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Working the graveyard shift on weekend nights comes with a special worry … closing time of local bars. Before streets and highways become obstacle courses for pin-balling drunk drivers, comes last calls and the traditional bar fights. And, with those last calls for alcohol and final, desperate pitches for late night encounters, some inebriated patrons find themselves involved in physical altercations.

Sometimes barroom brawls are nothing more than shouting and shoving matches; however, there are times when the action involves weapons and bloodshed and even murder.

Club brawls are a unique breed of fighting. They’re where typically everyday people who, with the irresistible goading of alcoholic beverages, are suddenly transformed from the meek and mild of fuzzy kittens to someone who believes they’re ten-feet tall and bulletproof. And why wouldn’t they feel so invincible? After all, they’ve spent several hours chugging drink concoctions with names such as Cobra’s Fang, Mind Eraser, Corpse Reviver, and Death in the Afternoon.

The transformation from quiet librarian or gentle mystery writer to a beast who eats rusty nails for breakfast”is a slow one. Their speech grows louder and their eyes wilder and wilder as time and drinks pass. Tongues grow thick and nerve grows bold.

Vision becomes blurry. Rooms spin and sometimes the transformers even see things that aren’t there.

Live bands and DJs add to the frenzy by playing music that turns even the tamest hearts into pulsating and throbbing, blood-pumping workhorses.

The combination of noise, music, alcohol, drugs, flashing and blinking and whirling lights, and people frantically dancing like a gathering of rabid Tasmanian devils, stimulates emotions and hormones to chart-topping levels far beyond the tolerance level of the average man or woman.

Bar fights are caused by, well, anything and everything, or nothing at all. When inside a drinking establishment, people don’t need a justifiable reason to punch another person. This, my friends, is an unwritten rule. People feel free to punch, bite, scratch, kick, or whatever, as long as they do so within the four walls of a club that serves “adult” beverages. At least that’s the belief of bar-goers who take offense to whatever they deem is the offense du jour.

Bo Bo Juice

Could be that they, the bar fighters, don’t like the way you belt out the chorus to Peter Framptom’s “Show Me The Way.” You know, instead of “I want you, to show me the way,” you’ve always, for your entire life, thought Frampton was singing, “Bo Bo Juice, show me the way.” Or they don’t like the way you left eye wanders toward their significant other while the other attempts to focus on the mole in the center of their forehead. Whatever.

(80s rocker Greg Kihn once told me that, for years, he thought Frampton was saying, “Bo Bo Juice, show me the way.” True story.).

Anyway, to get to the point of this tale, nightclub fights often involve multiple people and such was the case one particularly warm Friday night (early Saturday morning) at 2 a.m.

Fight in Progress!

My partner and I were wrapping up a drug deal, a buy-bust, in a pretty bad section of town when we heard the call come in over the radio.  “10-10 in progress. Billy Bad Ass’s Bar and Grill (name changed to protect the guilty). Weapons involved. Shots fired.”

Buy-Bust – a police sting-type operation where undercover officers purchase drugs from individuals and then arrest the dealers once they’ve handed over the drugs.

By the way, in our area 10-10 was a fight. In the neighboring locale 10-10 was code for “negative.” This is why agencies shy away from 10 codes.

Imagine the confusion if you were on the other end of a radio when you heard someone say, “10-10. 10-4?” Now, in plain speak, to his coworkers this officer stated, in 10-code, “There’s a fight in progress. Do you copy/yes, you understand my message, right?” However, you being an officer from an agency whose 10-code is entirely different, heard, “Negative/No. Yes.” Therefore, your hope for backup to respond would go unanswered.

I know, I’m rambling and I’m all over the place, but I see things in the telling of this event that could add tidbits to your fiction, such as the term “buy-bust, so I stop to emphasize and explain.

Okay, back to the fight. My partner and I were pretty close to the scene so we activated our emergency equipment (that’s cop speak for we turned on our blue lights and siren) and headed to the bar. When I turned the final corner and the bar came into view, I saw several small fights—two to four people here and there, and one large fight—at least thirty people in a big pile—and all were in full slug fest mode.

