Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Public Perception Of 'Speed Traps'


I lost interest in issuing traffic citations a long, long time ago, for a variety of reasons I won't go into; let's just say I found more pleasure in arresting folks who'd committed serious crimes.

That's not to say that traffic enforcement doesn't have a place in the cop world, because it occupies a prominent segment of the face of enforcement. Imagine a driving environment in which no speed limits exist, driving while impaired is ignored and traffic lights mean nothing.

You wouldn't want to ever leave the house.

Traffic laws exist and are enforced because they are needed, period. The zeal with which they are enforced is another issue altogether.

That brings me to the topic of  so-called 'speed traps'. There's a little secret about them that I'll reveal to you:

They don't exist.

That's right...there's no such animal. I don't care if a copper is hiding behind a billboard or sitting with his lights out at night. It's not a trap. One definition of the word says a trap is '...a situation in which people lie in wait to make a surprise attack.' The key word in that definition is 'surprise'.

Speed limits should not come as a 'surprise' because, through rules set forth in the Ohio Revised Code, they must be clearly posted along the roadway on standardized signage. They can't be altogether absent or in lettering so small they can't be read. The only exception is on rural roads where, if the speed limit isn't posted, the presumptive speed limit is 45 miles per hour.

That's it.

So, if Ohio regulation requires a speed limit posted in standardized signage, how can there ever be a 'trap'?

It is only a trap when you make it so by not paying attention. Drive the speed limit and there'll be no speed traps.

Here's another hint: the speed limit changes at the point where it's posted, not 200 feet before you get to it or once you've passed it.

So, if you pay attention to posted limits, you avoid being 'trapped' by a copper who's just doing his job.





Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Blue Family Mourns


This has been a terrible week for area law enforcement.

Ryan Garner, who was just thirty-three, fought a long, hard battle with cancer, succumbing to the disease Saturday evening. Though not personally knowing this young man, the love of his blue family is clearly evident in expressions of love, memories and sorrow across the social media spectrum.

Not knowing this man is my loss. Doubtlessly, I would have liked him.

I knew Harold Powers very well, however.

Harold, whom I first met in 1977, had been a Captain on Ontario's police auxiliary back then; I was a wet-behind-the-ears twenty-one, eager to start a trek that would end in August of 2013. The first thought when I met Harold was that he would have been right at home playing the part of an Old West Sheriff in a Hollywood western: six-feet tall, thick mustache and probably twenty pounds overweight. Harold was also an extremely friendly man, a guy who liked to laugh but was very serious when it came to law enforcement.

I lost track of Harold when I hired on at Mansfield PD in 1984, but ran into him in 2007 at Mansfield General/ MedCentral/OhioHealth Mansfield, where he worked in security. 23 years after I'd last saw him, Powers was still the same man. That made me happy.

The lasting memory I have of Harold was a November day back in 1981, when he shot and killed a man who had, at around 0440 that same morning, shot Ontario Patrolman David Pugh in the face during a traffic stop on US 30. Dave survived.

Powers shot the man at a range of approximately 100 yards as the suspect, Russell Echols of Cleveland, was engaged in a running gun battle on foot with another officer, Tim McClaran. Harold's round, fired from a six-inch Smith and Wesson, struck Echols in the forehead. Echols died later that morning in the MGH emergency room.

Harold Powers himself once told me he believed his single shot was guided by divine intervention. "If I'd fired straight up into the air, I still think that bullet would have hit him", he'd said. Why did he believe that?

Because Powers was a terrible marksman. He struggled during firearms qualifications.

Harold Powers, 84, died Tuesday evening at OhioHealth Mansfield. The world's light is dimmer today with the loss of Ryan Garner and Harold.

God bless both of these men.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Bad Memories and Bass Fishing


I ran into a sheriff's deputy yesterday I hadn't seen since I retired in 2013. We chatted for a bit, catching up on family and other things when the subject turned to his retirement date.

Jeff can retire in two years.

Two years may seem like a lot of time to a young person but, when you get older, time seems to fly past. Jeff, of course, is greatly anticipating the end of his career; as a matter of fact, he's already bought himself a 'retirement' gift: a bass boat.

Jeff likes to fish. I hope he can spend at least a couple of decades reeling in some big ones.

That brings to mind another guy I worked with at Mansfield PD. When he retired, he was sixty-seven; he died six months later. The tragic sadness of that can't be put into words.

