As many of you know, I field an awful lot of questions from writers—“What kind of gun does a detective carry?” “What are all those little thingy’s on a cop’s gun belt?” “Do police officers have to take off their gun belts when they use the restroom?” And the ever popular, “Have you ever shot anyone?” But, one of the more consistently asked questions is, “How do I approach a police officer to ask him questions about my work-in-progress?”
Most police officers are actually quite willing to help you out, if you just ask. That’s the key to this whole problem. You’ve got to ask. I promise, the officer will not bite. Well, maybe you shouldn’t try this during the noon buffet at the local Chinese restaurant…but under normal circumstances you’ll be fine. Don’t be shy! And please do use common sense. For example, these are times when you wouldn’t want to approach an officer.
1. While the officer is involved in a shootout with bad guys.
2. When the officer is on the ground wrestling with a 300 lb. suspect who prefers to remain out of jail.
3. On the side of the highway while she’s conducting a traffic stop on a stolen car.
4. At a major intersection while the officer is directing rush hour traffic.
5. While he/she is in the act of breaking up a huge bar fight.
6. While they’re advising someone of Miranda. This would be the perfect time for you to “remain silent.”
7. Public restroom stalls. NO!
8. Any meal time. Officers never know when they’ll have to hop up and rush to save a life. Therefore, their meal times are often precious moments.
Anyway, here’s a great example of how easy it is to have an officer answer your questions. I used to travel a lot, especially between our former home in Georgia and our other house near Mayberry (Hey, Barney!). The drive between the two took approximately six hours, which translates into just over a tank of gas (this was pre-hybrid days). So, during one of my fuel stops I happened to park beside a patrol car. The driver, a sheriff’s lieutenant—I immediately knew he was lieutenant by the gold bars pinned to his collar—, was cleaning the windows and pumping gas into his blue-and-white marked car.
By the way, before heading out to your meet-n-greet with an officer, it’s a good idea to learn the various collar insignias. Officers appreciate being addressed by their rank, especially the officers wearing all that fancy hardware on their collars—gold bars, stripes, stars, and eagles.
The markings on this lieutenant’s patrol vehicle, “Aggressive Criminal Enforcement,” caught my eye since it’s not something you normally see on a police car. In fact, others had noticed it as well. Customers were casually walking past the vehicle, chatting among themselves. I heard one lady say to her companion, “I wonder what that means?” A man walked by, turning his head so hard to the right he looked like an owl that had just spied dinner. Two women walked up and pretended to talk about a business across the street so they could get a better look at the police car. As they walked away one said to the other, “I wish I knew what he did.”
Well, at that point I, too, was wishing I knew the meaning of those three words. So take a guess at what I did? Yep, I went completely crazy and did the unthinkable. I walked over and before I could stop myself, I heard these words fall out of my mouth, “What exactly is Aggressive Criminal Apprehension?” There. I’d done it. I’d gone where no writer dares to go. I asked a cop a question. Right there. Right out in the open where the whole world could see. And an amazing thing happened.
Without blinking an eye, that well-armed, muscular police officer turned to face me. Our eyes locked. A bead of sweat trickled down my back. He took a deep breath. So did I. And then it happened… He answered my question. And he did it with a smile on his face. You see, Lieutenant S. Graham of the Calhoun County S.C. Sheriff’s Office is extremely proud of the work he does.
In just a matter of minutes, I learned that Lt. Graham is actually a detective with the sheriff’s office, but he also serves on the Aggressive Criminal Enforcement Team, a team of deputies that was formed in 2005 to combat drug crimes, and to work in areas of Calhoun County that need “extra attention.”
Calhoun County deputy and evidence seized during drug interdiction operation.
For example, you all know that interstate highways are used to transport narcotics. Calhoun’s A.C.E. unit patrols the interstate looking for the indicators of drug trafficking (I can’t tell you what those indicators are…for a cop’s eyes and ears only…or a future blog post :). I’ve worked drug interdiction in the past and the time spent working the highways really pays off. Believe it or not, the simple question, “May I search your car?” yields tons of dope arrests each year. Why people say yes to that question, knowing they have a dozen kilos of coke in the trunk, amazes me.
Each member of the A.C.E. team receives specialized training in the detection of narcotics and the workings of narcotics cases.
A unit such as Calhoun’s A.C.E. is extremely beneficial to a department. I once headed up what we called “Street Crimes Unit,” which functioned basically the same as Lt. Graham’s team. Not only was the unit effective against drug crimes, it allowed patrol officers to devote the majority of their time to answering calls and, well, patrolling.
Anyway, after the lieutenant and I finished chatting, I asked if he’d pose for a photo for my collection. Afterward, we shook hands and promised to stay in touch, and I headed back to my car (the gas pump had long ago clicked off). But, by this time a small crowd had gathered to see what was going on, and as I walked away they moved toward Lt. Graham.
Just as I was was sliding into my driver’s seat I heard a woman ask, “What’s Aggressive Criminal Apprehension?” I saw Lt. Graham turn to face her. The two locked eyes. And that same big smile split the lieutenant’s face as he started the story all over again, this time to a half-dozen people.
So, I have this response to one of the most-popular writer-questions of all time… Just ask and they will answer.
*My thanks to Lt. S. Graham for answering my questions. It was 100 degrees in South Carolina that day. And it was even hotter standing on the asphalt. Also, thanks to Calhoun County Sheriff Thomas Summers and his dedicated deputies. The residents of Calhoun County are in good hands.