’d dump the frozen block from the can and using their tongs, manhandled the four-feet by two-feet by one-foot hunks of frozen water into a freezer for storage until delivery time.

Many ice plant workers had their favorite tongs and kept them as their own, much like medical examiners, carpenters, electricians, and writers have their favorite work implements.

My grandfather’s ice tongs

The ice man, the person who carried ice to neighborhood homes, loaded enough 300-pound blocks to satisfy the needs of his customers. Typically, in those days, homeowners placed a card in the window indicating how many pounds of ice they wanted to get them through until the next delivery day. The iceman would then use an ice pick to chop off the desired amount (remember the 25, 50, 75, or 100-pound blocks I mentioned above).

Once the ice man whacked off a chunk of the correct size, using tongs to grasp the cold and slippery block, he’d carry the ice to the house where he’d place it inside the icebox. Most homes in those days, especially the homes of the middle to lower income families, did not have electric refrigerators. Instead, food was kept cool inside an icebox.

The ice man was a favorite of neighborhood children who’d often beg him for a sliver or small chunk of ice. This, in that day, was a treat on hot summer days.

Today, ice is made differently, of course, and wooden iceboxes are a thing of the past, as are the mule-pulled ice wagon and/or ice trucks. However, we still depend heavily on ice to cool our drinks on summer days. It’s a must for ice skaters and dancers. Polar bears and penguins adore it. Skiers enjoy the frozen wet stuff, and plenty of people in New England earn a nice living pushing it from roadways and sidewalks.

So, for the life of me, I just can’t understand why so many people want to get rid of it. Hardly a day goes by, if ever, without seeing a headline somewhere about some politician who wants to abolish ice.

I just don’t get it, because I like my drinks cold and I like the way those little hunks of frozen water bring back fond memories of spending time with my grandfather in the ice house.

We. Need. Ice.

My grandfather’s ice pick. Printed on its sides are the company name and a telephone number to call for 24-hour emergency ice service

 

  1. Being a writer is like being a politician. You get to make up @#$! and your fans love it.
  2. Being a writer is like being a plumber. Somewhere around the middle of the job you find yourself elbow deep in @#$!
  3. Writers are like prostitutes. They do it for money but the income arrives in small amounts at random times.
  4. Agents are like pimps without the purple suede leisure suits and feathers in their hats. Oh, wait …
  5. A good book is like a side effect of “the little blue pill.” It keeps you up all night.
  6. Sitting at a keyboard while clacking away at random characters is something an illiterate chimp can do. Much of today’s media is proof that chimps are better at it.

    Wandering Eyes

  7. Spellcheck is great, except when it isn’t.
  8. A great book is a like a fine statue. Their creators started with an idea and then carved away everything that didn’t help tell the story.
  9. Writers are like cops. They like coffee and whiskey and telling tall tales … and whiskey.
  10. A bad story is like a snow skier. They’re both start at out on a slow upward climb toward the summit. Then it’s all downhill from there until they reach the end, which is totally uneventful.
  11. The words of a good book remain forever. The words of a politician remain only until the next big donation comes along.
  12. If real-life bad guys would simply take the time to read a mystery book they’d know the good guys always win in the end.
  13. Good books are like the bed in a by-the-hour motel. Lots of action between the covers.
  14. Great ideas make great books, except when they don’t.
  15. Social media can be like a disease. No punch line. It truly can be like a disease.
  16. The bravest men and women in the world today are currently sitting at home, ranting and raving away on Facebook, telling people just how brave they are. Then they get up and go to their day jobs, greeting customers at Weirdmart, or selling fries at Booger Joe’s Burger Emporium.
  17. Lone literary agents at writers conferences are like the innocent fawns that tiptoe through the forest—they both know the attack could come at moment. This is why experienced agents travel in packs.
  18. A firefighter and a police officer enter a bar at a mystery writers conference. They’ll know better next time.

Finally …

Two drunks and a writer enter a bar during a writers conference. Three drunks come out.

*Have you got a zinger you’d like to share? If so, please do. (no foul language, racism, cop-bashing, politics, etc., please.).

Police Officers are the brave men and women who’s duty is to protect us and to round up the evil folks who commit dastardly crimes against society. They’re enforcers of the law. They run into danger, leaping mud puddles and discarded fast food wrappers along the way. They dodge kids on tricycles and those licking popsicles.

Officers often work during the nighttime among feeding feral animals and smelly winos. Their nerve are cords of steel and their hearts and minds are filled to the brim with compassion.

They train and train and they train, and they’re given all the tools needed to fulfill their duties with the utmost expertise.

Unfortunately, though, cops are human and we all know that humans subject to making mistakes. Cops are no exception. Here, see for yourselves.

Oops!