The field of law enforcement takes a toll on the mind as well as the body. Cops tend to not eat right or get enough sleep. Stress plays its part, too, as well as the things they see and encounter which the average citizen can't begin to comprehend. That stuff sticks with you until the end of your days, permanently scarring your psyche, leaving memories you'd like to flush from your brain but can't.

Jeff talked about an incident in which he was involved, one that I remember well. While I won't go into detail, my pal was trapped behind his cruiser one night for four hours while a mentally-unstable man with a rifle, who'd already killed two people, took potshots at Jeff and his fellow deputies.

Jeff will never forget that night. Ever.

But, two years from now, maybe he can shove it deep into the background of his mind as he's fighting to bring in a monster largemouth bass.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Aging And Understanding


Yesterday I received one of those phone calls you never expect. It was from a guy I worked with years ago; I was in my 40s at the time and he was, I think, 24 or twenty-five.

He called to apologize.

"What in the world for?" I asked. I was mystified because, though we don't see each other much, I still consider this man a good friend, as well as one of the funniest people I know.

'Pete', I'll call him, told me that he now understands. "You know, back then I thought, 'he's just an old guy nearing the end of his career.' You didn't care much for writing tickets or stopping a bunch of cars. Now I'm in my 40s, training young guys, and I understand how you felt. I wanted to apologize for thinking you were too old."

I laughed. "Pete, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for. brother."

He continued. "These young kids, they're driving me crazy. All they want to do is car stop, car stop, car stop. They question everything, too! I don't know how you were so patient."

"Let me tell you something, Pete...I was the exact same way when I started back in 1979. All I wanted to do was write tickets and arrest the world. I'd venture to say most coppers, when they first got on the job, were like that. I know I was."

It was the truth. I know I had to have gotten on a few veteran officers' nerves in my early years. I'd find out over the course of my career, though, that an arrest wasn't always the right solution to a problem or issue. Everything's not always black and white, and sometimes you don't need to go by the book to be effective. Common sense plays a big role in that decision-making matrix and, unfortunately, you can't teach that trait.

Some officers never get that.

You give people a break on a minor violation, chances are they'll remember that down the road and maybe help you out. A couple of joints in someone's pocket or car? Grind it into the pavement with your heel as you tell them they're getting a break and I guarantee they'll remember it. Fifteen or so years ago, another young officer wondered why people would call me or stop on station to give me information on criminal activity or people."George (not his real name, either), you give someone a pass on a violation and that'll happen. You don't treat everyone you come across like crap just because you have a badge."

I firmly believe that the best skill a policeman can develop is learning how to talk to people. I don't care how fast they can run, how much weight they can lift or how well they shoot, they'd better learn how to talk to people. Quickly.

 I once watched a veteran officer talk an enraged man into putting down a knife he was wielding in a threatening manner. I was amazed because I thought the man would surely have to be shot, he was that upset and distraught.

I learned from that incident. I understood the lesson.

Now, all these years later, Pete understands, too.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Principles


Principles. They are a good thing...most of the time.

If you have them you live your life by those principles. They are a benchmark, a shore line that guides your ship through troubled waters. Each of us decides at what level those principles rest.

Principles can also cause negative issues because, sometimes, they conflict with emotions, standards and beliefs. Yours and mine, they can change, depending on external influences over which we have no control, things that are larger than ourselves.

I am conflicted, having to choose between principles and discretion.

Unable to even comment on the issue, especially in a public platform, angers me; yet, at the same time, the axiom 'what angers you, controls you' whispers to me, reminding once again that in life's grand scheme this issue is minor.

It's not life, death, marital or spiritual, this problem, but it is enough that it causes me to question one of my principles and how far I am willing to go to stand by it. It is a conflict within, unseen, but its manifest effect will not be. The outcome will be determined by whatever reconciliation I can make between this particular principle and an issue over which I have limited control.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A $6,000 Raise? I'll Take It, But Oklahoma's Teachers Won't


I love and have much respect for all my friends who are educators. You have a tough job. You're probably still paying on the student loans that got you to where you are today. You put in extra time and spend your own money in order to educate the students you have. Unquestionably you are dedicated. What I am about to say is NOT directed at you; rather it is to the teacher's union in Oklahoma.

I put in over three decades wearing a badge. I worked year-round, in all weather conditions, holiday or not. I saw murder, suicide and fatal accident scenes you cannot imagine, sometimes having to inform members of the decedent's family of what had happened to their loved ones.

I lost friends who died in the line of duty; I also lost 'friends' because of my profession.

