Like many of my fellows and most of my closest friends, my priorities and concerns were significantly changed by 9/11. That shift ultimately moved me from Left to Right. Folks who know me know that I tend to be something of a fearless adventurer. I go there. I follow where my curiosity and truth lead me, which is generally outside of the comfort zone and into the danger zone.
These days I’m engaged in what I call my martial education. As part and parcel of that I am preparing, as intelligently and reasonably as I can, for survival in the worst country America could become. That stands outside of my prior fields of ambition, but the more I study history and pay attention to the world outside of my comfortable upper middle class lifestyle, the more I learn. I find this new world fascinating. So I joined the local citizens police academy.
In my corner of Los Angeles County we are fortunate not to suffer from a lot of the gang problems elsewhere, and although budgets are always tight, it’s not from citizens trying to defund cops. So for some time now we’ve had a citizen’s police academy. I’m in Class #38 which runs from January to May, three hours a week. Officers and staff from the Chief on down, come to instruct us on how our police department conducts its business from everything to animal control to internal affairs to the City Attorney to SWAT to communications. Every week there are at least two sessions that give us way more info than you might think is possible. Last week we learned about the K-9 patrols. Next week is a focus on domestic violence.
As part of this instruction, everyone in the class has an opportunity to join an officer on patrol. I chose the 8pm to midnight shift on a Friday night into the relatively rougher area of the north side of town. Here is my story.
I hit the streets with Officer K. As we left the station and he prepared his Dodge Charger squad car, I picked up the sense that we were late. He was all business as he straightened things up. Usually officers go out singly in the squad car; he pulled some stuff into the trunk – while he was there, he showed me the orange handled less-lethal shotgun. We got in and I asked about the ground rules. I could talk and ask anything I felt like. We took off to the Northside.
My left arm was squeezed uncomfortably next to his console and keyboard that projected from the dashboard into the space between the driver and passenger seat. On the computer screen was a series of Windows looking screens mixed in with some text only green screens. He popped back and forth through them with ease. Cops have as many acronyms as we do in IT, but most of theirs relate to 10-codes and penal codes. So he’s driving along, banging on the computer and listening to the radio. Dude is multitasking like a pro. Our first call comes. I become instantly aware that we are on the other end of 911 calls, and they’re constantly happening in our city of 67,000. Our first call was to a local park. Nine males were reported to be smoking in a non-smoking area. I joked with K that I’m sure he could handle that without much trouble. He seriously replied that he’s not interested in starting trouble where there is none, that he’d use his nice voice. It turned out that the offending smokers had moved along before we arrived, and I am reminded that cops will tell the assholes to move along so that we don’t have to, but by their mere presence a lot doesn’t need to be said. I was reminded of how interestingly that works from several angles as the night progressed.
We stopped for a quick meal at a local healthy chicken joint where we met another officer and his probie. The cops sat with their backs to the wall and tore through baked chicken and veggies. Officer K pulled off the skin from his bird and sipped his big Coke. We hadn’t been outside the restaurant 20 seconds when the call came for a 242. A fight. It was at the big park where all the joggers and soccer players hang out. The time was about quarter to 9.
As we pulled around the second to last corner the dispatcher clearly said ‘vehicle vs pedestrian’ at the same call. Possible hit and run. This was not your ordinary fight. The squad car lights flashed red and blue as a crowd of young men were waving us in. Officer K was out of the car almost before it stopped. As usual cops arrive on scene just after the crime, and so the police work began. I stayed in the car as more units poured in. There was a stabbing. I could hear people saying that the back of the victim’s shirt was soaked in blood. He lay down behind a minivan in the parking lot over to my left. The ambulance and fire truck were there after a short period and more cops came in to tape off the crime scene, two large rectangles in separate areas of the parking lot.
Officer K allowed me full access after 20 minutes or so. What happened was that a player got a red card near the end of a game, and a fight broke out on the field. After the game, the two teams kept fighting and breaking up fights and swinging and grappling again at the two areas marked off in the parking lot. And then it got vicious. I followed K into the larger of the two areas where the victim had previously lain bloody and he began questioning witnesses.
Everybody seemed to have smartphones but nobody could identify who was fighting whom. Plenty of selfies but very little incriminating evidence. The vehicle in question was identified multiple different ways. Some said it was silver, others said it was grey. One guy said it was burgundy. Everybody pretty much agreed it took off, burning rubber out of the parking lot. One of the witnesses got a partial plate. That same person was read some legal notifications, and positively identified one of the players from the other team as in the melee against the victim. K took statements from half a dozen witnesses. Then we crossed the field to get half of roster from the rec center staff. Now we were getting somewhere. Almost.