Serving search warrants and entering homes and businesses to search for killers, robbers, and thieves is risky to say the least.

Before “going in,” though, there’s often a ton of necessary preparation—surveillance, paperwork, briefings, etc, not to mention the hours of training and practice that goes hand-in-hand with being a finely-honed, well-oiled member of police department’s special team. After all, the goal is to make a swift and safe entry, collect evidence, and to bring out the bad guys with no one getting hurt, including the crooks.

But, after all those grueling hours of aforementioned training, often in harsh conditions, repeating the same tactics over and over again until they come as naturally as taking a breath, well, things still happen while executing warrants. Such as …

Knock on Wood

We’ve all seen the TV cops, the officers knocking and announcing their presence and purpose. Bam! Bam! Bam! “Police! Search warrant!” Then the door-kicking starts (battering ram, actually) until the jambs and locks give way. Officers are then able to storm the house like ants on a dropped lollipop.

That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? But then there’s this …

Officers kick and kick and kick, and pound and pound and pound, trying to get inside a crack house. But the door won’t budge. They’re frantic that evidence is being destroyed with each passing second, so one cop decides to break a window when he suddenly hears a voice calling out from inside the home. “Use the door knob, dumbass. It’s unlocked.”


Lookin’ Through the Window

It’s mid July and a baby is trapped inside a locked car. The motor’s running and the mother is hysterical. She accidentally hit the lock on the driver’s door as she was getting out. “Please hurry! My baby’s so scared, and it’s really hot inside. Hurry!”

The responding officer peeks through the glass of the driver’s side window and sees that all four doors are securely locked, so he uses a Slim Jim to try and pop open the latches. But it just doesn’t seem to work this time and he curses those “newfangled” electric locks and all the wiring that becomes tangled around his cardoor-unlocking device. Precious minutes tick by as the temperature climbs past 90. The baby seems to be okay and the ambulance and fire crews are on the way. Another five minutes of jabbing the metal tool inside the door panel passes before a fire truck finally pulls up. Whew! They’ll have the right equipment to get the kid out safely.

The fire captain hops out of the truck and walks up to the car. He steps around to the passenger door and calmly reaches inside through the OPEN window. Then he gently scoops up the cooing baby and hands her to her sobbing mother.


The Old “Mattress as a Shield” Trick: Please Help Me I’m Falling

The prison Emergency Response Team has been called to extricate a suicidal inmate from his cell. The prisoner is extremely violent and he’s well known for hurting staff members. He’s also built like a bulldozer and is as strong as twenty men.

The team assembles at the cell door waiting for the command to go in. The lead officer, typically the largest of the group, is in charge of a cot-size prison mattress. His assignment is to hold the mattress in front of his body, vertically. The idea is to rush the guy and pin him to the rear cell wall with the padded shield. Doing so allows the team to easily restrain the guy. No problem. They’ve used the tactic several times before with great success. Never had an injury, either. When everyone is ready, someone begins the countdown. One. Two. Three. Go!

The door opens and the 6’4, 250 pound ox of a man, the officer who’s wielding the mattress makes his move. The only job for which he’s responsible, to be a human battering ram. However, he steps on the bottom corner of the mattress and tumbles inside the cell. The rest of the team fall on top of him while the inmate looks on. He slowly begins to laugh and then starts to chuckle uncontrollably as the team scrambles to get to their feet. The prisoner, of course, is laughing so hard he has tears streaming down his cheeks.


Slim Jim

Before the introduction of electronic locks, it was a simple matter of slipping a Slim Jim between the window glass and rubber weather strip, feel around until the tool hit the “lock rod,” and wiggle it around a tiny bit until the lock knob popped up.

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So presto, bingo, all was well and the happy citizen went about their daily routine.

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Slim Jim

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Notches used for “hooking” the lock rod and other mechanisms

After electronic locks replaced the simple, manual ones, things changed. No longer was unlocking a car door an easy task. In fact, it was quite the opposite and many officers, especially the old-timers, found themselves jabbing Slim Jims inside car doors while pushing and pulling and pumping the darn things in and up an down motion that brings to mind a frazzled grandma in the kitchen using a hand-mashing implement to frantically and wildly smash the heck out of a pot full of potatoes.

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Grandma pounded out a week’s worth of frustrations using one of these things while preparing Sunday lunch.

Sometimes during a particularly violent Slim-Jimming session, the device became entangled in the nests of wiring, rods, gadgets, and connections inside the door. When this occurred it sometimes was impossible to remove the “Jim” without damaging an entire network of electrical, well, car stuff.

Therefore, it was not all that unusual for an officer to leave the device protruding from the door of a high-end vehicle while the owner called a professional for help. Then off they’d drive (the car owner), heading to the dealership with long, flat piece of metal flapping in the breeze.