I pulled my unmarked car into the middle of the lot and gave a couple blasts of the siren. The piercing and unmistakable sound normally clears out a few people, especially those who are holding contraband, such as dope and illegal weapons. It also sends the probation and parole violators running like scared rabbits. In their wake are the people with outstanding warrants. Siren blasts are an easy and effective way to cull the herd.

We parked near the largest pile of fighters who looked like an army of ants, all squirming to get inside their hill at once. We tried to pull off the outside layer but didn’t have much luck because new people dove onto the pile every few seconds. So, we began to spray the entire pile with pepper spray. In fact, we let loose like we were spraying a large infestation of insects.

A nice side-to-side motion of the canisters worked well because the mound of people slowly began to dissipate. Lots of moaning and groaning, tears, and mucus. Remember, before you say our actions were overkill, there were only two of us and 30-40 of them. We had to even the odds.

When that group finally had enough we turned our attention to a smaller, but more dangerous fight that had erupted to our right, near the front door of the club. An older, biker-looking guy was waving a knife of sword-like proportion at two younger men.

My partner and I gave our cans of pepper spray a couple of good shakes to make sure all the good stuff hadn’t settled to the bottom, and headed toward biker dude.

We’d worked together for so long that our arrest techniques came naturally. I went for the knife hand (I’m still not sure how I always got stuck with this duty), and he went for the other. I quickly disarmed the guy and took control of the knife, but he was a little stronger than we’d bargained for. Actually, he was a lot stronger than we’d bargained for because, as they say, it was on! We had a real struggle on our hands. Getting cuffs on that clown was really tough.

Fortunately, like the finely-tuned arrest team that we were, we each went for our pepper spray. Unfortunately, the biker dude saw it coming and ducked. Yep, we sprayed each other squarely in the face. Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever been pepper-sprayed, but let me be the first to say it ain’t pretty.

Neither of us could see, so we just held on to our guy and slowly slid to the ground, maintaining our grip on biker-dude, and waited for backup to arrive. Of course our fellow officers gave us a really hard time. I don’t think I’ll ever live that one down.

By the way, the effects of pepper spray stop immediately if you dunk the affected body part in ice water. However, once the ice water is removed the burning starts all over again.

Lee Lofland

Help, my name is Lee. I’ve been pepper-sprayed. 

I think I’ll stick to writing. It’s much safer …

 

 

What a waist

Yesterday’s post about speed loaders inspired a question or two regarding the items carried on an officer’s duty belt. So …

Imagine strapping a bowling ball to your waist each day before heading out to work. Wouldn’t want to do it? No?

Well, the weight of a bowling ball is the equivalent to what police officers carry on their duty belts every single day of their lives. And they walk, sit, stand, and even run while toting all that poundage. Believe me, it’s not fun.

Here’s an example of what you could expect to find attached to an officer’s belt.

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Two magazines @ 15 rounds each, plus the magazine inserted into the pistol (another 15 rounds), and one in the chamber = 46 rounds. A full box/”brick” of bullets = 50 rounds.

By the way, officers ALWAYS carry a round loaded into the chamber. That business we see on TV where officers “rack” the slide before entering a dangerous situation…well, that’s made-for-television BS.

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Handcuff keys are generally carried on a key ring or in a pocket. However, in preparation of an unexpected emergency, it’s not unusual for officers to hide a spare key somewhere on their duty belt/gun belt. You know, in case the officer is working with a TV cop and the pair is kidnapped and handcuffed to one another. After all, if you’re assigned a television star as your partner, well, you can pretty much count on being abducted at some point in your fictional career. In real life, not so much.

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Of course, there are many other options, such as cellphones, flashlights, and batons of all kinds and sizes.

And then there’s the glue—THE most important attachment of all—that holds it all together … belt keepers. Without these small straps gravity would pull the gun belt downward around the officer’s ankles. Not cool, especially during a foot pursuit.

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Belt keepers loop around the duty belt and the belt worn to hold up the officer’s pants. With the keepers snapped into place the duty belt cannot fall to the ground, preventing those embarrassing thong-exposing moments.