I suffered broken bones, torn ligaments and spinal disc degeneration because of the job. I've had five knee surgeries, including a replacement and, eight years later, a revision of it. I had to have my right ankle reconstructed. A fleeing felon hit my cruiser head-on; a drunk driver ran a red light and smashed into the side of my cruiser.

 I've been spit on, assaulted and called vile names...just because I was a policeman. I've had my life threatened and, worse, had the lives of family members threatened. I had a convict tell me he would find out where I lived and rape my wife.

I, too, worked part-time jobs...and all the overtime and special details I could handle. Why? So I could give my family things they deserved since, a lot of times, I couldn't be at home for birthdays and holidays.

A raise of $6,100 a year sounds pretty good, if you ask me, since I retired on disability and have a limited income; there's hundreds of thousands of others who are worse off than I am who would take a raise like that in a heartbeat. You see, we can't go on strike, but you can....

...at the expense of our young people.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Grandma's Wrath


Any copper will tell you that, on the job, you take your humor where you can find it, such as the juvenile who wants to go to lock-up.

It's probably been nearly thirty years ago when this happened; it still makes me chuckle to this day.

I was working midnight shift on a summer evening; it was a warm, midweek night and there wasn't much happening, save for a loud music call, maybe, or some other type of minor disturbance. When it gets in the shallow end of the pool as far as calls for service you start looking for something to do, to make the shift pass a little more quickly.

Parked next to an abandoned building on the north end of town, in the shadows where it would be hard to spot my darkened cruiser, I sat with windows down and engine off, listening to the whisper of distant tires-on-pavement as well as the common night-sounds, Cleveland's WMMS FM keeping me company in the background. Across the road was another abandoned structure, its cracked parking lot sprouting low, sparse vegetation every few feet.

'Something to do' then decided to make his appearance. Walking quickly right-to-left a mere fifteen feet in front of my cruiser, a teen who was obviously too young to be out on the streets at 0130 was oblivious to my presence. I made him very aware.

"Hey, young man". To my surprise he didn't bolt.

I got out of the cruiser and walked toward him. "What are you doing out at this hour?"

Nervously, after the thought of fleeing made its way through his brain: "I was playing video games at my boy's house. I'm going home right now."

"Well, c'mon over here and have a seat in my cruiser. I'll make sure you get home." I didn't mention we'd be stopping at the station first to make a phone call.

Needless to say, the youth wasn't very happy when we pulled into the police compound lot.

"Listen, we're just gonna call your Mom to come and get you." Sometimes not issuing a summons for a curfew violation is the better solution; parents do not like to be awakened by a phone call from the police in the middle of the night, telling them they need to come pick up their youngster. Their being inconvenienced at that hour usually translated into some significant punishment.

"But you can't call my Mom."

"Why not?"

A hesitation. "Because she's in prison."

I started to feel for the 15-year-old as we walked into an empty office, especially after he told me his Dad lived in another state. "Well, who's taking care of you, then?"

"Grandma."

He told me her name but refused to give me her phone number. "Just take me to the Attention Center", referring to the county's juvenile holding facility.

I looked him in the eye. He was serious about being locked up. "Why would you want to go there? Why not just go home?"

"Man, you don't know my Grandma."

I called Records and had Grandma's phone number in short order; as I started to punch the numbers into the phone the teen became alarmed.

"NO!! PLEASE, please don't call her! Just take me to jail! PLEASE!"

Obviously his grandmother ran a strict household. The kid actually had tears in his eyes; this tall, lanky teen would rather be locked in a sparsely-furnished room than face the woman who was raising him in his mother's absence.

"Look, I can't take you to the Attention Center for a curfew violation. They won't take you for only that."

I spoke to Grandma when she answered her telephone, explaining the situation concerning her wayward grandson, who'd left the house sometime after she went to bed.

"Thank you, Mister Officer. I'll be right there."

It wasn't long before I was notified there was someone in the lobby to see me. It was the teen's Grandma. She was short, her gray-streaked hair contrasting against the chocolate skin of her face, eyes framed with big, round eyeglasses. A large purse was slung on her arm.

 Looking sternly at her grandchild, who was actually trying to resist being guided into the lobby from the police offices, the woman apologized for any trouble the youth had caused me. "I'm sorry you had to call me, officer. I guarantee he won't cause you any more trouble."

After thanking her for coming to get him, I told Grandma the teen had been no trouble and had, in fact, been very polite. "He's all yours, ma'am."

As I turned and walked back into the department, what I heard next was music to my ears.

"NO GRANDMA, NO!! I'M SORRY!! GRANDMA! OOWWWW!!"

Justice was served. There's nothing like a Grandma's wrath.