The kid with blood on his knuckles sat quietly under a large tree in the parking lot median. He didn’t see a knife. By this time we had deduced that the primary suspect must have taken off in the vehicle, but this was the only one on the team who was identified fighting the stabbed player. A dozen witnesses and ‘Knuckles’ were all officially detained. A couple of sergeants on the scene directed officers back and forth coming up with questioning strategies as they tried to piece together exactly what happened. We came up with a new set of questions for Knuckles, now he opens up with a name, ‘Folder’. There is only one name that resembles that on the roster, but that person is not around.
The senior sergeant wants to bust Knuckles and says so with some enthusiastic choice words. Officer K, whose call this is, disagrees. Knuckles is too calm. By now he’s been sitting under the tree for over an hour. Even though he’s answered questions, this whole thing is still a mystery. When three or four groups of men are fighting, what they see of the other fights is very little, what they say about their own fight is typical. Yeah I threw a few punches, but I was breaking it up. The general rule is that you let fighters fight. Nobody presses charges. But a stabbing is different. If you’re fighting 300 yards away from the first fight and break out a deadly weapon, that’s attempted murder. We’ve dispatched two sergeants, a fire truck with four guys, an ambulance, the local security guards are here, there are at least 5 city cops including Officer K and I, plus the CSIs and we’ve been here almost 90 minutes. If we let Knuckles walk, we’ll never see him again.
There are families and friends of the soccer players still hanging about. Some can’t leave because their cars are roped off in the crime scene. The other half of the roster comes, as well as intel on the vehicle. The sergeant orders us to the neighboring city to go get it. Officer K is harried. All these statements and paperwork are going to have to be done. The 911 calls are piling up because we couldn’t make a good arrest or figure out exactly what happened. Now we’re heading out of town to confiscate a vehicle. I’m excited by the fact that I can stand see and hear everything that’s going on and I’m trying to solve the mystery myself. Fine for me, I don’t have to do the paperwork. Before we arrive, the call comes over the radio that Knuckles was arrested on an 836. This is a provisional arrest without charge, in the grey area between reasonable suspicion and probable cause. K groans.
We arrive and park in the street near an alley a block from the house of the owner of the vehicle. There are three other officers on scene, one from our town and two local cops. The attitude is more loose. We’re shooting the shit, but there’s an undercurrent of nervousness. This is definitely a burglar bar neighborhood. There’s a large abandoned building overshadowing the place, a line of aircraft trail out to the east. We are under the flight path for LAX. Lately there have been a lot of shootings around here, they say. Nobody knows why. It’s 11pm and we’re about to grab the vehicle of an attempted murder suspect. The tow truck arrives, and the plan is set. Can you hook up this vehicle quickly? We’ll give you cover in case the family starts beef. Some cars are arriving in front of the suspect’s house. Time to move.
We jump into the Charger and flip a U turn. There’s still a little traffic around and people are looking around to figure out why there are three cop cars here. We're agitated that it takes 30 seconds to drive a couple hundred yards behind these rubbernecking guys in their slow cars, but we don't want to blast lights and sirens to get these civilians out of the way. We take position on the far side of the house and vehicle. Sure enough, the witness got the license right. Lights come on people come out of the house, some men, women and kids. Officer K gets down to business and the tow truck dude works his end. I’m staying back this time.
It turns out that these two guys, the owner of the truck and his passenger, another young kid were super cooperative. Yes they know Knuckles and Folder. While the fights were going on, they wanted to get the hell out, and so they did. Their soccer team is mostly friends and family and Folder is a friend of a cousin. They’re not surprised that he would do something like that. We have the rec center’s roster and they identify that he put a fake name (not that ‘Knuckles’ and ‘Folder’ are real names) on it. The kid pantomimes the fight. He actually did see Folder on top of the victim beating him while he was face down on the ground. It was interesting to see the way he held his fists when he recreated the fight, those looked like stabbing motions to me. We have a name, and a cell phone number of our primary suspect. Our work here is done.
All of this time, I pretty much played it cool and poker-faced. I know people couldn’t tell what my position was. I was dressed in tactical black, sometimes witnesses at were ease, sometimes they got nervous. Officer K was consistent at all times interacting with the public. I got a sense of his confidence and sense. While my mind was rushing all over the place, I could tell there were very clear priorities he was working from. Although that's to be expected, I still find it remarkable, the calm in enforcing the law and the details of the workmanship that make something like a stabbing just another day's police work.
There are still a few more classes for me to attend before I'm done, and I don't know which steps are immediately next in my martial education. This has been an eye-opening experience in understanding the justice system and the priorities of my local cops. I'm still glad I don't have to do the paperwork.