And now you know the secret of where the phrase “thin blue line” originated. Shh …

 

You’ve had a long night answering call after call—he-saids, she-saids, chasing a Peeping Tom through back yards and alleys, a couple of drunks arguing over a near-empty bottle of Ripple, kids spray-painting Smiley Faces on stop signs, and the guy who insisted he was Jesus and attempted to prove it by damning you to hell a few dozen times after you refused to give him ten dollars.

Yep, a looonnnggg night and it was only half over when Jimmy Bob “Peanut” Lawson, Jr. decided to join forces with his good friend Jack Daniels to blacken both of his wife’s eyes.

Well, Earlene, the wife, wasn’t about to stand for that so she poked ‘ol Peanut in the gut a couple of times with a dull kitchen knife. Didn’t break the skin, mind you, but the act was just enough to send Peanut off the deep end. Oh, he was plenty mad about it, yellin’ and screamin’ and stompin’ his Doc Martens across the linoleum, kicking at Porkchop, the family’s three-legged dog. But Porkchop, having been to this freak show one too many times in the past, knew to stay ten or twelve dog-dish-lengths away from his master’s size twelves.

After about several minutes of plate, bowl, and pot-and-pan-throwing, one of the kids, a snot-nosed, freckle-faced boy of around ten or so, picked up the cordless and punched the speed dial button for 911.

So you show up, and Peanut, a Friday night regular, meets you in the driveway, huffing and puffing like an old coal-fired locomotive engine.

Now here’s where things could get a little dicey, so it’s best to run down the unwritten checklist you keep tucked away in your head. You know, size him up. Is he armed? Is he really going to attack? Or, is all that chest-thumping and Tarzan-yelling just a show for the neighbors? Well, you’d better find out in a hurry because he’s starting to spin like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character.

How can you tell if this guy means business, or not? Well, let’s have a quick peek at the telltale signs that most crooks offer that’ll help you evaluate the situation.

Since weapons and other items that are capable of puncturing your flesh are your first concern, here are some common indicators that Peanut is carrying a hidden gun or knife. For example:

1. It’s 97 degrees outside and Peanut is wearing his heavily-insulated, blood-stained orange hunting jacket. Yes, Einstein, he’s probably wearing it to hide a sawed-off shotgun, the one Daddy gave him for Christmas when he was three. The chew marks on the stock are proof the gun was a go-to favorite during teething (his mama says he was a late starter).

2. The tail of his flannel shirt is out, but one side is riding higher than the other. A great sign that he’s wearing a weapon on the “high side.”

3. Sometimes, wearing a shirt tail on the outside is a sign that he might be carrying a weapon. Unfortunately, it’s also a sign to crooks, which means they might recognize you as an undercover officer.

Now, for the signs that Peanut is about to attempt to stomp your butt into the mud, and this one is a real doozy …

1. For some unknown reason, many offenders/would-be attackers seem to feel the need to rip off their shirts prior to delivering the first blow. Therefore, when a drunk starts ripping cloth and zinging buttons across the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, well, that might be a good time to reach for the pepper spray because he has not-so-subtly announced his intentions. There’s plenty of time to grab the spray, by the way, because the shirt-ripping and cussing and hollering and posturing and yelling things about your mother takes quite a while to complete.

They sometimes decide to fight wearing nothing but …

I’ve even encountered a couple of losers who decided to fight me while wearing only their tighty-not-so-whities. Believe me, the sight is not one you can easily forget. And then there’s the uncomfortable situation of having to place your hands on a nearly naked person who’s almost always sweating profusely while smelling like like the south end of a northbound skunk.

Anyway, the shirt-ripping is usually accompanied by lots of top-of-the-lung screaming and yelling, especially nasty comments about your wife and mother. Sometimes I wonder if the latter is because theirs (mother and wife) are possibly one and the same.

Of course, if this is what you see when the shirt comes off, well, maybe it’s time re-think your career choice.

