Saturday, September 15, 2007

Then the World Turns Blue

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is Officer Mike Tarter tending to his face after having been struck during a knockdown fight with a motorist whom he’d arrested in August of 1970. Tarter made a radio call for help, but by the time responding units arrived, he had overcome the reprobate, then cuffed and stuffed him into his police car.

There is a phenomenon in police work, which goes beyond human nature, it goes beyond loyalty; I call it, “then the world turns blue.”

It works like this; an officer is going about their business when things get out of control. It might be a violent physical attack on the officer who makes the radio call that they are extremely reluctant to transmit. In New York City it’s a Signal 13. In Albuquerque, the ten-code number designation is 10-83, Officer Needs Help! The ten-code designation prior to it is 10-82, Officer Needs Assistance!

The reason officers are so reluctant to call an 83 is that if they do, every officer who hears the call, will drop whatever they are doing, except in the presence of a felon, and go. They don’t just drive over to the location; they materialize as if transported in Star Trek. To the officer who needed help, it often seems like the longest period of time in their life. Often, it’s a matter of minutes, but usually within seconds, the sound of the first siren can be heard. It’s followed by others until a chorus of sirens surrounds the officer and the volume increases. “Then the world turns blue,” as responding units arrive and overwhelm the situation.

It’s a beautiful thing!

For the distressed officer, it doesn’t matter who shows up first: it could be a rookie, a person with whom they have petty disagreements or some unknown detective. The fear that they might have died or not gone home goes down a notch. There are no differences. We’re blue.

The world is now all right because the gang’s all here! Force is applied to restore order. In the vernacular of the street, it’s “stick time.” That might date me as an old guy. New technologies of: expandable batons, mace and electronic stunning devices, now come into play. Stick time may now be replaced with “lighting ‘em up.” It’s still all force.

Once things settle down officers may stand around as if nothing ever happened. These officers had responded to the scene of an 83 call at an anti-war march Sept. 21, 2001, when some protestor left the sidewalk to walk in the street.

A sergeant while pursuing a protestor was pushed and lost his glasses. Charges of incitement to riot were later thrown out of court. Officers exercised one of Sir Robert Peel’s principles for policing that he wrote in 1825: “No quality is more indispensable to an officer than a perfect command of his temper, a quiet determined action has more effect than violent action,” after the fact.

Officers sometimes spoke of their reluctance in needing to call an 83 and wished aloud that there were an alternative, something like an 82 and a half. The reason is, officers risk their lives and potentially endanger citizens by racing at breakneck speeds to cover a fellow officer in need of help.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

These police cars were scattered across northbound Interstate Highway 25 at the end of a high-speed chase where a man had stolen a pickup truck in Socorro and was pursued into Albuquerque by State Police. APD officers using spike strips punctured the tires and a State Police officer forced the truck into a concrete dividing barrier.

There are times when my tongue-in cheek comments aren’t taken well by some readers. Then there are times when my sarcasm is meant to be deadly serious. On occasion, a statement I make causes a strong reaction.

One particular reader, who seems to wish to remain anonymous by using only the screen name “Joe Schmedlap,” in posting on this and other sites, has indicated that he is a retired Albuquerque Police Department command level officer, either a lieutenant or captain.

“Legal definitioin (sic) of a gang: three or more persons acting in concert under a common symbol/name and engaging in ILLEGAL acts.” Schmedlap wrote. “So no Mark, a police dept. can NOT be a gang as it lacks the whole third act - i.e. criminal enterprise.”

Schmedlap may have led a charmed career. Maybe he never responded to an 83 call where violence had been brought to bare against an officer. Maybe he had never been at the end of an extended high-speed chase where adrenaline was flowing like Niagara Falls. Maybe he was lucky enough to never have pulled up on the end of a chase where the occupants ran on foot and shots were fired by fellow officers at those fleeing. Maybe he never saw a driver, after surrendering, beaten into the ground before being handcuffed. He may have never stood in a nightclub parking lot where widespread fighting was taking place and watch a lieutenant scream for any officer present to give him a stick so he could hit someone. Maybe he never saw a different lieutenant use force at a similar disturbance, then instruct a sergeant to record use of force indications against three officers, who had not employed any force, to cover his own deeds.

Officers are trained to use restraint, even in high stress situations, but training sometimes gets put aside or fails them. However, force is applied in a release of controlled rage. There comes a moment when the force has overcome the resistance. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish that instant and different officers perceive that moment differently. On occasion, pulling back is delayed because of the depth of the emotions involved in the fight. If self-control is not regained, excessive force may result. Usually, other officers will intercede before the act is considered criminal.

Maybe Schmedlap can ignore the findings of several civil judgments for excessive use of force, or for judgments in dog bite cases or changing the warrant requirements of the party patrol. Maybe Schmedlap can’t remember when police commanders were found guilty of civil rights violations against a fellow officer who received a substantial judgment. Maybe he forgot guilty pleas and convictions against officers for felony crimes. Maybe Schmedlap conveniently disregards the number of officers who were fired or resigned in the face of complaints, or during internal affairs investigations. Maybe he never served with officers who engaged in unlawful acts that impeded the ability to obtain convictions in two police officers’ murders. All of those cases constituted either illegal acts or constitutional breaches. When done in concert with others or when others refuse to take action to stop such acts, that amounts to Schmedlap’s missing “criminal enterprise.”

Maybe Schmedlap forgot the Singers. California Highway Patrol Officers Melanie and Timothy Singer, the married couple that observed a vehicle traveling at high speeds on the 210 Freeway in Los Angeles, one night in the early morning hours of March 3, 1991. Melanie Singer gave chase and that put in motion a series of events that ultimately caused the deaths of 54 persons. Los Angeles Police Officers took over that chase and car stop. Two of them would eventually serve federal prison time for the violation of civil rights of the driver, Rodney King.

I don’t mean to beat up on my former department or officers across this nation, but I won’t try to deny their faults either. If Schmedlap is whom I suspect, then he knows from personal experience that all departments are limited in recruiting prospective police officers from the human race. Despite their best efforts, police officers come with all the human flaws and weaknesses.

Sorry Schmedlap, the definition of a gang, Webster’s or the City Council’s still fits.


Anonymous said...

using any part of the rodney king case to prove your point is sort of like using the OJ Simpson acquittal as proof the system works... it just doesnt fit the sceme of your comments. You built a hell of a straw man there, brought tears to my eyes, then turned around and disparaged your own. Just to make a point of calling ths council criminals and in the end calling your own old dept. the same. Does that mean you are a ''gang member'' as well?
by your logic it seems so.

Michelle Meaders said...

Are you really writing about the shameful way APD treated the anti-war protestors (and their cars) at the Truman gate of Kirtland AFB Saturday?

Ched MacQuigg said...

I thought this piece was terrific; honest and candid.

There isn't a greater act of courage than to admit the truth, especially the the inconvenient truth.

Someone else wrote; a man is not dishonored except by himself.

Good and honest officers have nothing to fear from attention drawn to the not so good and not so honest.