Walking in Hollywood
Sometimes when you’re right, you’re wrong. And sometimes when you’re wrong, you’re right. How can this be? Well, life can be quite complex with the addition of just a few variables to the basic level of experience that we are generally on. And depending on your experience, you may or may not be applying the appropriate level of complexity to your thinking as you try to understand an issue. When people want to render a judgement about something, their perception often uses a simple frame of reference in order to make the most severe judgement.
Lately this is happening with the entire profession of police work. Conversation about policing has gone from “defund”, which I take to mean restructure, to “abolish”, which can only mean abolish, and frankly, is absurd. I have asked many individuals what they would do, how one could manage in a world where law enforcement was abolished. Not only have I yet to receive an answer, I have yet to receive an attempt at an answer. I can only assume that those who suggest such an absurd thing only mean to make emotional utterances, and not useful, reasonable recommendations.
Often, in conversation with those making these emotional bloviations, I have attempted to give examples of how numerically, positive examples vastly outnumber the negative ones that they are aware of. Obviously, this doesn’t work. The issue lives within the emotional realm. It can’t be reasoned with. This style of thinking is like an infinite well of irrational ink which is spilt and spreads beyond the horizon of rational observation. It is a mob crying “witch” with a stake already planted, and torches at the ready to torture their target.
So, this time, I will give the crowd a witch. Let’s give them the other side of police conduct so they can know how, sometimes you’re right when you’re wrong, and sometimes you’re wrong when you’re right. It is not as simple as the simple seem to think it is.
One night in Hollywood Division I had to work with an officer that I really didn’t like. This guy was the cliche’d stereotype of what everyone hates about police. Here is a sample of what I remember about this guy. For starters, this dude could be seen with copies of “Soldier of Fortune” magazine. I don’t know if this magazine still exists, but I found it ridiculous in the 90s. There are far more of these cosplay types running around today, and it was more conspicuous a couple of decades ago. He wore a combat boot with his uniform, again, before this was commonplace among officers. Most still wore oxfords with modified soles to make them more appropriate for the activity of the job. He was a chain smoker, and I mean an unbroken chain. He would light his next cigarette with the unfinished one he was smoking. The smoke never stopped. On the particular night that I worked with this clown, it was a chilly night in Southern California. It may have been in the low 50’s or high 40’s, but it was the type of night where we would actually close the windows on the patrol car while driving. Generally this was not the case.
So, riding with this chain smoking, Soldier of Fortune wanna-be basically required that the windows remain open because the cruiser would fill with smoke. I actually remember a piece of cigarette ash once fly across and land on my sleeve, which made me furious. I dry cleaned each uniform after wearing it, and I thoroughly hated cigarette ashes. But, that wasn’t the worst of it. The way this particular officer drove was unlike anything I have ever seen anywhere. Most people drive with their foot on the gas, and place the same foot on the brake to slow and/or stop. This officer drove with one foot on the gas, and his other foot on the brake. He didn’t alternate, but rather applied them both constantly.
When brakes overheat they begin to burn. This metal on metal burning makes a thick, acrid smoke that can’t be avoided or ignored. So, riding with the way this jackass drove would fill the car with this horrible smoke if the widows were open, trying to get away from the constant cigarette burning when the windows were closed. And to top that off, he was nervous, twitchy, and always seemed like he was wanting to get into a fight. You kind of just wanted to punch him in the face to make him feel better.
So, on this particular evening, winding around one of the back streets of Hollywood where some of the old pay by the hour hotels are, we saw two men smoking crack in a dark corner. He pointed them out, and stopped the car about half a block back, and we walked up to the men smoking the crack. Now, if you’re not familiar, and I certainly hope you’re not, crack is commonly smoked on the street in little glass pipes about the size of a cigarette. One of the names for the pipe is “the glass dick.” And the little rock of cocaine burns very brightly. It can be seen from quite a distance. So, as we quietly walked up to these two men, I kept waiting for them to notice us. We were directly in front of them the entire distance. We probably walked about 60 or 70 feet in a straight line, right into their faces. Never once during our approach did they notice us. They were fully engrossed in “hitting the glass dick.”
Soon we were standing in front of them, less than an arms length from them. We could have reached out and touched them, and vice versa. My partner that night then called their attention to us. His greeting was the following.
As we stood there watching them beyond the glow of their burning rock, my partner that night pulled his sidearm and thrust it into the face of one of the men. Now, before he had his gun pointed, in the split second that I saw his move, I pulled my sidearm and did the same.
Now, if you know the slightest thing about how, when, and why an officer may pull his weapon, you may sense that this is not one of those times. You might think this is a violation of law, and of civil rights…and you would be right. In a split second I drew my weapon because my partner drew his. That’s training, and for good reason. Then in a split second, I determined that there was no threat, and Soldier of Fortune wanna be was playing tough guy. We were breaking the law, and in that split second I knew it. So, what now? What would you do? Here is what I did.
While we had our guns out, my partner that night did the talking. With our guns out, and words coming out of his mouth, the crack smokers were finally aware of our presence. There was a brief exchange about what they were doing, which was obvious, and then my partner told them that he did not intend to arrest them. He didn’t want to, and it is a good thing for us that he didn’t. He knew that, of course. He told them to drop the pipe and whatever rocks they had, and crush them on the ground. They did this gladly because they knew how this was going. This was destruction of evidence which meant they were not getting arrested. The only words I remember the officer saying that night are, “if you’re going to do this shit, don’t come to Hollywood to do it.” At that point he told them to leave, and which direction to take. He told them to go the opposite direction from our cruiser.
They started walking, and after they had gone a few feet, that is when my weapon went back in the holster. Then we walked back to the cruiser. I left feeling like we had just gotten away with a crime…and technically we had. There were more policy violations than I care to recall, and most importantly a violation of the Civil Rights code which is something no officer wants to get caught doing. That is serious trouble for officers because it is serious trouble for departments and the cities that those departments are in.
Now, I tell you this because critics of police lately are offering simplistic condemnations like, they’re all guilty…etc. Here’s the thing. Even as a stickler for following the law, if I were still on the job tonight, and in the exact same position that I was in that night walking in Hollywood, I would do exactly the same thing. In the instant that your partner draws, you must assume that there is good tactical reason to draw. You are a fool if you don’t. If there is good reason to draw, and you take a beat to figure out if this is a threat, your answer may come as a bullet to your brain, or someone else’s. There is not time to evaluate whether to draw or not…as the second officer. Correction of that tactical transgression can only come after the entire situation is put away. You also can’t stop in the middle and say, ‘hey, this is a violation of the Civil Rights code…’. Your response then may be an escalation of the danger rather than a return to appropriate conduct. It is one thing to not enter into bad conduct, and bad tactics. That is advisable. Stay within the law. But once an officer has crossed the line, getting out of the conduct by those with him or near him is not as easy as it seems. It has to be done carefully, and often that means slowly.
I am bothered by the fact that my partner’s conduct drew me into a situation that was way outside of anything I would have ever done myself. It bothers me deeply. At the same time, I am proud of the fact that I functioned the way that I did. I would have been a jackass not to react as I did. In an instant, the situation called for it, and I did the right thing. And it was wrong. Both happen to be true.