2. Another clue that Peanut is about “go for it” is when he starts glancing at a particular spot on your body, like your throat, stomach, or even a knee. Instantly, you should go on alert for a possible strike to that area. Peanut is announcing his intentions and he’s ready to pounce.

3. Peanut glances behind you, continually, or to a spot off to your right just out of your line of sight. Watch out, because his partner may be approaching for a rear ambush. And, his partner just might be Mrs. Peanut. Yes, even though her “loving husband” had just moments ago beat the ever-loving snot out of her she’ll often defend her man until the bitter end. Unfortunately, the end sometimes results in a funeral … hers.

These quick glances are also good indicators that Peanut has a hidden weapon nearby. For example, you’ve stopped Peanut for drunk driving and he’s constantly looking toward the glove compartment. Well, there’s a good chance that a weapon or other illegal items are concealed there.

The Lights Are On But Nobody’s Home

4. You arrive on scene and you approach Peanut, who is standing still, staring off into space—the “lights are on but nobody’s home” look. His jaw is clenched and he’s sweating profusely, even though you’re both standing in two feet of freshly-fallen New England snow (New England snow, to me, is the coldest snow on the planet). He doesn’t respond to you in any way, but you see the anger rising. Face is growing redder by the second. Veins poking out on his forehead. Eyes bulging. Yeah, you get the idea. Believe me, it is time to take a step back and start pulling every tool you’ve got on your duty belt because this guy’s getting ready to blow. Silence is definitely not golden in this case.

5. Peanut might be a “I’m not going to look at you” kind of personality. This is another indicator that an assault may be on the way. If he’s staring at place on the ground, refusing to listen and obey your verbal commands, then be prepared for an attack. At the very least, be prepared for a battle when the time comes to snap on the cuffs.

I guess a good rule of thumb is to always assume the worst and hope for the best, which includes delivering the bad guy to the county jail without a single scratch on either of you.

Angry prisoner

 

 

Saturday 2345 hours – It was not at all unusual for the sheriff to schedule his patrol deputies to work the graveyard shift alone, covering the entire county with our nearest backup—a state trooper or a police officer from a nearby city, or a deputy or two from the next county over—sometimes 30-45 minutes away, or more.

At first, the thought of covering such a vast amount of real estate was a bit daunting. But we did it without complaint. After all, to question the high sheriff, a man as rough and gruff as any typically stereotyped southern TV sheriff, was practically a death sentence. Or, at the very least, a guaranteed trip to the unemployment line.

The boss seemed to enjoy applying pressure, holding his employees held tightly beneath his thumb. Needless to say, at times conditions, were a bit stressful, to say the least.

So this particular Saturday night, after enjoying a nice, hot TV dinner (single dad with daughter away for the weekend), I did the usual routine of walking to my driveway where I took a seat behind the wheel of my milk-chocolate-brown patrol car. I checked the light bar and wig-wag headlights to be sure they were working properly, moved a pair of cheap sunglasses from the dashboard to the center console, and then used the radio to let dispatch know I was on duty.

10-41, the 10-code in our neck of the woods for “On-Duty”

A few minutes later I was deep in the county, making the rounds to the various businesses—hotels, restaurants, bars, convenience stores, nightclubs, etc.—to let the night shift employees and partiers see a police car cruising through the parking lots. Not that it was any real crime deterrent, but it made the lonely clerks feel better. Seeing another human let them know they weren’t alone in the world. Those of you who work the late-night shifts know the feeling.

I also drove through the lots of businesses that had closed hours earlier, shining my spotlight through storefront windows and into alleyways, checking doors, and calling in the license plates and VIN numbers of cars that shouldn’t be parked where they were (sometimes a quick check revealed a stolen car or one that was used while committing a crime).

0115 hours – A little over an hour into the shift and I’d already covered a lot of ground. Nothing major had occurred. I’d checked a vehicle I spotted a hundred yards down a dirt path—a couple of half-dressed teens who’d steamed up the windows in dear old dad’s station wagon—, stopped a car that  suddenly veered from one side of the road to the other (the guy, a sort of rough boy with a large scorpion tattoo on his neck, said he’d dropped a Twinkee onto the floorboard and was trying to retrieve it, causing him to jerk the steering wheel).

I was heading to the north side of the county to make my rounds there when dispatch called to report a disturbance at a south-side hotel next to the interstate. She said she’d heard yelling in the background and then what could’ve been gun shots. I was at least 20 minutes away.I made the trip in fifteen, driving like a bat out of hell with my foot jamming the accelerator to the floor.

On the way, my alternating headlights, the rotating overhead lights, and the strobes in the back window, all winked and blinked and flashed at once, but were totally out of sync with one another. To add to the confusing light show, Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog spewed from the car speakers. John Bonham’s syncopated drumming, already sort but not quite of out of time with Page’s lightning-fast guitar licks, added a Twilight-Zonish back-beat to a constantly revolving kaleidoscope that should have been quite distracting. I, however, paid it no mind. Tunnel vision is normally a cop’s nemesis. This time, however, it kept my focus on the roadway and not the ten ring circus that was going on in and outside of my patrol car.

As I approached the chain hotel’s parking lot I turned off my lights and the radio (Zeppelin had long since finished their time on the turntable and the Beatles were then in high gear). I keyed the mic and signed 10-23 (arrived at scene).

The lot was packed with cars of all types, but I saw no signs of a fight. I decided to drive around the hotel to hopefully get a feel for what was going on before speaking with the night manager (often, callers exaggerate situations).

When I rounded the first corner I quickly realized that this was no exaggeration. I needed backup, and plenty of it. There must have 200 people outside, with at least 75 engaged in a massive fight. There were another 15 or 20 going at it on the upper walkways.

I told the dispatcher to send everyone and everyone she could find. A second later I heard the dispatcher calling for troopers and any other available help from the nearest city. Shoot, they could’ve sent every cop on the payroll and that still wouldn’t have been enough to suit me. At that point, I’d have welcome a boy scout troop and a church choir as long as they didn’t mind possibly loosing a couple of teeth.

I even saw one woman in the midst of delivering a flurry of punches to the head of another woman. The recipient of the vicious pounding was overdressed for parking lot brawling, to say the least. I say this because each time she was struck, the pearl necklace she wore whirled around her neck like a cowboy’s lasso.

10-33, our 10-code for “Officer Down” or “Officer Needs Assistance”

Delivering the “Hot Sauce.”

I checked my arsenal of weapons. I had my Beretta 9mm, a PR-24 (side handle baton), a riot-size can of pepperspray, and a shotgun. I looked back to the crowd. Then back to my little 9mm and tiny PR-24. Both seemed to be shrinking in size as the seconds passed. The odds were not in my favor.

I sounded a blast from my siren, hoping the masses would realize that the police were on the scene and ready to start kicking butt and taking prisoners. Nothing. No reaction whatsoever. Time for plan B, to sit in my car and wait for the cavalry, meanwhile, hoping the crowd wouldn’t turn my car over on its roof with me inside.

But doing nothing was just not in my nature. Instead, and sort of foolishly, I got out of my car with my trusty side-handle baton in my left hand and the other on my still-holstered gun. Somebody, and I didn’t care who, was going to jail.

Luckily, the troops began to arrive just as I hitched up my pants and waded into the pile, spraying a mist of pepperspray as I went. The other officers entered the fracas at different points, and we began to separate the instigators from those who really didn’t want to fight, but were because everyone else was doing it. Still, this was an all out brawl, the kind where police defensive tactics are often abandoned in favor of the ever popular “do-watcha-gotta-do” tactics. In fact, I remember seeing one officer using a baseball bat to prevent a group of men from attacking him. Where he got the bat, I haven’t a clue.

Eventually, the group’s size diminished and we were able to gain control with very few bruises, scrapes, and torn uniforms. Each of us arrested as many people as we had handcuffs and other restraints, and we had them packed in police cars like sardines. I’d arrived there alone, but left leading a long caravan of assorted police cars from several jurisdictions.

Once each of the little darlin’s had been booked and tucked in for the night, I thanked everyone for their help and watched as they all drove away. It was nearly 0500 when I headed back to the county for a final pass of the night.

0520 hours – Dispatch called to report a fight at yet another south-side hotel. Yes, she’d said, there were weapons involved and shots had been fired. Ironically, ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man was playing on the radio at the time I received the call. I looked down at the spot where my badge used to be attached to my shirt. My shoes were scuffed and my pants had streaks of ground-in asphalt across the knees and along the side of one leg. The knuckles on my gun hand hurt and my lower lip was swollen. Sharply dressed, I was not.

ZZ Top Was My Backup. Yes, “That” ZZ Top

I switched on my emergency lights and siren and mashed the gas pedal to the floor. Then I turned up the volume on the radio and I and ZZ Top headed south like a bat out of hell.

“Clean shirt, new shoes, and I don’t know where I am goin’ to…”

Man, I loved that job.

But these days, well, I’m 10-42 … Off Duty

Have mercy
A haw, haw, haw, haw

 

1. Never underestimate suspects. The little ones are just as capable of inflicting enormous amounts of pain as their larger peers. In fact, the hardest I’ve ever been hit with a bare hand was by a woman who didn’t take too kindly to me arresting her extremely combative adult son. The young man, by the way, had just committed an armed robbery and I’d chased him on foot for several blocks. The chase ended inside dear old, sweet little (225 lb.) Mama’s house, a woman with a fist like steel and a punch like a jack hammer.

2. Crooks sometimes make really stupid comments So keep your ears open. Listen to your suspects and witnesses. After all, you just may hear a few comments like I did back in the day. Such as …

“Come on, man. I spent my last twenty bucks on that rock. At least let me smoke it before you take me to jail.”

“I didn’t rob that guy. The one I robbed had blonde hair.”

“He was already dead when I shot him. I think he had a heart attack or something when he saw my gun.”

“I was not driving that get-a-way car. The one I was driving when we robbed that store was a Mustang.”

“He couldn’t have recognized me. I was wearing a mask.”

3. Never engage in a foot pursuit when you have a perfectly healthy rookie riding shotgun.

Delivering the “Hot Sauce.”

4. When you and your partner are in the process of arresting a combative slimeball-scumbag, always know who’s spraying the “hot sauce.” It’s a real pain in the rear when the buttwipe ducks at the precise moment both of you squeeze the button. Ever try arresting a guy when neither you nor your partner can see anything? It’s not pretty. There’s nothing like watching two crying cops wrestle an innocent waitress in the middle of bar fight while the bad guy calmly walks away.

5. If you have to return gunfire more than 6 times, the bad guy can still see you. Move to better cover.

6. The raincoat in your trunk is meant for the rookie riding in your passenger seat. No need for both of you to stand in the downpour. Besides, someone has to man the radio and finish the coffee. Waste not, want not.

7. Flashlights are dual-purpose tools. The handle is great for ending confrontations. When the delivery is just right, at the precise moment the battery-filled tube connects with a forehead, it sounds kind of like an aluminum baseball bat hitting a softball. The other end is perfect for helping you see (in the dark) the crook’s eyes spinning like windmills after the little “love tap.”

8. Never rush into a fight-in-progress. Instead, wait a few seconds. Let the two goons wear themselves out. Then, like a lion after its prey, you can grab the one who’s the most tired and perhaps a bit wounded, while the rookie gets the still-fighting and extremely angry and massively-strong gorilla.

9. Never leave your patrol car, even for a second, with the keys in it. There’s nothing worse than chasing a bad guy on foot, wrestling with him for ten minutes, then marching the handcuffed thug back to the empty spot where you just know you left your car. I promise you’ll hear howls of laughter from the bad guy, who, by the way, will remind you of “the day you lost your police car” for the rest of your career. He’ll shout it from the curbside, the jail cell, from his prison window, and from his mother’s front porch.

10. Be sure you never, ever write a check with your mouth that your rear end can’t cash. Nothing worse than talking a big game only to find yourself sitting on the pavement looking up at a laughing bad guy who’s now holding your only pair of handcuffs.

A bruised ego hurts far more than a black eye.